Carol Tuzzolo, 85, of Mineola, lived on Liberty Island as a young child when her father was the caretaker of the Statue of Liberty. Tuzzolo spoke with Newsday on Oct. 26 about her memories growing up on the island. NewsdayTV’s Steve Langford reports. Credit: Brinley Hineman, Kendall Rodriguez, Pond5; Photo Credit: Morgan Campbell

Like most kids, Carol Tuzzolo spent her childhood playing make-believe and other games, but instead of frolicking in a fenced backyard or down the street with her peers, Tuzzolo spent her early years romping around Liberty Island, home to the iconic Statue of Liberty.

Recently, Tuzzolo, 85, of Mineola, shared with Newsday her memories of growing up on the 14.7-acre island, where her father, James Bizzaro, worked first as a guard for Lady Liberty and later as her caretaker, a career spanning nearly 40 years. Tuzzolo, who lived behind the statue until age 7, recalled crabbing in the waters and noshing on lunch in Lady Liberty’s crown. For many, the verdigris statue represents freedom and hope. For Tuzzolo, the lady was a childhood companion. 

“It was just wonderful,” Tuzzolo said. “The whole back of the statue was ours. … We had the whole island for ourselves. The island was ours.” 

Tuzzolo, her father, mother and three older siblings lived on the island from 1938 to 1945, when it was called Bedloe’s Island. Hundreds of visitors swarmed the island daily, but after the last boat undocked, the Bizzaro clan had the island mostly to themselves. The 1940 U.S. census shows the Bizzaros were among the 19 people who lived on the island then. Others on the island worked mostly as guards.

The small commune was self-sufficient, as the family raised chickens and grew a victory garden, but when they needed milk or bread, they hopped in their boat and ferried across the water to New Jersey, Tuzzolo said.

While the adults were anxious to get back to the mainland, the island was a utopia for Tuzzolo and her siblings. Pastimes included racing up the 162 steps to the top of the statue (or catching a piggyback ride from a guard) and roller skating inside Lady Liberty. Her family scoured the land in search of arrowheads left behind by Algonquin tribes that visited the island. Sometimes, she even assisted her father with his duties or used a handheld counter device to track visitors. 

Statue of Liberty National Monument archivist Matt Housch said Bizzaro was likely the first statue caretaker for the National Park Service, which took over administration of the statue in 1933 from the War Department. There, the department operated Fort Wood, built in the early 1800s to protect New York Harbor, until 1937. Today, the statue sits atop the fort's remains. 

“Jim is the original caretaker, if you will,” Housch said.

Bizzaro's tasks included lighting, managing leaks and making copper repairs to the statue. Climbing a 40-foot ladder to reach the torch on an open-air balcony was "perilous," Housch said. His granddaughter Augusta Anzalone, of Franklin Square, described him as "meticulous" with his work. He even referred to Lady Liberty as "my statue." 

“We grew up always feeling like the Statue of Liberty was always a special part of our lives," Anzalone said

When the Bizzaros lived on the island, the Park Service lacked funding to remove things abandoned by the War Department, Housch said. That was fine by Tuzzolo. Deserted military vehicles became her playthings and former Army lodging was the perfect place to “play house,” she said. 

In the '40s, the island was buzzing with tours after Lady Liberty became an international symbol in the '30s, Housch said. When Tuzzolo lived there, the island would see an average of 30,000 visitors a month, he said. (Today that number is nearly smashed in just one day, he said.) During World War II, the statue went dark to comply with national blackout standards, and Bizzaro couldn’t fulfill his duty of lighting the torch. But twice during the war he flashed a Morse code “V” for victory, Housch said. First, during an NBC-broadcast bond drive held on the island and, finally, on D-Day. 

Although Hal Clancy, of North Arlington, New Jersey, never crossed paths with Tuzzolo, he, too, had personal ties to the statue and island. 

Clancy’s father, Capt. George Clancy, operated the ferry from lower Manhattan to Liberty Island. His grandfather, N.H. Foster, was superintendent of the region’s national parks and was stationed on the island. As a child, Clancy frequently stayed with his grandparents, and like Tuzzolo, was wowed by the magic of the island. As an adult, Clancy became a captain in honor of his father and worked for companies operating the ferries. He retired in 2020. 

“It was so special and unique, and I feel very blessed to have had this in my background,” he said. “The memories are very special.” 

The Bizzaros eventually left the island and moved to Brooklyn for the convenience of reliable transportation. Tuzzolo doesn’t remember her reaction to moving but said she was likely sad to leave her adventures and Lady Liberty behind. 

Tuzzolo keeps a collection of statue-related newspaper clippings, books, photos and even a piece of the statue. Schoolchildren marvel at her upbringing when she visits local classrooms. Her children and grandchildren have been mesmerized by her stories and fallen under Lady Liberty's spell, too, she said. 

“It was amazing, really amazing,” Tuzzolo said. “I didn’t know at the time it was really something until I moved away.”

Like most kids, Carol Tuzzolo spent her childhood playing make-believe and other games, but instead of frolicking in a fenced backyard or down the street with her peers, Tuzzolo spent her early years romping around Liberty Island, home to the iconic Statue of Liberty.

