This past week, Alex and I had a day off so we decided to play tourist and go visit Ellis Island as well as the Statue of Liberty. We learned a lot from our visit and how to get the most out of your experience. Consider this a how-to guide for getting to the Statue and Ellis Island.
First, one of the most difficult things was to figure out where to buy the actual tickets. If you go to Battery Park (where the ferry departs), there are a lot of venders that swarm you like seagulls at the beach. A museum colleague of ours who used to work at Ellis Island let us know that the tickets they sell are NOT the tickets, and that we would have a tough time getting on the boat. The only legit company is called Statue Cruises, so for all of you planning a visit, just use them.
On Friday, we went down to Castle Clinton, the ticket scalpers swarmed us like locusts, and we boarded the vessel. Getting onto the ferry was quite an ordeal. There was no line, but rather a large clump of confused tourists foaming at the mouth trying to take a picture of a squirrel. They weren’t ready for two, bitter New Yorkers not in the mood for their shenanigans. Honestly, we felt like we were in the middle of a herd of cattle. Once they started to board the ship, people started to push and shove and the herd moved onto the boat. Alex and I had a frank exchange of ideas when some prick tried to cut us in the clump. They were horrified. Nice.
We made the mistake of going up to the top level of the ferry (the promenade deck), because we thought it would be fun to get some pictures of the Statue as we pull in. The problem came when it was time to disembark, which took freaking forever. So, lesson learned — always stay on the bottom level. You’ll be able to get off so much faster and won’t have to freak out at some clueless tourist confused as to how stairs work.
In our opinion, visiting the Statue of Liberty was a huge waste of time. First of all, we were bombarded by a bunch of “Go ‘Murica” revisionist history that made our eyes roll so hard I’m surprised we didn’t get detached retinas. The only thing we really wanted to see was Emma Lazarus’ poem The New Colossus but it turns out that it’s on the inside of the pedestal, and we had not purchased the “Pedestal Ticket” so we weren’t able to go see it. We walked around the Statue, and watched every jerk-off with a camera posing to make it look like they were holding the statue in their hand. We had to get out of there. It was torture.
Back on the ferry, we saw they had New Colossus fridge magnets for sale, and we almost bought one, but then we realized that they had misquoted the poem. It read “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to be free.” That’s not it! Agh! It should be, “…Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. We were so damned mad.
At this point, we were no longer having a good time. The ferry made it’s way over to Ellis Island, and very few people got out. We did not have high hopes after our time on Liberty Island (where the Statue of Liberty is located), but we were willing to give it a shot. And I am so glad that we did. Ellis Island was an amazing, powerful and beautiful experience. They did not pull any punches, and told the history of American immigration exactly how it is. The staff was knowledgeable, the exhibits were very well put together (they made Alex cry!) and the building itself is incredible. We took a tour with Ranger Sam and we loved him! He even pulled out a button hook and tried to stab me in my eye to show us how they worked. (They used button hooks to check immigrants for trachoma, a very serious eye disease.) Historically, very accurate. I wish we had known ahead of time what an amazing experience we were going to have and had scheduled more time for ourselves at Ellis Island. After three and a half hours, I got hungry and crabby and made Alex leave, but next time when we go we will be prepared to spend all day there and make sure to bring a snack for me. There were so many exhibits and we only got a taste of it all.
So, for us, the Statue of Liberty was not worth getting off the boat. It was a sea of slow moving, American flag T-shirt wearing tourists from Europe taking nonsense photos while being bombarded with notions of how perfect America is. Take my advice, just skip it. Take a picture from the boat and move on. But, Ellis Island is wonderful. It’s a place that everyone should visit and get a sense of what immigrants past and present have gone through and still go through today in order to become “American.”