A visit to the Statue of Liberty — now versus 1982

iPhone 5 image of the Statue
iPhone 5 image of the Statue

I first visited the Statue of Liberty in 1982 with my friends and classmates from graduate school at Northwestern University. We spent a quarter reporting from Washington D.C. (my newspaper was the Rapid City Journal), covering the Congressional delegation. We also traveled on the East Coast, by Amtrak or Eastern Airlines, to entertain and educate ourselves.

This week’s trip to New York is a vacation but also a “field trip” for our son, so the Statue of Liberty, 9/11 Museum, United Nations and New York Stock Exchange, among other places, are all on the list.

A lot has changed since 1982. Back then I toted around a Canon AE-1 for photography. It was a 35 mm single-lens reflex camera and the first microprocessor-equipped SLR.  Now visitors carry handheld digital smartphones with 8 megapixels (on an Apple iPhone 5, for example), and the wi-fi is strong enough on Liberty Island to post your photos of Lady Liberty to a Facebook page in real-time via Instagram.

Many visitors were carrying telescoping arms that drop low to the ground to allow for angled “selfie” and group shots with Lady Liberty. Otherwise, you’d be flat on the ground in “30-something” degree weather, pointing your camera up, to get that shot.

Manhattan from “The Crown” of the Statue

Security is much tighter because of 9/11. In fact, you go through two security scanners — one to get on the ferry and another to climb to “the crown” of the Statue. Both 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy led to temporary closure of Liberty Island and the Statue.

The 377 stairs to the crown have been redesign to a sleek double-helix staircase. All reservations must be made online well in advance; otherwise it’s a “sell out” to walkup visitors, or at least it was this week.

A museum in the base of the statue is interactive and informative. A highlight for me is the bronze plaque of the famous “New Colossus” poem by Emma Lazarus in 1883: “Give me your tired, your poor; Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free; The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Our family stood there for a while and read the poem and marveled at its words.

Another exhibit shows “Exploitation of Liberty,” such as the statue wearing a pair of Levi jeans. Exploitation of Liberty continues — not just in commercialism but in political rhetoric.

New Colossus 2.0

"The New Colossus" plaque
“The New Colossus” plaque

Along with the Statue, Liberty Island and the Museum itself, our world has changed. It was coincidence that our visit coincided with President Obama’s executive order on immigration this past week. We are a much more polarized nation now:

1. The world “liberty” has become a sound-bite for tea-party and hard-right politics. “The party of anti-history” is here.

2. Our nation’s immigrants also are from Mexico, Central and South America, Asia and Africa — not just Northern Europe. We are no longer a “WASPocracy.” To me, that is often the hidden — or not so hidden — concern of those who are angry about immigration reform. For the first time, we have an African-American President. “We’re changing, so people are angry” is here.

In this morning’s New York Times, the Sunday edition, Op-Ed columnist Nicholas Kristof has an article titled “Immigration Enriches you and me.” “To me the outrage seems driven by three myths,” he writes, elaborating on each myth. “Immigrants threaten our way of life; immigrants are different today because they are illegals; and immigration reform is an unconstitutional power grab by a dictator.”

He concluded: “What most defines the 11 million undocumented immigrants in America is not illegality but undaunted courage and ambition for a better life. What separates their families from most of ours is simply the passage of time — and the lottery of birth.”

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

24 thoughts on “A visit to the Statue of Liberty — now versus 1982”

  1. B-R-O-V-O. There are those around these parts that need to have the sonnet, the entire thing, tattooed across their forehead so folks they talk to or meet see they finally GET IT.

  2. Nice collection of links there…I can’t believe that I missed the Tea Party anti-history article when it came out, because more than anything, that is the behavior that disturbs me most about the Tea Party mindset. I can handle the battle over ideas but I hate revisionism and dishonesty in history.

    I grew up as the son of an academic historian, a member of the American Historical Association, and a man who took his children on several months long trips through American history on successive summers; once spending an entire summer doing a chronological tour of the Civil War south starting with antebellum economics, through major military engagements and ending with reconstruction politics.

    Around our dinner table we did not just watch the rise of civil rights, the 1968 Democratic convention, the body count from Vietnam, and the fall of a President at Watergate, we read books, challenged each others premises, and questioned our sources.

    To my fathers chagrin I did not become a historian, and read and still read my share of popular history, but he taught me that academic history, as opposed to popular history and opinion history, is about context, source, method, and real depth of analysis based on original sources. Popular history is the nostalgia laden novella that gets one interested enough in an event or idea to dig into the true sources, the contemporary diaries, deeds, notes,records, commentary, and context.

