“Head, shoulders, knees and toes … knees and toes … eyes and ears and mouth and nose … ”

I couldn’t help thinking of the children’s ditty while visiting the new Statue of Liberty Museum, just steps away from America’s great symbol of freedom. Here, kids can clamber over and sit on the gleaming copper replica of Liberty’s toes — the perfect spot for a family photo.

Visitors inspect the original Statue of Liberty torch as Lady Liberty stands tall in the distance.
Visitors inspect the original Statue of Liberty torch as Lady Liberty stands tall in the distance.David Sundberg/Esto

The 15,000 square feet of galleries in this Liberty Island museum are filled with historical artifacts as well as interactive and Instagrammable modern touches.

You can also pose for pictures around a giant mask — the full-size model of Liberty’s face. That face alone takes up nearly an entire wall in the museum’s centerpiece: a glass-enclosed gallery that holds the original torch.

Elsewhere are full-size re-creations of Liberty’s nose and ears, which let vision-impaired guests get a feel for the scale of the statue by touching them. So says the exhibit’s designer, Edwin Schlossberg of ESI Design — and yes, he’s Caroline Kennedy’s husband, but also a museum designer with 42 years of experience, as he reminded me.

Upon entering the museum, visitors are directed through a series of three oval theaters that screen three-minute segments about the statue’s history, construction and symbolism.

It took years of fund-raising and dedication to get Liberty — a gift from France to commemorate the US-France alliance during the American Revolution — from there to here. After the gift was proposed, in 1865, Édouard de Laboulaye, the French abolitionist and admirer of America’s Constitution, chose sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi to design it.

For five years, Bartholdi agonized over numerous plaster iterations and engineering solutions for making such a massive, heavy work of copper. The statue was finally constructed on a wharf before being taken apart in sections, boxed into 200 crates and shipped to New York.

A replica of the sculptor’s workshop, photos and an interactive sketchbook are highlighted in one of the galleries.

You’ll also find a reproduction of Lady Liberty, the size of a person, cut in half to show her interior and the wooden supports needed for the heavy copper.

Souvenirs, toys and artwork are all available at the museum.
Souvenirs, toys and artwork are all available at the museum.EPA

Once she arrived in New York Harbor, it took over a year to rebuild her on a pedestal designed by Richard Morris Hunt, three of whose models are also on view. At last, on Oct. 28, 1886 — amid fireworks and a blizzard of ticker tape — Lady Liberty met her public.

Several other galleries display artifacts, art and toys the statue has inspired through the years, including a menorah, Legos, Beanie Baby and even a Barbie.

Also on display along one wall is Emma Lazarus’ sonnet, “The New Colossus,” with its moving line, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Written around 1883 to support the fund-raising efforts for the pedestal, Lazarus’ poem was eventually inscribed on a bronze plaque, a replica of which is on view in the museum.

Visitors can walk around the museum’s centerpiece: the original Statue of Liberty torch, with its delicate, stained-glass top. Removed in 1986 during the statue’s restoration, it was moved in November 2018 from its previous home inside the base of the statue before being enshrined here, in a 22-foot-high, windowed gallery that was constructed around it.

A sturdier reproduction is now held high in the Lady’s hand. You can see it through the gallery window facing the statue’s rear. Her front, of course, faces the entrance of the harbor, but can be seen in all her glory with a walk to the other side of the island, where families gather for more selfies.

Designed 19 feet above sea level, the first 10 feet of the building are hollow and have 84 openings for water to pass through, should another storm like Hurricane Sandy barrel into the harbor.

An additional ticket will bring you to the top of the statue’s pedestal, while another will pass you into the bowels of Lady Liberty and the 154 steps to her small crown and windows over the harbor. Those who don’t want to pay extra to climb Liberty’s interior steps can marvel at the inside of her skirts during the museum movie’s virtual fly-through sequence, shot from two drones.

Ferry boats travel to Liberty Island and back from either Battery Park or Liberty State Park in New Jersey. The chance to see Lady Liberty from all sides makes the trip something to put on your bucket list — especially now that there’s a new museum that puts it all into perspective.

The Statue of Liberty Museum is free with a ferry ticket ($18.50 for adults, $9 for children ages 4 to 12) to Liberty Island. Details at LibertyEllisFoundation.org.


A miniature cutaway of the statue is on display at the museum.

Lois Weiss

Statue of LIberty Museum

Outside the entrance to the museum.

David Sundberg/Esto

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