New museum celebrating the history of the Statue of Liberty opens

NEW YORK (WABC) -- She has been turning heads in New York Harbor since 1886, and now, there's another reason to visit the Statue of Liberty: A new museum, which opened to the public on Thursday.

Inside, there are artifacts and old souvenirs. You can touch a model of the statue's foot, and swipe through images of her design.

There's an inspiration gallery, where you can add your photos and reflections to a growing digital display.

And at the immersive theater, the story of the statue comes to life. Visitors can learn about her history, her construction, and what she stands for.

For the museum architects, there were some challenging parameters.

"How do we make this a really meaningful experience without making it this monster of a building that starts to compete with the real reason you're out here, which is to see the statue," said Cameron Ringness, of FXCollaborative.

A museum used to be housed in the base of the statue, but because of overcrowding, few people were able to see all the artifacts.

The new space allows for more exhibits and many more visitors, who can feel like they're flying through the inside of the statue.

They can also get a sense of scale, with the original torch in direct view of the one that replaced it in 1986, as well as enjoy the panoramic vistas.

"It's amazing, and a view like no other," said Stephen Briganti, president of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation.

He anticipates thousands of people will make it a point to visit the museum when they come to see the statue.

"It's there for everybody, and it's there with the understanding that it stands for liberty," he said. "How can you fight with that? Democracy, freedom, we all want that."

An opening gala was held Wednesday night with performances by Tony Bennett and Gloria Estefan. There was also a speech by Seth Myers and keynote speaker Oprah Winfrey, who reminded of how so many immigrants were first introduced to Lady Liberty.

"A ship would pull toward the harbor, and there she stood," she said. "151-foot tall goddess holding a beacon of light."

Access to the museum is free with the purchase of a ferry ticket to Liberty Island.

Take a virtual 360-degree tour of the new Statue of Liberty Museum:

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