Hailed once again as a "beacon of hope," the Statue of Liberty welcomed back huddled masses of tourists Tuesday for the first time since it was shut down after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Interior Secretary Gale Norton was on hand to officially open the doors, and a military choir sang George M. Cohan's "It's a Grand Old Flag" before the crowd rose for the national anthem.
"This beacon of hope and liberty is once again open to the public, sending a reassuring message to the world that freedom is alive in New York and shining brighter than ever before," Gov. George Pataki said.
Plans to reopen Lady Liberty's pedestal to the public went ahead despite new warnings over the weekend of possible terrorist attacks on financial centers in nearby Manhattan, Newark, N.J., and Washington, D.C.
"I think it shows the world that liberty cannot be intimidated," Assistant Interior Secretary Craig Manson said during a media preview tour Monday. "I think it's significant that despite the raising of the alert levels, we are still going ahead with the reopening."
Visitors can tour a reopened museum inside the pedestal and enjoy a panoramic view from the observation deck at the pedestal top, about 16 stories above ground. The rest of the statue continues to be off-limits because it cannot accommodate large numbers of tourists and does not meet safety codes.
"Whether this is your first visit or one of many, I know this will be a memorable one," site superintendent Cynthia Garrett told the crowd.
Tightened security measures at the 118-year-old national monument include a new anti-bomb detection device that blows a blast of air into clothing and then checks for particles of explosive residue. Bomb-sniffing dogs also were present during the preview.
Liberty Island, the statue's 12-acre home, was closed for 100 days after Sept. 11, 2001. The second of two terrorist-hijacked jetliners had skimmed low over the statue just seconds before it crashed into the World Trade Center's south tower 1 1/2 miles away. Airport-type metal detectors were installed to screen visitors boarding the ferry from lower Manhattan, and the island was reopened in December 2001.
While the pedestal now is open, too, Larry Parkinson, deputy assistant Interior secretary for law enforcement and security, said it was unlikely that visitors will have access to the statue's interior spiral staircases in the foreseeable future.
The pedestal museum tells the story of the statue, from its dedication in 1886 as a gift from France to its rededication after a major overhaul a century later. An alternative tour allows visitors to stroll the promenade atop the star-shaped former fort on which the statue and its pedestal rise.
The tours cost $10 a head for adults and $4 for children. Slots in the tour must be reserved in advance, a move aimed at alleviating the congestion that in recent years forced some visitors to spend eight hours waiting in lines to get to and from the islands by boat.
Kevin Mason, president of the Circle Line, whose ferries serve the Statue of Liberty, said he hoped the reopening would help bring back tourists whose numbers fell 45 percent after the 2001 terrorist attacks — from 4.5 million a year in 2000 to 2.6 million in 2002.
On the Net:
Statue of Liberty National Monument: http://www.nps.gov/stli/index.htm
State of Liberty Foundation: http://www.statueofliberty.org