Protecting Lady Liberty
For native New Yorker Cynthia
Garrett, MURP 80, the
Statue of Liberty has always been a familiar face. Now, she
considers Lady Liberty a coworker.
In November, Garrett was named superintendent
of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island,
where she served as deputy since 1998 and acting superintendent
since 2002. She oversees the operation and preservation of
the sites, from budget matters to visitor services. She is
revising the sites master plan that will guide their
management over the next two decades and directs a project
to rehabilitate the 30 buildings on Ellis Island that have
been deteriorating since the 1950s.
While most days are spent attached
to the phone and meeting visiting national and international
dignitaries, Garrett says she makes a point to get out of
her office on Ellis Island to put in some face time with her
staff, visitors, and the sites themselves.
Its amazing to see the reactions
of the public, whether theyre visiting for the first
time or the fifth. Its important to have that reminder
of why I do what I do, she says. Everyone is fascinated
by her beauty and what she stands for. Visitors are touched
by being face-to-face with a universal figure that is a powerful
symbol of American culture and the American dream.
Garrett has witnessed firsthand how American
landmarks evoke responses around the world. After graduating,
she gained experience in project planning and historic preservation
with the Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service, which
later became part of the National Park Service. Through the
World Conservation Union, she worked for two years in Tanzania
at the College of African Wildlife Management teaching park
planning to government and park officials from all over English-speaking
Africa. She returned to East Africa every year for six years
to conduct training workshops. While I was in Tanzania,
I learned how powerful icons such as the Statue of Liberty
were when it comes to cross-cultural communication,
Garrett says. When speaking to children, I would tell
them I was from the United Statesif they looked confused,
I would hold my arm up like the Statue of Liberty. They would
instantly understand me.
Whether in Tanzania or talking with visitors
on Liberty Island, Garrett notes that the publics reaction
to the statue is not always positive. She also is very
thought provoking and controversial. She stimulates discussions
about the ideals she represents and whether or not those ideals
have been achieved.
Those ideals were challenged in the wake
of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United StatesGarretts
job changed overnight. After 9/11, I learned more about
security than I ever wanted to knowit has always been
a concern for such important landmarks, but now security factors
into absolutely every decision we make, Garrett says.
I came back to Ellis Island a few
days later to thank the law enforcement and maintenance workers
for keeping her safe. Just seeing that, in spite of everything,
she was still standingwas overwhelming, Garrett
After the attacks the park was closed for
three months while Garrett and her staff put key security
improvements in place. Liberty and Ellis Islands reopened
in December 2001, and Garrett spent the next two years focused
on work needed to bring visitors back inside the monument.
The Statue of Liberty reopened in August 2004, bolstered by
tighter security and safety measures, technological improvements,
and increased accessibility for patrons with special needs.
A new glass-ceiling viewing area enables visitors to experience
the skeletal structure of the statueand the artistry
and architecture of Frederic Auguste Bartholdi and Gustave
Eiffelfrom a different perspective.
While Garrett is glad the public is inspired
by visits to Ellis and Liberty Islands, she says that sometimes
inspiration gives way to fanaticism.
I get some truly unusual requests
for special time with the Statue of Liberty,
Garrett says. People want to get married in the crown
of the statue and have requested special lighting or banners
be placed on the statue for advertising purposes. But she
is a special lady who needs to be treated with care.
Garrett and her husband Billy live on Staten
Island and plan to eventually retire in her husbands
home state, New Mexico. But Garrett says she will always have
a special place in her heart for New York.
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2005 Table of Contents