Statue of Liberty to celebrate 125th birthday

27th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

The Statue of Liberty, the iconic symbol of freedom, New York City and of US immigration, on Friday celebrates its 125th birthday, then closes for a year's repairs.

The event will be marked by a ceremony echoing the original October 28, 1886 inauguration of the monument in front of then-president Grover Cleveland.

The Statue of Liberty, created by French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, was presented to the United States as a sign of friendship from the people of France. It came to symbolize freedom -- especially for immigrants, 12 million of whom passed through nearby Ellis Island as they entered the United States.

Friday's ceremony will see 125 modern day immigrants from more than 40 countries become citizens at the feet of Lady Liberty on Liberty Island, in the heart of New York Harbor.

After the American and French national anthems are played, actress Sigourney Weaver will read "The New Colossus," a poem by Emma Lazarus inscribed under the statue in bronze, with the famous line about welcoming "your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

A salute from passing boats, then a fireworks display, will follow.

When the party is over, the landmark statue will close for a year, although Liberty Island itself will remain open to tourists, who arrive by a short ferry trip.

Earlier this year, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a $27.25 million renovation to improve the spiral stairway up into the crown and to add safety devices and other modern requirements.

Access to the interior of the statue was barred after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York, but reopened two years ago to highly restricted groups of tourists.

One addition that tourists might enjoy will be the installment of five webcams in the torch that will "bring never-before-seen views of Liberty Island and New York Harbor to the general public," said Stephen Briganti, who heads The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation.

A recent visitor was French President Nicolas Sarkozy himself, who came during September's annual gathering of the United Nations.

"The French and Americans, we have a special responsibility to show that freedom is for everyone," he said then.

"This statue speaks to the young in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt," he said. "This statue, given by France to the great American people, it can be the statue for all those across the world who prefer freedom to dictatorship."

© 2011 AFP

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