Across nation, Fourth celebrants salute liberty

Statue is reopened to the public after hurricane damage

Hundreds of tourists arrived at the Statue of Liberty on Thursday after its reopening to the general public months after significant damage to Liberty Island from Hurricane Sandy.
Peter Foley/European Pressphoto Agency
Hundreds of tourists arrived at the Statue of Liberty on Thursday after its reopening to the general public months after significant damage to Liberty Island from Hurricane Sandy.

The Statue of Liberty reopened on the Fourth of July, eight months after Hurricane Sandy shuttered the national symbol of freedom, as Americans around the country celebrated with fireworks and parades and President Obama urged citizens to live up to the words of the Declaration of Independence.

Hundreds lined up Thursday to be among the first to board boats destined for Lady Liberty, including New Yorker Heather Leykam and her family.

‘‘This, to us, Liberty Island, is really about a rebirth,’’ said Leykam, whose mother’s home was destroyed during the storm. ‘‘It is a sense of renewal for the city and the country. We wouldn’t have missed it for the world.’’


In Arizona, somber tributes were held Thursday for 19 firefighters who died this week battling a wildfire near Yarnell. But officials in Prescott, Ariz., where the fallen firefighters were based, said the city’s traditional Fourth of July celebration would go on as usual, including fireworks.

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At the site of the wildfire, officials say they expected to have the blaze up to 85 percent contained by Thursday night.

Erik S. Lesser/European Pressphoto Agency
A Union cavalry reenactor exchanged fire with Confederate troops during a skirmish commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, a turning point in the Civil War.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, speaking at the reopening of the Statue of Liberty, choked up as she told the crowd she was wearing a purple ribbon in memory of the fallen firefighters. ‘‘Nineteen firefighters lost their lives in the line of duty, and we as a nation stand together,’’ she said through tears.

The Yarnell Hill Fire was sparked by lightning on June 28. Two days later, violent winds fed the fire and took the Granite Mountain Hotshots by surprise. The fire has burned more than 100 structures on about 13 square miles.

Liberty Island was decorated with star-spangled bunting Thursday, but portions remain blocked off with large construction equipment and the main ferry dock was boarded up. Repairs to brick walkways and docks were ongoing. But much of the work has been completed since Sandy swamped the 12-acre island in New York Harbor, and visitors were impressed.


‘‘It’s stunning, it’s beautiful,’’ said Elizabeth Bertero, 46, of California’s Sonoma County. ‘‘They did a great job rebuilding. You don’t really notice that anything happened.’’

The statue itself was unharmed, but the land took a beating. Railings broke, docks and paving stones were torn up, and buildings were flooded. The storm destroyed electrical systems, sewage pumps, and boilers. Hundreds of National Park Service workers from as far away as California and Alaska spent weeks cleaning mud and debris.

‘‘It is one of the most enduring icons of America, and we pulled it off — it’s open today,’’ National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis said. ‘‘Welcome.’’

The statue was open for a single day last year — Oct. 28, the day before Sandy struck. It had been closed the previous year for security upgrades. Neighboring Ellis Island remains closed and there has been no reopening date set.

In Pennsylvania, a second Civil War reenactment commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg drew as many as 40,000 people. A narrator recounted the moves of Union and Confederate soldiers over two loudspeakers, as if doing play-by-play and color commentary for a football game.


‘‘All right, we've got early firing. What we call a skirmish unit,’’ the narrator said as crowds eagerly watched from the sidelines.

Joshua Lott/REUTERS
Firefighters from Idaho pay their respects at a makeshift memorial outside a fire house in Prescott, Arizona, that had been the headquarters for 19 firefighters who perished in a wildfire.

This reenactment was held by the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee, the group that has held such events for roughly two decades. This version appeared to draw bigger crowds on the holiday than the one held last weekend by the Blue-Gray Alliance, which has had several battle depictions for the 150th anniversary across the country.

The real battlefield at Gettysburg National Military Park was the focal point of visitors on the actual anniversary days. Up to 10,000 Union and Confederate soldiers died in Gettysburg July 1-3, 1863.

The Park Service finished up its special anniversary programs Thursday, focusing on the aftermath of the battle, including the stories of residents, prisoners, and the wounded.

In his weekly radio address from Washington, Obama urged Americans to work to secure liberty and opportunity for their own children and future generations. The first family later hosted a cookout at the White House for servicemen and women.

Atlanta and Alaska planned holiday runs, including thousands racing up a 3,022-foot peak in Seward. In New Orleans, the Essence Festival celebrating black culture and music, kicked off along the riverfront.

Police in Hermosa Beach, Calif., stepped up patrols after years of drunken and raucous behavior from revelers. Hartford postponed fireworks because the Connecticut River was too high.

In Union Beach, N.J., which suffered severe damage from Sandy, residents had something to celebrate. The working-class town won a party and fireworks contest from the television station Destination America and USA Weekend magazine.

‘‘It’s wonderful. Everyone’s been so depressed,’’ said Mary Chepulis as she watched a local band perform on a stage that stood where the home next to hers had been.

Every July 3, she and her friends and family would stand on a deck packed with people, food, and coolers and watch the fireworks. Next week, she’ll find out if the grant money she will receive is enough to rebuild the home where she lived for 15 years.