ELLIS ISLAND — The new Statue of Liberty Museum opened to the public Thursday.
Visitors are able to see up close Lady Liberty's original torch and replicas of her foot and face. Lindsey Mayer was visiting from Dallas, Texas. "It's just the feeling of pride and patriotism you get when you see things like this," she said.
Since 1886 Lady Liberty has shone as a beacon of freedom in New York's harbor. And as the new $100 million museum opened, the debate over immigration and America's future has never been more heated.
Hours after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his candidacy for president, he spoke at the opening ceremony.
"In so many ways immigration is the founding and unifying element of the American experience. It is so much of what it means to be American," the mayor said.
In the museum visitors will get a look at how the statue was built, the people who built it and what it has meant throughout our shared history as Americans.
"The United States is astonishingly strong because of our diversity and we get our diversity by immigration," museum designer Edwin Shlossberg said.
Originally artifacts were in the base of the pedestal. It was dark and small. And due to security concerns, not many people were allowed in. The original flame is once again seeing daylight.
"So now we have brought her out into the light. She shines over the harbor the way she used to," museum architect Nicholas Garrison said.
Entry is free with a purchased ferry ticket to Liberty Island. The building echoes the statue and pedestal with the same granite, bronze and copper. "It was absolutely the most important thing I've ever been involved in," project contractor Doug Phelps said.
And now more than 4 million people a year will get to see it.