    I love this line, describing the Tea Party mindset as, “historical fundamentalism, which is to history what astrology is to astronomy, what alchemy is to chemistry.”

    I suspect that my liberal friends digging into American history would find the Founders much more ‘conservative’ by contemporary standards than they think they were, and my conservative friends would find the Founders much more radical by contemporary standards than the think they were.

    Which is why a commonly misunderstood statement by Thomas Jefferson like, ” The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants,” without adding the next words, that, “It is it’s natural manure,” or understanding that he was speaking from his post in pre-revolutionary France about a specific clause in the newly adopted Constitution, the lifetime appointment of the Justices of the Supreme Court without sufficient checks and balances for removal [he believed that impeachment was too high a bar], is akin to turning lead into gold.

    I could provide a dozen other examples of Tea Party acolytes misinterpreting history; they misinterpret Republicanism v. Federalism, twist the definition of states rights, deny the legality of Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2 of the US Constitution because it is inconvenient, are regular apologists for slavery and the contemporary debate over it, fail to acknowledge that almost all past waves of immigration into the USA including their own were almost uniformly illegal, portray the 13th, 14th, 15th &16th amendment as unconstitutional, ignore the Supremacy Clause, Commerce Clause and the General Welfare Clause……the list could go on and on.

    Anti-history is kind.

    1. Plus it is kind of hard to deny you are motivated by racism when you describe the President of the United States as “President Hollow Chocolate Bunny…” as the anonymous troglodyte “FISH” did this morning over at Rebane’s

      1. We did similar Colonial America, New England literary figures, Eire Canal, the opening of the Northwest [Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois], and Mormon Trail tours. We once spent a week doing nothing but visiting the closed down factories of the industrial New England region. My least favorite was the McCormack Reaper tour, endless waves of grain in the midwest followed by Haymarket [which was cool], but man the camping in Nebraska sucked.

        I could spend the rest of my life doing nothing but touring the back roads of America.

    2. Steve,
      I love the distinctions you make between the sources of history. History we receive from academia are those commissioned by those of means and or the victors in such battles. Just about every incident in history has many different angles to it but not everybody has the means or the power to tell their story.

      The Tea Party version of the US Constitution and history is completely revisionary and has virtually zero truth to it. As a person who has studied North American/ and US Revolutionary History extensively for decades the Tea Party historical positions are ludicrous on so many levels. First off they cannot distinguish the difference of political views of late 18th Century vs. the 21st Century. Democratic forms of government didn’t exist in the “civilized world” so every government the founders refer to was monarchical feudalism and kingdoms. So all the quotes about government being horrible are about those forms of government not the government they were attempting to set up.

      I think I opened a few eyes over at Rebane’s when I referred to the US Constitution being influenced by the Iroquois Nation Constitution and form of governance. I was responding to the continuing descriptions of indigenous peoples as “savages” and “uncivilized”.

      I can literally go through and on almost every popular position put forward by the Tea Party as historically accurate about the founders and tear it apart piece by piece.

      1. http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/st/english/publication/2009/06/20090617110824wrybakcuh0.5986096.html#axzz3JuqE38hb

        “Thomas Jefferson and Native American Concepts of Governance

        While Franklin and Jefferson were too pragmatic to believe that they could copy the “natural state,” its image was sewn early into the United States’ national ideological fabric. Jefferson wrote: “The only condition on earth to be compared with ours, in my opinion, is that of the Indian, where they have still less law than we.” When Thomas Paine wrote, on the first page of his influential pamphlet Common Sense, that “government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence,” he was recapitulating observations of Native American societies.

        Writing to Edward Carrington in 1787, Jefferson linked freedom of expression with public opinion and happiness, citing American Indian societies as an example:

        The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, our very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter …. I am convinced that those societies [as the Indians] which live without government enjoy in their general mass an infinitely greater degree of happiness than those who live under European governments.

        “Without government” could not have meant without social order to Jefferson. He, Franklin, and Paine all knew native societies too well to argue that Native Americans functioned without social cohesion. It was clear that the Iroquois, for example, did not organize a confederacy with alliances spreading over much of northeastern North America “without government.” They did it, however, with a non-European conception of government, one of which Jefferson, Paine, and Franklin were appreciative students who sought to factor “natural law” and “natural rights” into their designs for the United States during the revolutionary era.

  3. “You see Steve I could have very easily said that it was “President Hollow White Chocolate Bunny” or “President Hollow Caramel Bunny” or “President Marzipan Bunny” but it would have been less accurate! The “Hollow Chocolate Bunny” reference really has nothing to do with race and everything to do with the fact that Obama is little more than a sweet and appealing (to mushy headed statists like yourself)…but really not very good for you… hard candy shell surrounding an empty sonorous chamber beneath!”

