July 3, 1986: opening ceremonies
The Opening Ceremonies of Liberty Weekend were held on July 3, 1986 at Governor's Island in New York Harbor. French President François Mitterrand was on hand to give his well wishes to the American people. Secretary of the Interior Donald Hodel (The Interior is the Government agency responsible for the statue), Executive Producer David Wolper, and the Chairman of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation Lee Iacocca spoke with the latter introducing the President of the United States, Ronald Reagan. Jose Feliciano sang the National Anthem (an in joke was that he sang "Jose can you see...."). Elizabeth Taylor gave a great speech about the statue and how it meant the world to her, followed by Frank Sinatra who also spoke about freedom and all America had given to him.
Reagan spoke of the friendship between France and the United States with an emphasis on the workers conducting the restoration work. He then unveiled the Statue for the first time since its restoration. This was followed by musical performances by Neil Diamond (who sang They're Coming to America), Frank Sinatra (who sang The House I Live In), and dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov among others. Ted Koppel of ABC News Nightline presented the Medal of Liberty to outstanding naturalized Americans.
Emil Mosbacher, organizer of Operation Sail, and Secretary of the Navy John Lehman spoke of the following day's events. Reagan spoke again, this time symbolically lighting the torch of the Statue of Liberty, by pressing a button shooting a laser from the podium to torch. This was done from the flight deck of the USS John F. Kennedy This was followed by a fireworks display set to Stars and Stripes Forever above the statue as well as the skyline of New York city.
The temperature in the harbor was about 40 degrees that night with a sharp wind blowing across Governor's Island. We froze in our thin suits but warmed to the occasion. I was part of the choir made up of students and faculty of Crane School of Music (SUNY Potsdam, NY). Our conductor was Brock McElheran.
Security was incredibly tight on the island. On the night of the performance there were frogmen in the water around the Island. Another bit of trivia is that the parking lot where the performance took place was covered in grass, which need replacement just prior to July 3. I have tons of memories. It was all Hollywood.
July 4, 1986: Operation Sail, Americana music concert, and fireworks
On the morning of July 4, 1986 the battleships and sailing ships of old took part in a naval revue down the Hudson River, including the largest flotilla of tall ships to assemble in modern history. Reagan viewed the ships from the USS Iowa. He described the ships as a personification of freedom and liberty:
Perhaps, indeed, these vessels embody our conception of liberty itself: to have before one no impediments, only open spaces; to chart one's own course and take the adventure of life as it comes; to be free as the wind – as free as the tall ships themselves. It's fitting, then, that this procession should take place in honor of Lady Liberty.
|Participants in Operation Sail 1986|
USCGC Eagle (USA)
Sagres II (Portugal)
Later the Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by John Williams conducted a concert of classic American music at Liberty State Park in New Jersey (the closest landmass to Liberty Island itself). It also featured musical performances from (in order) John Denver, Melissa Manchester, Clamma Dale with Simon Estes, Joel Grey, Whitney Houston, Johnny Cash, James Whitmore, and Barry Manilow. Also in attendance were notables such as Steven Spielberg, Amy Irving, Robert Dole, NYC Mayor Ed Koch, NY State Gov. Mario Cuomo, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Kissinger, Itzhak Perlman, Cardinal O'Connor, Don King, Pierre Salinger, June Carter Cash, Alan Shepard, Dianne Carrol, and Coretta Scott King.
This was followed by an address by Reagan aboard the USS John F. Kennedy and a 30 minute fireworks display and concert, scored and conducted by Joe Raposo, the highlight of the night. It was the largest fireworks display in American history, and at the time the largest in the world. The display included 22,000 aerial fireworks, launched from 30 barges and other vantage points, in addition to 18,000 set pieces. It was co-produced by four family-owned fireworks firms, namely the Zambelli, Grucci, Santore and Sousa families.
July 5, 1986: grand reopening, concert
At 4:30 pm, a "Great Blimp Race" took place over the Hudson River with four airships racing against each other for charity on a 12 mile course from the George Washington Bridge down to Battery Park in Lower Manhattan. The race was filmed by a fifth airship, and two others circled the city. The race was won by the Fuji blimp in 15 minutes and 36 seconds. Resorts International came second, followed by McDonalds and Citibank. The winner received a 2 foot long airship trophy from James Hoge, Daily News publisher, and the $25,000 Citibank Charity Challenge Cup fund went to the Boys’ Clubs of America.
That night a New York Philharmonic concert was held in Central Park conducted by Zubin Mehta with special guests (in order) Plácido Domingo, Joseph Flummerfelt, Marilyn Horne, Itzhak Perlman, Yoyo Ma, Sherrill Milnes and Leona Mitchell . At that time, a record breaking 800,000 people were reported to have attended (largest audience in the world until 1994, and still the largest ever in the USA and 3rd largest ever recorded worldwide).
July 6, 1986: closing ceremonies
The Closing Ceremonies took place at Giants Stadium in New Jersey. The Closing Ceremonies featured a tribute to sports and pop culture, with the following performers and speakers (in order): Fabian Avalon, Buddy DeFranco, Charlton Heston, Waylon Jennings, Gene Kelly, Patti LaBelle, Gerry Mulligan, Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers, The Pointer Sisters, Manhattan Transfer, The Golden Boys of Bandstand, Shirley MacLaine, & Liza Minnelli.
The entire event was broadcast on ABC with Peter Jennings and Barbara Walters as commentators. ABC News had paid $10 million for broadcasting rights. CBS also broadcast parts of the event, including Operation Sail 1986.
- Liberty Weekend. ABC. KOVR. 3–6 July 1986.
- Liberty Weekend: Commemorative Edition. Videocassette. ABC Video Enterprises, 1986.
- Bond, L.E. Statue of Liberty: Beacon of Promise. Santa Barbra, CA: Albion Group, 1990. 34–37.
- July 7, 1986 article in Time magazine about the event
-  from the Official Website of David Wolper, Television and Film Producer, who produced the event