Joining the huddled masses

Statue of Liberty.

To get out of Dublin and into the US we had to show our passports five times and go through two full sets of security. We had to give our fingerprints and photos into the haphazard care of a US government database under Barack Obama’s photogenically watchful gaze. And we had to fill in a customs form.

Boys on the way to Liberty.

The moment of levity, and some consternation, for us was how to fill in the tiny box labelled ‘Countries you have visited before the USA on this trip’. Inserting 22 countries was an impossible task made for someone with the skills of the monks writing the Book of Kells in microscopic script.

*****

Now we’re here in New York and the Statue of Liberty was our first priority. It seemed fitting to start our US sojourn with a view that greeted so many immigrants to this country.

With Manhattan skyline.

There is something quite special about the Statue of Liberty even without the vast symbolism that has attached to it since the French presented it to the USA in the 1880s. It really is a masterpiece and perfectly placed in the New York harbour. We were also delighted to discover that one of our engineering heroes, Gustave Eiffel, built the internal structure that holds the thin copper shell in place.

Getting to the Statue involved going through yet another security check. I must admit that annoying as it is to have to remove my belt, it is nothing compared to the examinations the immigrants of the 1800s had to endure upon arriving in the US. We visited Ellis Island after the Statue and gained a real insight into the procedure of arriving in the US. One thing that really grabbed us was the eye exams. They were looking for trachoma and the sign was inflammation beneath the eyelid. If they found it, the poor immigrant was immediately sent home. The examination was conducted by turning back the eyelid either with bare fingers or with a button-hook! It boggles the mind how many additional cases were created through lack of sterilisation during the examination process.

Ellis Island’s main hall.

But I digress, we awoke early, oh so early, this morning thanks to jetlag so we were on one of the first ferries out to the Statue. Even so it was jam-packed with about 800 fellow visitors and there were just as many waiting to get off the Island. If you arrive a bit later you should apparently expect to queue for two hours to get tickets. All in a hot, badly organised crowd. Not many of the people visiting the Statue today can be classified as poor, but they certainly tick the boxes on the rest of the famous lines of Lazarus’s 1880 poem:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

Seeing the Statue close up and the Manhattan skyline looking back was worth the tribulations of the crowds. And Ellis Island was fascinating in so many ways. But we were thrilled to break free of the crowds at the end and breathe free.

*****

Protesting poor working conditions.

We made our way home via Wall St to cover another iconic sight. And we saw the new building going up on the World Trade Centre site. We didn’t visit, but did spend a lot of time talking about 911; partly because it is both important and fascinating and partly because, given he was born so close to it, it looms large in Callum’s thinking.

*****

Model boating in Central Park.

This afternoon we explored Central Park and found an unsung child-friendly attraction. At the model boat basin you can hire remote-control sailing boats and captain them around the pond. Even in the fitful breeze provided by a steaming-hot New York day the boats moved remarkably well and were a lot of fun.

We also got caught up in a bit of industrial action with one of the local unions trying to persuade people not to eat or rent boats or bikes from the Boathouse in the Park. Their grievances seemed legitimate and concerning and so the boys provided their support by proudly wearing balloons.

Statue of Liberty, Industrial action, Wall Street, captain of your own yacht – not a bad introduction to New York.

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