    I love how George empowers racists to race bait and calls it entertainment.

  4. “History we receive from academia are those commissioned by those of means and or the victors in such battles.”

    Is that what you really meant Ben?

    I would posit that it is a hell of a lot more likely that popular or opinion history has been co-opted by ‘the victors’, than academic history. The measure of popular history is how high is it on the NYT bestseller list; the measure of academic history is ‘do your peers trust it’, is it oft cited, perhaps ‘did it win a Beveridge Award, a Frederick Jackson Turner Award, or an Organization of American Historians award’.

    For all its occasional faults academia has been much more friendly to iconoclastic history than the popularity contest with the American people has been, advancing historians like Frederick Jackson Turner, Arthur Schlesinger Sr., Charles Beard, Howard Zinn, Eric Hoffer, Phillip Foner, Page Smith, Fawn Brodie, and William Cronon, barrier breakers in new ways to interpret and analyze history.

    1. Steve:

      Ah yes, Eric Hoffer –– the Everyman philosopher. In the early ’70s I spotted him a couple times walking on Larkin Street. Wish I had taken the initiative and reached out to shake his hand.

      Wonder if young people read Hoffer these days? I know that The True Believer and The Ordeal of Change certainly influenced my thinking in the ’60s.

    2. Steve,
      I am speaking of academia or academic as studied curriculum (texts) all the way through undergraduate studies. I like to understand the motives behind the people and there big moments and even their low moments. There is tons of good material out for consumption, like Harvey Kay, Dumas Malone, and Ralph Ketchum to name a few.

    3. Steve, I agree with your defense of academic history as compared to popular history. When I did graduate work in US history in the 1970s, we were taught to value original sources above all, and to always be aware of the distinction between primary and secondary sources.

      According to this standard, we’d have to consider the work and lifetime dedication of historians like Ricgard Hofstadter and Howard Zinn as completely orthogonal to the amateurish popular history dabblings by politically-driven talking heads like Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly.

      The academic discpline of history, with its regard for original sources, attempts to apply to the study of history something like the scientific method (with its regard for original experimental data and the social custom of peer review).

      1. What I always find amazing is that people who claim to want to embrace an iconoclastic interpretation of ‘science’ in order to maintain ‘uncertainty’ are usually the very same people who embrace popular history and reject new iconoclastic historical interpretations.

  5. By the way, I agree with Johansen, the historian at the University of Nebraska, making the case that colonial American experience with native American governance was a significant influence, particularly in New England, and is under recognized in Constitutional history. There are numerous sources for this.

  6. I have read many of Jefferson’s letters and journals, he talks often about his fathers and his own experiences with natives and these experiences help shaped his idea of what a government should be or at least strive to be.

  7. Just got the email today. Should be interesting.


    State of the Union: The Nation’s Essays 1958-2008
    by Gore Vidal, Richard R. Lingeman (Editor)

    4.43 of 5 stars 4.43 · rating details · 7 ratings · 1 review

    The essays collected here all appeared in The Nation magazine between 1958 and 2005. The early literary ones reflected Vidal’s status as a rising young novelist of the postwar generation, and as he expanded confidently into nonfiction, his essays range widely over politics, religion, society, manners and morals. We see him emerge as the pre-eminent essayist of his generation, winning a 1993 Nation Book Award for a collection of nonfiction works….

  8. There are a million examples I can go to but I will go use one close to my heart. I cannot remember a assigned history (again undergraduate) text ever going into detail what the side of Labor was going through in their Century long battle for worker rights. Notes were taken at these meetings and yet we rarely if ever hear about the content in those notes. My grandfather was a steel worker until he went blind and then became a union organizer in the 30’s -50’s. I got a rare glimpse at some of those minutes of meetings and what was revealed were horrific unimaginable work conditions that were trying to be rectified but in the history books we are a assigned to read it is glossed over that there was a disagreement with Greedy Industrialist vs. Labor. By only giving this version of history to 90% plus of people who learn any history we lose the real motivations and lessons of this history. It is not pop history written by the Glenn Beck this is real history of the very foundation of what America was, is, and can become. The Utah Phillips of the world were a treasure trove of history that are pooh poohed as entertainment and not worthy of respect, when in fact they are talking about the very real history of our country that very few people know because of this converted effort to keep it suppressed in our school system and society as a whole.

