NEW YORK — When we looked down from our hotel window at the weather report above Times Square, the words in neon were what might be expected in mid-October: Cloudy and cooler.
The forecast gave support to our expectation that we could visit the reborn Statue of Liberty without the long lines that began with Lady Liberty's 100th birthday party over the July 4 weekend.
So we rode the subway down to Battery Park and waited with crowds to board a Circle Line ferry over to Liberty Island. Every ferry departure to and from Liberty Island had a waiting line of surprisingly relaxed and good-natured visitors who had each paid $3.50 for the round trip. We were asked over the loudspeaker to be 15 minutes early for departure times on the hour and half hour.
Glow of Her Torch
Our fellow visitors, representing many immigrant backgrounds from throughout the United States, were part of the joy of the experience. Fortunately, nature wasn't being influenced by neon weather reports. The clouds drifted apart and the autumn sun brightened the glow of Lady Liberty's torch. Her final birthday event, rededication, will be commemorated Tuesday.
And the momentum is just beginning for the statue's second 100 years as a visitor attraction. Preparations for the centennial birthday brought worldwide attention to the restoration of the statue, the refurbishing of the American Museum of Immigration in its base, and new landscaping of Liberty Island.
Coming up between now and about 1992 is the restoration of adjacent Ellis Island, where 17 million immigrants landed after being welcomed into New York Harbor by Lady Liberty.
Ellis Island is closed to visitors during the restoration work, but by 1988 the enormous cathedral-like main hall, in which as many as 3,000 immigrants a day were processed, will be opened as another memorial visitor center. The ferries will then navigate a small circle between Battery Park, Liberty and Ellis islands.
Plans for Ellis Island are still being made; the goal is an educational and conference center dramatizing the immigration era and the concept of liberty.
"The Statue of Liberty centennial year has been a magnificent travel event," said John P. MacBean, vice president, public relations, for the New York Convention & Visitors Bureau. "But most of all it has taught us that Lady Liberty is forever and that her two islands in the harbor will continue to grow as visitor attractions."
The rededication will mark the centennial day of the statue's dedication by President Grover Cleveland.
Although the mid-morning ceremony on Liberty Island won't be on the scale of the July 4 weekend, President Reagan and French President Francois Mitterrand are expected to attend.
In the evening, a gala black-tie birthday concert will be staged at Lincoln Center by the New York Philharmonic, with Zubin Mehta conducting. A special number created for the centennial will star Sherrill Milnes and Julio Iglesias.
Lady Liberty will continue to be the queen of New York's autumn and winter seasons, but the Big Apple is promoting an extraordinary supporting cast to continue the momentum of this centennial year. Theaters on and off Broadway have one of the biggest collections of hits in many years: "Big River," "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," "Me and My Girl," "Cats," "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby" by the Royal Shakespeare Company, "42nd Street," "La Cage Aux Folles," "Into the Light," "Raggedy Ann" and "Smile." "Me and My Girl" inaugurates the 1,600-seat Marquis Theater as part of the Marriott Marquis Hotel off Times Square.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has three new shows rated as blockbuster attractions: "Treasures of the Holy Land," "Van Gogh in Saint-Remy and Auvers," and "Impressionist to Early Modern Paintings from the U.S.S.R."
The oils, watercolors and drawings of John Singer Sargent are on exhibit at the Whitney Museum through Jan. 4. It's the first major overview of Sargent's work in 60 years.
"The Magnificent Christmas Spectacular" is set for Radio City Music Hall Nov. 14-Jan. 8, and the Metropolitan Opera has a new production of Wagner's "Die Walkuere." Carnegie Hall reopens in December after its $50-million restoration.
The Vista Hotel at the World Trade Center has been a key participant in raising funds for the Liberty Island and Ellis Island restorations. The Waldorf-Astoria's Art Deco wonders are fully restored, and the King Cole Room at the St. Regis-Sheraton has brought dinner dancing back to New York on Friday and Saturday nights.
Many of our fellow visitors had also been here for the July 4 weekend. My wife and I could feel that the slow climb up the 354 steps from the base of the statue to the crown is becoming a sort of pilgrimage for everyone physically able to make it.