Why We Can’t Climb the Torch of the Statue of Liberty: the Reasons are Kept in History

1:39 pm  |  21.06.2021

The Statue of Liberty was opened on 28 October 1886. At that time visitors had the opportunity to climb the torch. But it was closed in 1916. Why do you think that happened?


Now we can only guess what kind of view the Statue of Liberty has of the city, and many New Yorkers are outraged that it is no longer available to us. But there are good reasons. The torch was officially closed due to structural damage caused by years of wear. But it was preceded by another, more tragic event.

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First Torch and Amber Windows

The first torch, in 1885, was delivered in crates by ship from France to the then military base known as Bedloe Island. 

The torch was made of solid copper sheets, and about a month before the public dedication of the statue in 1886, two rows of chess holes were cut in these sheets – to put bulbs and a torch «lit».

No light was barely visible from the harbor, and the results were disappointing. In 1916, the flame was repossessed by Gutzón Borglum. It was he who made amber windows in the torch. They were beautiful, but every time it rained, the torch leaked. It didn’t seem like a problem at the time, though.

Night Sabotage

During World War I, Germany had a difficult financial situation, and its government was angered that the United States was helping the British and French with ammunition. So it was decided to create a diversion. On July 30, 1916, an explosion occurred at an ammunition depot on the pier connecting Black Tom Island to Jersey City. He rocked the harbor at 2:00 a.m., killing several people and injuring hundreds. According to a study by the University of New Jersey City, Ellis Island was evacuated and windows in Manhattan were raised to Times Square. Lady Liberty’s arm and torch were damaged by flying debris.

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Germans Carried out the First Major Attack in New York

At first, there were only a few smaller fires. But they had the unpleasant quality of not being extinguished – quite tricky around ammunition boxes. At around 2:08 a.m. the time had come: 1,000 tons of ammunition blew up with a deafening bang.

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Half of New York fell out of bed that early morning on July 30, 1916. Windows shattered 40 kilometers from the detonation site, and the Statue of Liberty, about 1200 meters away, was damaged by debris and splinters. The quake could still be felt in Philadelphia – its effect is said to have corresponded to a value of up to 5.5 on the Richter scale.

There was not much left for this fire-fighting boat to save after the explosion on Black Tom Island on July 30, 1916.

The explosion on Black Tom Island, a small island built into a warehouse and pier for explosive cargo in the most important trading port on the American east coast, is considered the first major attack in the United States. The originators were not religious fanatics, but saboteurs. Agents and diplomats of the German Reich.


Their goal was to disrupt arms shipments from US companies to the Entente. The material damage of the attack was sometimes given as 20, sometimes 150 million US dollars – according to today’s value more than 400 million to over 1.5 billion dollars. The damage to the Statue of Liberty alone was estimated at $ 100,000 at the time.

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Actually, the United States did not want to interfere unilaterally in the great war that broke out across the Atlantic in 1914 but wanted to remain neutral. However, as understood at the time, that also meant selling supplies to both sides.

Today there is only a small plaque at the site of the explosion to commemorate those who died in the first major bomb attack in New York. The island itself, once connected to the mainland by a pier, has become a peninsula through land reclamation. If you drive to the end of Morris Pesin Drive in New Jersey today, you won’t notice anything.

New “Golden” Torch

The torch was closed for visitation. But even without guests, the torch has deteriorated over the years, due to the constantly leaking water in the amber windows. 

The Freedom Island Foundation was established in the 1980s to raise money to restore the statue and replace the torch to celebrate its centennial. The island was closed, the statue surrounded by the largest forests ever built before, and the torch was gently brought down by a crane.

The museum staff is still climbing a narrow 40-foot staircase to support 16 searchlights that illuminate the torch. But access to the torch by mere mortals after the sabotage was denied. True, you can see the view from it, using the webcam of the Statue of Liberty torch.

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For those who do not know, the torch symbolizes enlightenment, illuminating the path to freedom. Today, the land that was Black Tom Island is part of Liberty State Park. The memorial plaque in memory of the bombing is in its place within the circle of American flags. And the original torch was recently moved from the lobby to the site of the new Statue of Liberty Museum. According to the New York Times, it is expected to open in May of this year.

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