A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Could visitors once go into the Statue of Liberty's arm?

June 12, 1987

Dear Cecil:

Isn't it true you could once go up into the Statue of Liberty's arm and come out by the torch? Wasn't there a lookout there? After all the publicity during the centennial, I began to realize they're hiding something from us about this. Thanks. And I've always loved your column. Keep it up.

Cecil replies:

No problem, Mike, that's why I eat oysters. As for the S. of L., you're right — in the early days the torch was open to the public. However, only a minority thereof was able to take advantage of the opportunity. The platform around the torch could accommodate just 12 people, and was reachable only by a single 54-rung ladder. By 1917 crowding had gotten to be such a problem that the authorities decided to end public access, opening the torch only to journalists, photographers, and others with friends in, well, high places.

The closing gave rise to a rumor that the statue had been damaged the previous year by a massive explosion in a nearby Jersey City ammo dump that had been touched off by German saboteurs. The rumor was apparently untrue, but another event in 1916 did result in a serious weakening of the arm. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum, the same guy who carved the Mount Rushmore memorial, rebuilt the existing copper flames of the torch by inserting 250 panes of amber glass, which were then illuminated from within. Whatever might be said for this from an artistic standpoint, it was a practical disaster. Water leaked in past the improperly sealed glass and severely corroded the iron armature within. The upraised arm had been installed about 18 inches out of true to start with, for reasons that have never been entirely clear, and by the time restoration began in the 1980s, Ms. Liberty was in serious danger of going the way of Venus de Milo. The rehabilitation rectified the problem, but the park service has not been tempted to open the arm again.

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