A magical isle loses the last of its residents.
NEW YORK -- It sounded like a nursery rhyme, but it was true.
When the three Moffitt children were growing up, they lived on a speck of an island, accessible only by boat, which became their own private playground after dark. A thick fog could keep them home from school for the day. And thousands of visitors from all corners of the world would descend each morning, stay until dusk, and then, as if by magic, melt away.
The Moffitts lived on Liberty Island, home to the Statue of Liberty. Their father, David Moffitt, was the superintendent there, and at Ellis Island, for some 10 years, until 1987.
People have lived on Liberty Island for at least 200 years, first when it was a military reservation, and later, to care for Lady Liberty herself. In recent years, the statue's neighbors have dwindled from a bundle of families to just two people: David Luchsinger, the current superintendent, and his wife, Debbie.
But Luchsinger has decided to retire at the end of the year, and his Liberty Island home, which was shredded during Hurricane Sandy last year, will not be rebuilt. So when Luchsinger says goodbye, this era will fully come to a close.
"I'm officially the last resident of Liberty Island,'' Luchsinger said.
The few who have lived on the island -- which, as a national park, has been closed since Oct. 1 by the federal government shutdown -- frequently describe the experience as rare and even magical, like a hidden dimension of New York City very few get to see.
Many of them also say it is inconvenient.
"The best part was that we had the most magnificent view of Manhattan,'' Moffitt said in a recent interview. "During a lightning storm, you could watch the lightning bolts hit the World Trade Center and the Empire State Building.
"The worst part was being stuck on the island,'' he added. "You knew there were great things going on at night, over there.''
Life was dictated by the ferry schedule, and the last staff boat ran at about 10 p.m., which meant that adults and children alike had a curfew. Grocery shopping was a three-hour endeavor -- ice cream could rarely be bought -- and tourists would sometimes knock on the front door looking for aspirin, or wander into a family picnic. Socially, it could be very isolating.
At night, though, it was all theirs.
"Being a moody teenager, when I needed my space from everybody, I would walk around the island,'' said Andrea Delfin, the eldest Moffitt child, now with two teenagers of her own. "The statue would be all lit up, and it would be really beautiful.''
Davis Moffitt said that while he loved the job, after 10 years, he was ready to go.
Over the years, their unique address -- NPS1, Liberty Island, N.Y., N.Y. -- has made Liberty Island families an object of fascination and not infrequent media coverage. An article in The New York Times in 1986 profiled the Moffitts and their neighbors at a time when the island's inhabitants included nine adults, five children and a bomb-sniffing golden retriever.
In 1968, another article in The Times described a group of Liberty Island's children, including Kevin Hinckley, 9, doing homework on the ferry as it took them to Governors Island to go to school.
"'And when there's really a bad storm, it's horrible,' Kevin said with relish,'' according to the article, "adding that he'd 'like to live out West with horses and no water.' ''
Island residents have even received some special attention from the occasional politician, like in 1960, when Paul A. Castelli, a Republican candidate for state Assembly, took the ferry to Liberty Island in search of its five votes. The Times wrote an article about his field trip called "Ferry-Riding Vote-Seeker Doesn't Even Get His Foot in the Door.'' Of the five voters in residence, "one had died, one had moved, one was away and the other two refused to open their doors to Castelli,'' the article explained.
Luchsinger, who has been staying mostly with his mother-in-law in Holmdel, N.J., since the storm, said it had been park policy to have a member of management living on the island (residents pay rent, though Luchsinger declined to divulge what he paid on his single-story, two-bedroom house), but advances in security have made that unnecessary.
In addition to patrols and a 24-hour security team, there is a high-tech system in place to monitor the island's perimeter for anyone or anything that might approach. When two French swimmers paddled out to the island one night a few years ago, they were greeted at the water's edge by half a dozen men who knew they were coming. (Luchsinger and Moffitt both described confronting groups of tipsy young revelers who had sneaked onto the island in the middle of the night. One group said they were looking for a place to nap.)
The other major concerns for the houses going forward, Luchsinger said, are rising sea levels and future storms.
"You start looking at a single-story building on the lowest part of the island, and you ask, are these structures sustainable? The answer is no, they're not,'' Luchsinger said. "And if you're demolishing them, do you really need housing? The answer is no to that, too. We don't need to have somebody living out there, and why put another family in harm's way?''
Some of the statue's former neighbors, however, view the end of residents on Liberty Island with a tinge of heartsickness. "I think it's sad, her being out there all by herself,'' Delfin said. But in addition to the statue's fancy security apparatus, and her millions of visitors a year, there are those who keep an eye on her, even from afar.
Said Moffitt, who now lives in Virginia, "I watch it almost every day on the cam they have from the torch.''