More than 130 years ago, a traditional Roman figure of Libertas (our Lady Liberty) was designed to evoke the American spirit of emancipation. Its completion was marked by a lavish parade through the streets of Manhattan. Two centuries and three restorations later, The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation hosted a similar celebration for the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty Museum. In attendance were the likes of Jeff Bezos, Hillary Clinton, and Michael Bloomberg.
The opening took place on Wednesday night, and Seth Meyers served as the master of ceremonies, guiding the evening through quite the lineup—musical numbers from Tony Bennett and Gloria Estefan, as well as a commissioned poem by the United States Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith. Keynote speaker Oprah Winfrey was honored with the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation Award for her contributions to freedoms, both domestic and abroad.
The museum seems somewhat overdue given Lady Liberty’s iconic status throughout history. David Copperfield’s three-week occupation of the statue comes to mind, where he vanished her in order to suspend our sense of freedom and the ways we “take liberty for granted.” And soon, we’ll have Diane von Furstenberg’s investigation into the statue’s roots to be chronicled in an HBO documentary this fall.
The 26,000-square-foot museum comes complete with a garden terrace and staggering views of lower Manhattan, as well as the statue’s original torch, which was replaced in 1985 after a hundred-year reign. Inside, certain artifacts and ephemera are presented to avoid romanticizing our history, focusing on those instances when the statue felt like a misrepresentation of reality. The ideals the statue has represented for decades is something our nation still struggles to uphold, and perhaps the museum will serve as a reminder.
So why erect this cultural institution here and now? To Oprah, “It’s important that we establish that we are a country that has open arms and not closed borders. It’s important because we let people know why America is [the country] it is. It’s about an ideal, and that ideal is freedom—for everybody.”