New York handed America a pretty big present for the nation's birthday Thursday.
The National Park Service made a round-the-clock effort -- and came in under the wire -- to reopen the State of Liberty to visitors on the Fourth of July, the first time the public could visit Lady Liberty's island since Hurricane Sandy blew through 248 days before.
More than 17,500 people swarmed to Liberty Island Thursday, said Mike Burke, the chief executive of Statue Cruises, prepared to snap photos posed with an imaginary torch, dressed in red, white and blue and even prepared to climb the steps to the statue's crown.
While the statue was not damaged in the storm, the island and pedestal suffered from the 14-foot storm surge. The ferry docks were trashed, electrical and sewage ravaged, and walkways and railings destroyed.
The $56 million restoration effort swelled to $77 million as engineers and and officials chose materials and construction they hoped could withstand the next Sandy-like storm.
The closure was the third since Sept. 11, 2001, and David Luchsinger, the monument's superintendent, said at a formal ribbon cutting ceremony he hopes it will be the last.
"I don't know about you, but I'm getting a little bit tired of reopening and closing the Statue of Liberty," Luchsinger said. "I think this time we'll just leave it alone."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell were among those who spoke at the ceremony, which included a fife and drum corps in white wigs and three-cornered hats and a rendition of "God Bless America" from actor Dominic Chianese.
"This is a work of art that became a symbol of resilience," said Adrian Benepe of the Trust for Public Land. "It's a highly important symbol, not just for New York but for the world."