NEW YORK — A historic armada of windjammers and warships and a spectacular display of 40,000 fireworks shells honored the Statue of Liberty's centennial and the nation's birthday Friday.
The tall ships--their sails billowing in bright sunshine, their crewmen standing at attention in the rigging--paraded through New York's harbor while Lady Liberty, newly restored, looked on majestically.
"This weekend we celebrate, my friends--we cut loose," said President Reagan, who reviewed a flotilla of fighting ships from the deck of the battleship Iowa and later watched the parade of tall ships with French President Francois Mitterrand from Governors Island.
"What a glorious Fourth of July!" exclaimed Lee A. Iacocca, chairman of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, which raised money for the monument's repair. "One thing America knows how to do is throw a party. The Lady really belongs to the world. Today, the world is here to pay respects."
Millions stood watching on the banks of the Hudson River Friday night as great sweeps of pyrotechnics, thunderous blasts and clouds of smoke filled the sky. They gasped as burst upon burst of colored stars, flowers and geometric forms were synchronized to waltzes and stirring marches. The crush of the crowd was so heavy that some people fainted.
The fireworks display had been billed as the biggest in American history--and it lived up to the billing, culminating in a dazzling silver shower around the statue.
President and Mrs. Reagan watched the grand finale from the five-acre flight deck of the carrier John F. Kennedy.
As the events unfolded during the day, cannons boomed, daylight fireworks filled the sky around the statue and military jets left red, white and blue trails as they roared over the fleet. Balloons ascended, dirigibles hovered, fireboats shot red, white and blue plumes of water. A Navy skywriter offered this message: "U.S. Navy salutes ships of world."
As he stood on the Iowa, receiving 21-gun salutes from 21 warships, Reagan looked out over the harbor crowded with 30,000 vessels, ranging from the Queen Elizabeth II to canoes, and told his naval hosts that the display was "absolutely brilliant. There are no words to describe my pride."
In the multitude on shore in lower Manhattan, George Olsen, a computer operator from San Diego, Calif., stood with his wife, Teri, in front of their parked camper. "It's history," he said. "We had to bring the kids to see history."
Mitterrand reviewed the parade of warships from his nation's aircraft carrier, Jeanne D'Arc, anchored in the Hudson River, then he traveled to Governors Island to join Reagan in ceremonies honoring the tall ships. He listened attentively as the President delivered a speech invoking romantic images of the sea to sound a modern-day message of liberty.
"I speak to us of the past, of the days when great ships like these dropped anchor in our harbors to unload tea from China, whale oil from open seas, and yes, immigrants from around the world . . . . Somehow, men have always found moving the sight of these vessels of wood, metal and canvas.
" . . . Perhaps indeed these vessels embody our conception of liberty itself, to have before one no impediments, only open spaces," the President continued. "To chart one's own course. To take the adventure of life as it comes. To be free as the wind, as free as the tall ships themselves. It's fitting, then, that this procession should take place in honor of Lady Liberty."
'I hear You'
At one point, the chief executive's words were punctuated by the sound of a ship's fog horn. "I hear you," Reagan said, without missing a beat.
The winds of more than 30 knots that had chilled spectators at the ceremonial lighting of the Statue of Liberty the night before had dropped to breezes by the time the 295-foot Coast Guard bark Eagle led the tall ships into the harbor under the soaring span of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.
With their huge sails billowing, their cadets standing at attention high on the yardarms, these special ships glided like swans of the sea past the Statue of Liberty, to the delight of millions of spectators gathered on the New York and New Jersey shores.
Fireworks filled the air from Liberty Island as each of the tall ships passed the statue. Musicians on a barge at the tip of Manhattan played the national anthem of each vessel as it approached. The scene was a delight for sailors and landlubbers alike.
"Fantastic! This is absolutely wonderful," said Vickie Poland, 36, a spice packer for a coffee company in Springfield, Mo., who won a company lottery to come to New York. "We just had to be here for this. On television, you just wouldn't get the whole feeling. These are magnificent. See the cadets standing high in the rigging. It's something else."
When the Eagle passed Governors Island--the nation's largest Coast Guard base--one member of the audience stood and shouted: "All right! U.S.A.!"