Army Sgt. Robert Frame of Albertson was one of the first to climb the narrow spiral staircase to the Statue of Liberty's crown Sunday as it reopened to the public for the first time since its multimillion-dollar face lift.
"It was not as easy as I remembered; I'm a lot taller now," said Frame, who was a 10-year-old the first time he climbed the iconic staircase.
Frame and a handful of color guard U.S. Military Academy cadets climbed to the crown with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar Sunday after a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the statue's lobby, where the original torch is exhibited.
"Let us think about how wonderful it is to be an American and that the Statue of Liberty is the path to a light of liberty and that it is open to all," Salazar said.
The Statue of Liberty crown reopened as part of an ongoing $27.25 million renovation project that is scheduled to be completed early next year.
Lady Liberty has a new elevator for wheelchair accessibility; upgraded bathrooms; air temperature control and a fire alarm system.
Once the project is finished, visitors will have access from the bottom and to the exterior of the statue's Old Fort Wood base, which is beneath the statue's pedestal.
"The workers on this project were professional, dedicated craftsmen whose work is impeccable," said David Luchsinger, superintendent of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island. The interior staircase was upgraded in 2009.
Other visitors to the statue Sunday said it was an emotional experience.
"It was wonderful and an honor," said Debbie Walsh, 45, of Queens, after she descended from the crown.
"It was the first time and it was remarkable. Everyone was pretty much in awe."
Patty Marsibilio said visiting the memorial made her "honored to be up there."
"But most of all, it made me proud to be an American," she said.
Tickets for the crown are sold out through the end of the year.
New tickets will go on sale for January.