A magical island loses its last residents
People have lived on Liberty Island for at least 200 years, first when it was a military reservation, and later, to care for the statue. But that era is coming to a close.
The New York Times
NEW YORK — It sounded like a nursery rhyme, but it was true.
When the three Moffitt children were growing up, they lived on a speck of an island, accessible only by boat, which became their own private playground after dark. A thick fog could keep them home from school for the day. And thousands of visitors from around the world would arrive each morning, stay until dusk, and then, as if by magic, melt away.
The Moffitts lived on Liberty Island, home to the Statue of Liberty. Their father, David Moffitt, was the superintendent there, and at Ellis Island, for some 10 years, until 1987.
People have lived on Liberty Island for at least 200 years, first when it was a military reservation, and later, to care for the statue. In recent years, the statue’s neighbors have dwindled from a bundle of families to two people: David Luchsinger, the current superintendent, and his wife, Debbie.
But Luchsinger has decided to retire at the end of the year, and his Liberty Island home, which was shredded during Hurricane Sandy last year, will not be rebuilt. So when Luchsinger says goodbye, this era will end.
“I’m officially the last resident of Liberty Island,” Luchsinger said.
The few who have lived on the island — which, as a national park, has been closed by the federal government shutdown — frequently describe the experience as rare and even magical, like a hidden dimension of New York City very few get to see.
Many of them also say it is inconvenient.
“The best part was that we had the most magnificent view of Manhattan,” Moffitt said in a recent interview. “During a lightning storm, you could watch the lightning bolts hit the World Trade Center and the Empire State Building.”
“The worst part was being stuck on the island,” he added. “You knew there were great things going on at night, over there.”
Life was dictated by the ferry schedule, and the last staff boat ran at about 10 p.m., which meant that adults and children alike had a curfew. Grocery shopping was a three-hour endeavor — ice cream could rarely be bought — and tourists would sometimes knock on the front door looking for aspirin, or wander into a family picnic.
Socially, it could be isolating.
At night, though, the unique address — NPS1, Liberty Island, N.Y., N.Y. — was all theirs.
“Being a moody teenager, when I needed my space from everybody, I would walk around the island,” said Andrea Delfin, the eldest Moffitt child, now with two teenagers of her own. “The statue would be all lit up, and it would be really beautiful.”
David Moffitt said that while he loved the job, after 10 years, he was ready to go.
Luchsinger, who has been staying mostly with his mother-in-law in Holmdel, N.J., since the storm, said it had been park policy to have a member of management living on the island (residents pay rent, though Luchsinger declined to divulge what he paid for his single-story, two-bedroom house), but advances in security have made that unnecessary.
The other major concerns for the houses going forward, Luchsinger said, are rising sea levels and future storms.
“You start looking at a single-story building on the lowest part of the island, and you ask, are these structures sustainable? The answer is no, they’re not,” Luchsinger said. “And if you’re demolishing them, do you really need housing? The answer is no to that, too. We don’t need to have somebody living out there, and why put another family in harm’s way?”
Some of the statue’s former neighbors, however, view the end of residents on Liberty Island with a tinge of heartsickness. “I think it’s sad, her being out there all by herself,” Delfin said. But in addition to the statue’s fancy security apparatus, and her millions of visitors a year, there are those who keep an eye on her, even from afar.
Said Moffitt, who now lives in Virginia: “I watch it almost every day on the cam they have from the torch.”