Living in the Shadow of Lady Liberty No More

David Luchsinger may be the last superintendant of the Statue of Liberty National Monument to get to live on Liberty Island.  He and his wife, Debbie, have called the island’s only residence, a little brick bungalow near the edge of the Hudson Bay, home for the past three and a half years.  They were evacuated hours before Sandy struck and returned to find their home destroyed.

The storm surge covered nearly 75 percent of the island with water, mud, silt and debris.  Lady Liberty was unharmed, but brick walkways were torn asunder, electricity was cut off, sewage lines and computer systems were submerged and destroyed, and a work dock was demolished. The Luchsinger’s house filled with four and a half feet of water, which knocked out doors and washed away their belongings.

“I had a guitar in the living room, on top of a fireplace mantel and it ended up underneath the refrigerator in my kitchen,” he said.

The Luchsinger's electric fireplace was nowhere to be found, but some mementos survived.  The family's pictures were found still hanging on the walls and a wind chime remained untouched and dangling by the blown out back door. 

“The first time I came back was pretty devastating. It's emotional living here anyway.  This is the place where Debbie and I would walk around the island at night under the lights of New York and the Statue of Liberty.  It doesn’t get more romantic than that.  It also doesn’t get more emotional than that,” he said.

The National Park Service is questioning whether to rebuild the superintendent’s residence given the increasing frequency and magnitude of recent storms.  Luchsinger says he’ll miss living on the island, but believes it’s time to move foreword.

“We have to start building smartly.  We have to start preparing for the future and not live in the past…It doesn’t make sense to have folks staying out here anymore,” he said.

Still, he’s hoping to recover at least least one thing. “If anybody finds a banjo, let me know,” he joked.

Luchsinger can still be found working, if not living, on Liberty Island as the National Park Service works to repair the park and neighboring Ellis Island.  Both are expected to remain closed for several months.

Superintendent David Luchsinger stands outside his now boarded up house on Liberty Island.
Superintendent David Luchsinger stands outside his now boarded up house on Liberty Island. ( Caitlyn Kim )
The storm surge flooded 75 percent of the island, displacing several bricks that made up the island's path.
The storm surge flooded 75 percent of the island, displacing several bricks that made up the island's path. ( National Park Service )
Repairs have begun with several bricks, but not all, of the bricks replaced.
Repairs have begun with several bricks, but not all, of the bricks replaced. ( Caitlyn Kim )
A view of the damage from the statue right after the storm.
A view of the damage from the statue right after the storm. ( National Park Service )
The passenger ferry dock was also damaged with boards lifted out of place.
The passenger ferry dock was also damaged with boards lifted out of place. ( Caitlyn Kim )
The ferry is the closest many tourists will come to seeing the Statue of Liberty until sometime next year.
The ferry is the closest many tourists will come to seeing the Statue of Liberty until sometime next year. ( Caitlyn Kim )
Water flooded several buildings, including this one where the waterline was right by the red switch.
Water flooded several buildings, including this one where the waterline was right by the red switch. ( Caitlyn Kim )
Debris from the flooding remains on the fence near the statue.
Debris from the flooding remains on the fence near the statue. ( Caitlyn Kim )
The flood lights that illuminate Lady Liberty at night were damaged by the storm, with salt water corroding the wires.
The flood lights that illuminate Lady Liberty at night were damaged by the storm, with salt water corroding the wires. ( Caitlyn Kim )
( Caitlyn Kim )
Railings were also damaged by Sandy.
Railings were also damaged by Sandy. ( Caitlyn Kim )
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