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Post-9/11 Tourism Off At Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island

December 29, 2002, 3:12 PM EST
Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK -- In the fallout from the Sept. 11 attacks, tourism has plummeted sharply at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, two of America's most famous attractions, across the harbor from the World Trade Center.

Some foreigners are staying away from New York, domestic visitors are spending fewer days here and tight security remains in effect at Liberty Island, itself now considered a target for terrorists.

In the past year, about 2.5 million visitors from around the world rode the ferries from lower Manhattan to Liberty and Ellis islands, according to the National Park Service, which oversees both sites.

That is half the number who made the trip in 2000, and well below the more than 4 million who had visited in 2001, before terrorist hijackers crashed two jetliners into the trade center, prompting a 100-day shutdown of the two national monuments.

The figures reflect a decline of as much as 20 percent in the number of foreign tourists, who in normal times stay longer than domestic tourists, and are more likely to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, with its displays detailing the history of America's immigrants.

By contrast, the number of domestic visitors to New York City in general has remained the same or even surpassed pre-Sept. 11 figures _ about 30 million a year, according to NYC & Company, the city's tourism bureau.

And while the city in general has shown signs of a tourism recovery, various factors keep the two iconic islands in the harbor from drawing the crowds they once did.

Brian Feeney, spokesman for the National Park Service, said that because domestic visitors spend fewer days in the city, some decide to skip the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, a boat ride that consumes the better part of a day.

In addition, Feeney said, many people assume that all of Liberty Island is still off limits since the terrorist attack last year. In fact, only the interior of the 152-foot statue remains closed to visitors.

One can still wander about the 58-acre island with its seaweed-coated rocks and wheeling seagulls, gaze up at the green copper figure of the "Mother of Exiles" and across the water to where the twin towers formerly stood, less than two miles away.

On a recent winter day at the boarding dock in Battery Park, hundreds of people still packed a ferry to make that trip, undeterred by the new security measures that include airport-style metal detectors.

"Seeing the statue still gives me goose bumps!" said Murray Gould, 70, of Potomac, Md., who first sailed into New York harbor in 1938, barely escaping the Nazis as a 6-year-old Jewish refugee from Poland.

"It's cool! Big and famous!" said Ben Saubert, 12, of Erfurt, Germany.

More than 100 million Americans today can trace their ancestry to an immigrant who passed through Ellis Island.

Peg Zitko, spokeswoman for the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation that operates the sites, said winter, with its shorter lines of tourists, is the ideal time for families to seek information there about their forebears.

The island's American Family Immigration History Center provides information on 25 million people who sailed into New York between 1892 and 1924, with computer databases and steamship passenger registers used to track ancestors.

In the Great Hall where the newcomers were processed, a visitor sat on an early 20th century bench, trying to capture a sense of the emotions from the place where people were welcomed _ or turned away for health or other reasons.

"I can just see all these people on tenterhooks, hoping they'd get through without coughing, if they were sick," said Shelley Hampshire, who came with her husband and teenage daughter from Alsager, a small town in England. "And what if you got split up? One yes, one no? This is basic human emotion."

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