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The recent reopening of the crown of the Statue of Liberty, a much-anticipated event, brought back memories of my first trip to that monument. Over the years, I have visited the Statue of Liberty several times, but only once did I go into the crown.
It was on a Lincoln’s Birthday many years ago. In those days, we honored former Presidents Abraham Lincoln and George Washington on their birthdays and not on the all-inclusive President’s Day we now observe. Of course, many states did not honor Lincoln — you can figure out which ones — so it was not a national holiday. But in New York state it was special.
On a cold and gloomy holiday, my friend Thomas Kent and I left our Elmhurst homes and took the subway and the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. We climbed the steps into the crown and looked out onto the spectacular, albeit restricted, view. We could not have been older than our early teens, although I do not remember the year.
It occurred to me recently, in thinking about that expedition, that here were two kids, generally coddled by our parents, who were allowed to take that journey by themselves — no questions asked, no hysteria about what might happen to us. If you think about it, that was a remarkable attitude by our parents.
I do not remember how Thomas and I became friends. He was in parochial school and I was in public school. Our friendship was close enough so that on one of my birthdays Thomas gave me a present: the first book I ever owned.
It was a beautifully illustrated volume of “Ivanhoe” and I treasured it for many years. I do not remember what happened to it. I no longer have it, but I hope I gave it to someone who appreciated it as much as I did and still do.
I lost track of Thomas, to my regret, as we went our separate educational ways. He went to Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn. He was a fine student. I went to Newtown High.
That Lincoln’s Birthday could be considered a kind of statement of freedom for Thomas and me. It was also an unspoken acknowledgment by our parents that we could be responsible for our own welfare.
I must admit that on another occasion, if I remember correctly, Thomas and I rushed down the stairs of the IND 34th Street station in Manhattan and dashed into a train, only to realize later it was not an F but a D. We got off at 125th Street and found our way home. In later years, when I was an evening session student at City College, the D, E and G trains were my pathways to a fine education.
I am delighted the crown of the Statue of Liberty has been reopened to the public. The freedom to view the world from that wonderful vantage point should be available to everyone — just as it was on that cold and gloomy but magnificent day for two young Elmhurst teenagers long ago.
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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