The new Statue of Liberty museum is set to open its doors Thursday after more than two years of construction on the $100 million publicly funded project on Liberty Island in New York City.
The 26,000-square-foot museum houses the statue's original torch and other artifacts that had previously been in a smaller museum space inside the statue's pedestal.
Only a fraction of the island’s 4 million annual visitors manage to score statue entry tickets, which have limited availability, so these exclusive items will now be on display in the new museum located on the New Jersey facing side of the island, away from the entrance to the statue
"We looked at this small museum and thought, wouldn't it be wonderful to ... move it out to a place where more people could experience it," John Piltzecker, National Park Service superintendent of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island, told the Associated Press.
In 2009, a safety assessment mandated that only 4,000 people could enter the statue a day, the Daily Record reported. “That meant about 80 percent of our visitors could not get the full experience, the full story of Lady Liberty,” Public Affairs Officer Jerry Willis said.
Admission to the new museum comes included with the price of the ferry ticket from Battery Park in New York City or Liberty State Park in Jersey City, N.J., expanding access to more visitors. Daily access to the statue itself is still restricted due to safety concerns.
Stephen Briganti, president and CEO of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, told Daily Record that the non-profit reached its $100 million goal through mainly grassroots donors who contributed $10,000 or less. Liberty Mutual Insurance made the largest single donation of $5 million.
From the outside, the glass walls and copper-colored roof of the museum appear to be rising out of the earth, with a giant staircase rising to a rooftop terrace at the center.
The museum structure is meant to connect to Lady Liberty, using the same granite that's part of the statue pedestal and including copper as a nod to the material the statue is made of, said Cameron Ringness, the project designer at FXCollaborative, which created the museum's overall design.
"It's really trying to belong to the site and the landscape and not feel like this building that just got placed here out of nowhere," Ringness said. "We wanted to enhance the feeling that it's really special to be in proximity to the statue."
Inside, there are three main gallery spaces, starting with a theater where visitors walk through as they watch a film that goes into how the idea for the statue came about, the efforts that went into its making in France and its arrival in the New York harbor, as well as talking about what liberty meant then and what it means in the current day.
Another gallery goes into the building of the statue, with exhibits meant to show what it would have been like in Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi's studio, and the models and molds used to make it, as well as a replica of the statue's foot. Another section shows how iconic the statue has become, not only in American culture but around the world, with items like a menorah where each candle holder is a small Lady Liberty, as well as comic book covers, decorative plates, and dolls.
In the final section, visitors are encouraged to take digital self-portraits and add their thoughts on what liberty means to them, as they look at the original torch and a replica of the statue's face.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.