    1. In Texas they just rewrite their own version of history, and print it in school textbooks.
      “passages that claimed segregated schools weren’t all that terrible, Affirmative Action recipients are un-American, taxes for social programs haven’t improved society, and that Moses inspired American democracy.” Combine this with Fox so called news and you get the Texas education system. Yikes-

    2. Hmmm….I took a labor history class at the University of Illinois and my California history course at SFSU had a multi-week section on California labor history. Those courses were available because of Chicago’s central role in American labor, San Francisco’s connection with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the IWW, and California’s connection with Caesar Chavez. California also has some of the premier labor libraries and think tanks in the country, the Leonard Library at SFSU, Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and Center for Labor Research and Education at UC Berkeley, and the UCLA Labor Center.

      I think it is true that we undervalue labor history in the study of American history at the secondary level, but I think most American historians who are teaching at major universities across the country would not underplay labor history or the role of labor and class conflict in American history.

      1. Steve,
        I’m not debating whether it is taught I am debating at whose point of view are they being taught? I am not even saying what is being taught isn’t true but rather it is only part of the truth.

        How many minutes, classes, chapters…. were based on the actual workers and their actual concerns vs. the view of negotiations that took place from those who sat in positions of power within each organization and the big showdowns in the streets? Did it cover the turmoil between workers and how did they get people to sacrifice for others when their home life was in chaos? Stuff like that is where the history is made not with the signature on the dotted line. That is the result of history but not the history itself.

        I was not in those classes but do have three US History majors (1 UC, 2 Private) within our family and when speaking with them about it they didn’t seem real impressed at the depth it was taught. I understand there is much more than just teaching a specific topic to a course but once again the question comes back to- Who controls the content of curriculum? Those who have financial interests as our universities become more and more privately funded or those who believe that knowledge is the ultimate goal? A very tight rope to walk indeed in these times when their is an all out assault on public education.

      2. Jesus Ben you could say that about any curriculum….or about anything for that matter. The point I was making at the beginning of this string was that there is a difference between real, academic, appropriately sourced and high quality history and the stuff we get from second rate, sentimental, nostalgia laden popular history. I have as much respect for well researched and sourced history that disagrees with my point of view as I do that that supports my point of view.

        I am not even sure what you are debating here? I am not sure you are sure what you are debating. That you had bad history classes or professors…that they were bought by big business to downplay the role of labor in our history….did business pay off all the historians, or just the ones at the top universities.. or did they pay them off by packing ‘curriculum boards’..and all the history professors rolled over for it because they are a notoriously weak kneed bunch..accustomed to rolling over for business…which is why they became history professors….seems kind of far fetched to me…kind of like implying we are bribing scientists to lie about climate science 🙂

        Read my original post…it was about what makes quality history writing….I stand by that…good material with good sources trusted by colleagues ….

  9. Supposed to be “concerted effort”

    Again I am speaking of curriculum not individual writings. Maybe my use of the word academia is the wrong word to use?

  10. My mom just came over and looked at the discussion and she said that one of her bosses in the late 70’s taught her a lesson she has never forgotten. “Whose History Is That?” She used to write newsletters for the tech industry in the Santa Clara Valley she found and put a little history blurb about Monterey, CA for the Texas Branch of the Company, her boss looked at it and said “whose history is that Barbara?” It took her awhile to figure out what he was talking about and then the light clicked on in her head. It was the history the Chamber of Commerce promotes about Monterey. Also my mom was an adult ESL teacher for people trying to get their GED or High School Diploma’s during the 1980- 1990’s. Lots of history lessons of Central American political refugees from the Reagan administration death squads that are never touched upon in our public schools.

    Those who can afford, commission, and influence curriculum boards get to choose what history we learn for the most part, I stand by my original position.

    My mom also told me that “I see the world from a elderly white middle class woman perspective and unless I really remind myself of this it is easy to think this is the only view on any given issue.”

  11. Ben: Your argument sounds vaguely like the sort of thing Howard Zinn once said in reference to his own A People’s History of the United States …:

    “With all its limitations, it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people’s movements of resistance …The mountain of history books under which we all stand leans so heavily in the other direction — so tremblingly respectful of states and statesmen and so disrespectful, by inattention, to people’s movements — that we need some counterforce to avoid being crushed into submission.” (From “Howard Zinn’s History Lessons“).

    The irony in that case, though, is that Zinn was himself an academic historian.

    So, it may be that your beef is not with acamedic historians per se but rather with the sort of histories that Zinn himself referred to (also vaguely, we have to admit) in that statement, histories written from the perspective of the victors in history, from the perspective of “states and statesmen.”


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