Recently, Tuzzolo, 85, of Mineola, shared with Newsday her memories of growing up on the 14.7-acre island, where her father, James Bizzaro, worked first as a guard for Lady Liberty and later as her caretaker, a career spanning nearly 40 years. Tuzzolo, who lived behind the statue until age 7, recalled crabbing in the waters and noshing on lunch in Lady Liberty’s crown. For many, the verdigris statue represents freedom and hope. For Tuzzolo, the lady was a childhood companion. 

'The whole back of the statue was ours…We had the whole island for ourselves. The island was ours.'

— Carol Tuzzolo

Photo credit: Kendall Rodriguez

“It was just wonderful,” Tuzzolo said. “The whole back of the statue was ours. … We had the whole island for ourselves. The island was ours.” 

Tuzzolo, her father, mother and three older siblings lived on the island from 1938 to 1945, when it was called Bedloe’s Island. Hundreds of visitors swarmed the island daily, but after the last boat undocked, the Bizzaro clan had the island mostly to themselves. The 1940 U.S. census shows the Bizzaros were among the 19 people who lived on the island then. Others on the island worked mostly as guards.

Undated family photos of Carol Tuzzolo with her father, James Bizzaro. Photo credit: Morgan Campbell

The small commune was self-sufficient, as the family raised chickens and grew a victory garden, but when they needed milk or bread, they hopped in their boat and ferried across the water to New Jersey, Tuzzolo said.

While the adults were anxious to get back to the mainland, the island was a utopia for Tuzzolo and her siblings. Pastimes included racing up the 162 steps to the top of the statue (or catching a piggyback ride from a guard) and roller skating inside Lady Liberty. Her family scoured the land in search of arrowheads left behind by Algonquin tribes that visited the island. Sometimes, she even assisted her father with his duties or used a handheld counter device to track visitors. 

Statue of Liberty National Monument archivist Matt Housch said Bizzaro was likely the first statue caretaker for the National Park Service, which took over administration of the statue in 1933 from the War Department. There, the department operated Fort Wood, built in the early 1800s to protect New York Harbor, until 1937. Today, the statue sits atop the fort's remains. 

“Jim is the original caretaker, if you will,” Housch said.

An undated photo of James Bizzaro, who worked first as a guard for Lady Liberty and later as her caretaker.  Credit: Morgan Campbell

Bizzaro's tasks included lighting, managing leaks and making copper repairs to the statue. Climbing a 40-foot ladder to reach the torch on an open-air balcony was "perilous," Housch said. His granddaughter Augusta Anzalone, of Franklin Square, described him as "meticulous" with his work. He even referred to Lady Liberty as "my statue." 

“We grew up always feeling like the Statue of Liberty was always a special part of our lives," Anzalone said

When the Bizzaros lived on the island, the Park Service lacked funding to remove things abandoned by the War Department, Housch said. That was fine by Tuzzolo. Deserted military vehicles became her playthings and former Army lodging was the perfect place to “play house,” she said. 

Carol Tuzzolo keeps a collection of newspaper clippings, books and photos of...

Carol Tuzzolo keeps a collection of newspaper clippings, books and photos of Liberty Island and the iconic statue. She also shares her stories of living on the island at schools. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

In the '40s, the island was buzzing with tours after Lady Liberty became an international symbol in the '30s, Housch said. When Tuzzolo lived there, the island would see an average of 30,000 visitors a month, he said. (Today that number is nearly smashed in just one day, he said.) During World War II, the statue went dark to comply with national blackout standards, and Bizzaro couldn’t fulfill his duty of lighting the torch. But twice during the war he flashed a Morse code “V” for victory, Housch said. First, during an NBC-broadcast bond drive held on the island and, finally, on D-Day. 

Although Hal Clancy, of North Arlington, New Jersey, never crossed paths with Tuzzolo, he, too, had personal ties to the statue and island. 

Clancy’s father, Capt. George Clancy, operated the ferry from lower Manhattan to Liberty Island. His grandfather, N.H. Foster, was superintendent of the region’s national parks and was stationed on the island. As a child, Clancy frequently stayed with his grandparents, and like Tuzzolo, was wowed by the magic of the island. As an adult, Clancy became a captain in honor of his father and worked for companies operating the ferries. He retired in 2020. 

“It was so special and unique, and I feel very blessed to have had this in my background,” he said. “The memories are very special.” 

Carol Tuzzolo's collection of Statue of Liberty memorabilia. Photo credit: Kendall Rodriguez

The Bizzaros eventually left the island and moved to Brooklyn for the convenience of reliable transportation. Tuzzolo doesn’t remember her reaction to moving but said she was likely sad to leave her adventures and Lady Liberty behind. 

Tuzzolo keeps a collection of statue-related newspaper clippings, books, photos and even a piece of the statue. Schoolchildren marvel at her upbringing when she visits local classrooms. Her children and grandchildren have been mesmerized by her stories and fallen under Lady Liberty's spell, too, she said. 

“It was amazing, really amazing,” Tuzzolo said. “I didn’t know at the time it was really something until I moved away.”