The symbol of America's welcoming immigration policy was unveiled 125 years ago today and deserves a resounding salute. I think most of you are familiar with Emma Lazarus' famous poem "The New Colossus" that was written in 1883 and placed on a bronze plaque mounted inside the statue. But while the famous words "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free" are known to most, the entire poem is not and so here it is as a reminder of what makes America the country it is:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
The Statue of Liberty has always had a lot of meaning for me. When I was a boy, I remember my grandfather telling me a lot of stories about his immigrant parents and their 17 siblings who all were part of that first generation of eastern European immigrants that immigrated to the US from the 1880s to the early 1900s and no doubt looked in awe at the Statue of Liberty as their ships sailed in to the port in New York City. I also remember him telling me about family that didn't immigrate and the anguish of learning the fates of cousins and aunts and uncles who perished in the Holocaust. Thank goodness my branch of the family came to America when we had extremely liberal immigration laws that allowed nearly 100% of people seeking admission entry instead of the restrictive quota rules that prevented relatives from coming in the 1930s.
As a kid, I became interested in geneaology and have spent time at Ellis Island researching the story of my family's move from Poland, Belarus, Lithuania and the Ukraine to various points around the US. My family has moved from little villages in these countries across the world to places like Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, South Africa, the Netherlands, the UK, Belgium, Israel, Mexico and Canada. So migration has been a common theme in my family and it probably explains why immigration law was a natural for someone like me.
Another hobby I've had since I was a teen is collecting rare and historic newspapers. Within my large collection is a set of newspapers that has the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island as its theme. If you ever come to my office, you'll find a number of those items items on our walls. I was pleasantly surprised to see this photo in today's New York Times.
This illustration of the fireworks celebration at the unveiling of the statue is actually from the November 6, 1886 issue of Harper's Weekly and I'm quite familiar with it because I see it everyday. I have the original newspaper hanging in my office right next to another Harpers Weekly cover portrait of Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the artist behind the statue and two Scientific American newspapers from May and August 1886 giving a behind the scenes peak at the deconstruction and shipment of the statue from France and its reassembly in New York. Down the hall, we have a miniature Statue of Liberty my law partner acquired some years back. The piece is made of original metal from the Statue of Liberty which was removed and replaced during the renovations that took place from 1982 to 1986.
I won't be in New York today like I was in 1986 at the 100th anniversary, but I'll be watching the celebrations today via the new Torch Cam that goes live today. For the next year you won't be able to go in the Statue while a much needed renovation of its stairs and elevators takes place. But you can still visit the island as well as nearby Ellis Island.