From the top: Statue of Liberty's crown may reopen
The National Park Service is considering reopening the Statue of Liberty's crown to the public, according to documents released by Rep. Anthony Weiner, of New York. Although the base, pedestal, and lower observation deck reopened to the public in the fall of 2004, the crown has remained closed since 9/11.
The crown's current configuration makes it impossible to evacuate the area in the case of emergency. The NPS has asked companies for bids on fixing the crown so that it complies with building and fire codes.
This move has a lot to do with declining tourism. Weiner, who organized a congressional hearing on the issue last fall, pointed out that there's been a big downturn in visitor numbers: 3.6 million people visited the Statue of Liberty in 2000, but six years later, that number had gone down to 2.5 million.
Of course, while not being able to reach the top probably did cause some travelers to skip Lady Liberty, the increased security and related hassles involved in getting there probably have more to do with the downturn. And that's not likely to be going away.
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George Washington's boyhood home uncovered
Archeologists in Virginia made a timely announcement yesterday that they have located the remains of George Washington's boyhood home on a plot of land called Ferry Farm. The evidence reveals an eight-room, one-and-a-half story clapboard house, upscale for its day, that stood along the Rappahannock River near Fredericksburg. Two outbuildings were also recovered: the kitchen and the slave quarters. No telltale stumps or other evidence were found of the (almost certainly made-up) cherry tree that Washington chopped down and could not tell a lie about. However, many mid-18th-century artifacts—including pieces of a Wedgwood tea set, wig curlers, and a pipe bowl with the Masonic crest—were found among the foundation, chimney, and cellars. Most of the house's wood was gone, apparently either used as fuel or reused for other buildings. Washington's parents and their six children moved to the farm in 1738, when George was 6. Augustine, George's father, died five years later, but Mary, his mother, continued to live on the farm until 1772, when she moved into town. Nearly a century later, the farm's land was used as a staging ground for the Union's troops during the Civil War—a trench of several hundred feet remains from those days, and the Union may have used the farmhouse as a temporary headquarters. The house's remains are part of George Washington's Boyhood Home at Ferry Farm, 113-acre National Historic Site. A recreation of the house as it stood in the 1740s is in the works.
New York City waterfalls: Focus on the bridge
Last month, we blogged about the New York City waterfalls art installation by Olafur Eliasson. The four waterfalls, located in the East River, were turned on last week—and we took a tour on Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises. We weren't blown away by the falls, but the cruise itself was refreshing. The views from the boat are tremendous, and it's a great way to remind yourself of the size and vitality of the city, with its vast skyline and many connecting bridges. Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises has two-hour tours starting at $27 for adults or three-hour tours from $31 (on the latter, you'll go around the whole island—definitely worth the ticket price). You can also opt for Circle Line Downtown (the two cruise companies aren't affiliated), which has official waterfalls tours. Thirty-minute tours from Circle Line Downtown start at $10 for adults, or $25 for hour-long tours. To see the waterfalls for free, focus on the best of them, at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, on the Brooklyn side (see photo, above). You can walk across the bridge and catch a glimpse, or relax in Brooklyn Bridge Park, a tranquil escape inside the city with clear views of three great East River bridges (Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg), and a close-up of the Brooklyn Bridge waterfall. Or, take the Staten Island Ferry, which runs daily with views of three of the four waterfalls, for free. Eliasson's waterfalls installation is scheduled to run through mid-October. PREVIOUSLY: New York City: Four giant waterfalls arrive soon Downtown NYC will gain new Whitney branch Museums: Murakami buzz in Brooklyn
The Smurf tour of Europe
The little blue cartoon characters from Belgium that befuddled adults and charmed children the world over are celebrating their 50th anniversary—sorry, Smurfday—this year. To mark the occasion, the Smurfs are touring European cities in anticipation of their grand Smurfday festivities on October 23. The schedule of upcoming cities on the Smurfs' Euro Tour is a secret, but you can track where the Smurfs currently are and where they've been on the Smurfsite. For each city visited, there's an online video documenting locals' reaction to the Smurfs' arrival. I personally can't tear myself away from this site, so let me be the one to tell you what it means to "Smurf" a city: In the middle of the night, the organizers drop off thousands of white vinyl Smurf figurines around city landmarks, say, subway escalators or a prominent fountain. The object is to decorate one of these Smurfs, take a picture of it, and upload it onto the site where others will vote on their favorite. At the same time, the organizers set up a temporary Birthday Expo in the city and fill it with Smurf paraphernalia and a celebrity-designed Smurf that'll later be auctioned off for charity. The website also promises tantalizingly vague things like "50 Smurf games" that can be played while the Smurfs are in town. Currently the Smurfs are in Warsaw and Budapest. If you’re roaming around Europe this summer, it's worth keeping your eyes open for white vinyl Smurf figurines—who knows where they'll pop up next? It's good (albeit baffling) cheap fun! And even if you aren't straying from your desk for the next little while, the Smurfsite, er, website is a trip in itself.
Gear: For summer, a new family-friendly backpack
On a recent visit to the Briggs & Riley Travelware showroom, the Family Backpack caught my eye. The backpack, which hits stores this week, is tailored to parents on the go. It has a front compartment for a portable DVD player, a separate organizer for a cell phone or iPod, an outer side strap for a sippy cup or water bottle, and a side pocket with waterproof lining. A band in the back allows you to slip the entire bag over the handle of any carry-on rolling suitcase. The main compartment features a sleek insulated lunch bag that rests on a collapsible shelf and is held in place by Velcro. The shelf makes it easy to stuff diapers, books, and other items around the lunch bag, but you can also fold it up when you want to maximize the backpack’s interior. At $199, the Family Backpack isn’t cheap, but it is cheaper—and can get more day-to-day use—than the company’s current bestseller, the 22-inch Baseline rolling carry-on. Last year, I visited Mrs. Grossman’s Sticker Factory in Petaluma, Calif., with my then 5-year-old niece. I remember trying to hold my niece’s hand while juggling our picnic lunch and her sweatshirt. A backpack like this would’ve helped to streamline the chaos. If you have any gear recommendations, share them by posting a comment below.