Torch Balcony of Statue of Liberty

You, your family or ancestors may have had the opportunity to visit the Statue of Liberty in New York City over the decades. The Statue of Liberty faces Southeast and was strategically placed inside of Fort Wood which was a perfect base for the Statue. The Statue’s position was also perfect for ships, entering the harbor, to see her as a welcoming symbol. One outstanding item is the lit torch seen as a beacon of light and hope for all citizens. Besides seeing it up close visitors can also go into the crown of Lady Liberty and look out Upper New York Bay. Yet at one time visitors could also go up the right arm and reach the torch balcony and lookout. That is not longer done … here is the reason.

It was established in 1886 on Liberty Island (once known as Bedloe’s Island). The torch balcony stands at a dizzying 305 feet from ground level (equal to a 22 story building) and despite the problems with lighting it at night, it was a popular spot in the early years for the adventurous who wished to take in the view from up so high.

On July 30, 1916, a mysterious explosion occurred which baffled authorities and caused the uppermost portion of the statue to close forever. Nearby Black Tom Island was at the time producing large amounts of munitions to be sold to European countries during the First World War. American-made munitions were being sent to Britain and France to help in the war effort, yet this help was taken by Germany as an act of aggression. The explosion caused $25M worth of damage and decimated the industrial works and railroad yard on Black Tom Island. Some two million tons of munitions were exploded and windows as far away as Manhattan and New Jersey were broken from the blast.

The famed Statue of Liberty, nearby, was marked with shrapnel from the explosion and the torch was badly damaged. Investigations thought the explosions were the work of German sabotage by secret German agents but there was no proof. Americans were anti-German during World War One and even more so once Hitler’s Third Reich came into power in the late 1930s. It was then proven that Germany was behind the explosion in 1916, at which point a legal battle ensued to recover the money for the damages. Germany was incredibly reluctant to admit it. It wasn’t until 1979 that the payout from Germany actually began.

The torch balcony was never reopened to the public after the explosion of 1916, due to the 40-foot ladder and it could be unsafe to climb that distance in the arm. The original torch and balcony had to be replaced with a replica in 1985 since the explosion as well as various attempts to increase the light from the torch had caused significant damage over the decades.

In 2018 the original torch was moved to the Statue of Liberty Museum, which opened in 2019, on Liberty Island, where you can see it up close today, minus the stunning views of the bay from up high.

It would be great if you could find out if any ancestors had been up to the torch balcony before July 1916.

Photo: The original torch and balcony on display at the Statue of Liberty Museum on Liberty Island.

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< Return To Blog Very interesting! That original torch does look pretty beat up. Maybe I can go someday.
Sara N Martin 1/09/21

It is fascinating !!
alice 1/09/21

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