Last week, our nation’s new Statue of Liberty Museum on Liberty Island opened its doors to the public for the first time, featuring the statue’s original glowing torch, an immersive theater, soaring windows looking out on the statue and Manhattan skyline, and three interactive galleries representing the great history of Lady Liberty. It will become a popular stop on the island for more than four million visitors a year who are drawn to the statue’s symbolism of hope and liberty.
Much of this is thanks to American University History Professor Alan Kraut. As chair of the 14-member Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island History Advisory Committee, he played a critical role in creating the museum’s vision, which celebrates the statue’s history, influence, and legacy. The museum also explores the concept of liberty and its complex role in our nation’s history, including slavery, racism, immigration, and women’s rights.
Raising the Torch
Lady Liberty has always held a special place in Kraut’s heart. He first visited the statue with his parents when he was seven years old. “My paternal grandparents had sailed beneath its raised torch when they arrived as immigrants to the United States in 1907,” he says. “That connection, and the focus of my scholarship on the immigration experience here at American University, made my contribution to creating the new Statue of Liberty Museum quite personal.”
One of the highlights of Kraut’s role as history advisory chair was creating a three-part podcast with fashion designer and philanthropist Diane von Furstenberg. Von Furstenberg served as the chairperson of the Statue of Liberty Committee, which has raised nearly $100 million over five years to create the museum and beautify the land around it.
Listen as Kraut joins von Furstenberg, fellow historian Barry Moreno, and park ranger Melissa Magnuson-Cannady to discuss the Statue’s history, how Joseph Pulitzer saved it from abandon, and how Lady Liberty stirs conversation and controversy.
Lady Liberty: The Experience
The Statue of Liberty, a symbol of freedom and democracy across the world, was a gift of friendship from France to the United States. Designed by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, with a metal framework built by Gustave Eiffel, the statue was dedicated on October 28, 1886 and designated as a National Monument in 1924.
Each year, millions of people take ferries to visit the 150-foot statue, but because of security concerns after Sept. 11, the National Park Service has been forced to limit the number of visitors who can enter the monument. In fact, approximately 80 percent of visitors have been unable to enter.
The museum has changed all of this. Now every visitor who takes a ferry to the island has a free destination where they can learn the story behind Lady Liberty. The 26,000-square-foot museum sits right behind the statue. In addition to showing off the original 1884 torch, three interactive galleries, and the immersive theater, the museum will offer audio tours in 12 different languages to accommodate its visitors from around the world.
Kraut is thrilled by the project’s success. “As I toured the now completed museum,” he says, “I relished the thought that visitors young and old might ponder the meaning of liberty embodied by the Statue. I want them to be inspired by the story of the Statue of Liberty’s creation and its celebration of the liberty to which all human beings should feel entitled."