That Time I Didn’t Climb the Statue of Liberty

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When I was younger, my family – my parents, younger sister and brother and I – road tripped to New York on vacation. While some points are blurry (making me wonder if I really need to stress out so much about planning memorable trips when I can only remember the weird/scary/highlights myself), two things stand out: stopping to ask a Jersey cop how we could get to the hotel my mother booked in East Orange, New Jersey (answer: “just keep driving, you really don’t want to go there”) and (nearly) climbing the Statue of Liberty.

Let me explain.

I may be a bit claustrophobic and I’m not a fan of stairs. Oh, the climbing up isn’t bad – it’s the fear of coming back down, particularly if they are steep, tricky or unsteady. The Statue of Liberty has about 377 steps, which are about 19 inches wide, and the headroom is only about 6 feet. (I still have no idea how my dad walked all that way, as he is well over six feet.) If you visit in the summertime, it can get very hot inside the cramped quarters.

So let’s see: narrow winding stairs, crowded with people and an extra twenty degrees. We all started up the stairs…and not too far into the climb, I began to panic. Inching up all those steps leaves plenty of time to think about coming back down, after all.

These days, you have to keep going until you hit the top of the pedestal. Back then, however, my mom sent me back DOWN the steps with my younger brother. I’m pretty sure we were going against traffic and there were a lot of annoyed people in my wake, but the panic probably made them make room on that 19 inch step.

I’m sure my mom sent me down, telling me it was because it was too big of a climb for my younger brother, but the reality was she was just giving me an easy out.

Part of me regrets never getting to see the view from the crown.

The other part of me thinks about walking down 377 winding steps and wants to hurl.

I never outgrew the fear of coming down steps. (Which I was relieved to hear IS a thing: it’s called climacophobia, and it includes the fear of falling down stairs. See, I’m not crazy!) While the worst for me is probably climbing down open metal stairs (because I don’t really want to see anything, honestly) anything unstable and wide open is panic-causing. The first mile or so of the Kaibab Trail at the Grand Canyon was a particular joy. I don’t think I saw anything but my feet.

I don’t think I ever felt it so intensely as when we were living in the UK and spent weekends exploring nearby castles (and castle ruins.) My husband quickly got in tune with my impending panic and took lead on the climbs, holding on to the hand of my ever adventurous daughter who had NO fear (all the while I was gingerly stepping down crumbling steps that had no railing, terrified that the next step would leave me in a heap at the bottom of the stairwell and at the mercy of the local A&E, waiting for the next cast clinic. (An equally dread-inspiring thought.)


He is always quick to walk ahead of me on staircases so that the kids don’t see me panic, because he is afraid this will cause them to panic needlessly. Quite often, my firstborn will say “I’ll walk with you mom. I don’t like stairs.”

And while that kid of mine isn’t the most adventurous, either, I know that it really isn’t about his fear. He’s just giving me an out for mine.



This post was inspired by Trapped Under the Sea by Neil Swidey. In Boston, five men were sent into a dark, airless, miles-long tunnel below the ocean to do a nearly impossible job that would help clean the once dirtiest harbor in America. Join From Left to Write on February 19th as we discuss Trapped Under the Sea. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.


  1. I did climb to the very top, and I can tell you that it’s teeny tiny, there’s graffiti on the itty bitty windows and it sways back and forth in the wind. Hurl city. You did the right thing, girl. 😉

    • I think this was around ’83, right before they started repairs and added the elevator. When I looked at photos online, I thought “boy, I don’t remember the stairs looking like that!” The thought still makes my stomach churn, so thanks for the reassurance!!!

  2. We visited a lighthouse in North Carolina and I had to leave when I realized that we were so far up! Fear of heights is no joke!

    • The worst bit is realizing you are that high up – especially when you aren’t even to the top – and then you start panicking about the climb DOWN.

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