Just steps from the Statue of Liberty, a new museum opens this week - with a mission to tell the story of a beloved monument.
"I think we want the story of what the Statue of Liberty is all about," said Stephen Briganti, President & CEO of the Statue of Liberty - Ellis Island Foundation." "What it stands for; why is it the American symbol; how did it become the American symbol."
Built for a $100 million in private money, the new museum contains theater space exhibits and artifacts, spread across 26,000 square feet.
The showstopper is Lady Liberty's original torch, on display in a glass room overlooking the actual Statue of Liberty. It was replaced in 1985, in advance of the statue's centennial, after it had begun to deteriorate from water damage.
"You get to see the torch that was always so high up in the air very up close and personal," Briganti remarked.
For generations the torch has been a symbol of hope for immigrants and refugees. But in recent years, immigration has become a political flash point, making this an interesting moment to open a new museum about the statue.
Briganti said immigration has long had its supporters and detractors, and that the statue symbolizes the right to debate it.
"It stands for everybody's right to express themselves, and part of that is that if you don't want any more immigrants," Briganti said. "I hope that's not the way it ends up - but it does give you the right to have your own thoughts."
For years, everything in the new museum was housed in the base of the statue. But since the September 11th attack, the number of people who can enter it has been restricted, leaving thousands each day unable to do much beyond looking at the statue and walking the grounds.
In 2016, construction workers broke ground on the facility, after they had cleared away the former home of the island's superintendent, which had been badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
The possibility of more hurricanes is one important factor the architects took into account when they designed the building. It sits 19 feet above sea level. But even though the building is elevated, architects say it does not stand out.
"We didn't want to detract from the statue itself," said architect Cameron Ringness, who works for FXCollaborative. "We wanted to be very deferential. We sometimes call it kind of stealth."
The design leaves focus on the statue, which is both at the center of the museum's existence and American ideals.