"Lady liberty. That's it. I never get tired of the lady after all these years."
Charlie Deleo is one of those rare people who believes he was born, destined even, to do what he does.
With the skill and strength of a gymnast, Charlie climbs the girders and rigging that hold liberty together. He inspects for debris and changes the light bulbs, all 800 of them.
It is dangerous backbreaking work that must be performed when the statue is empty. Charlie knows every hand, hold, and every wrinkle in the 31 tons of copper that stand for America's independence and freedom.
"From the interior sandle straight up till you get to the torch. That's 101 feet. If you can master that, you got it. All you need is the grace of god and a lot of nerve," says Charlie.
The windows in Liberty's crown have been locked for years, but Charlie has a key. Visitors haven't been allowed in the torch since 1916. Charlie, though, is a regular.
"This is the entrance to the arm and nobody but me is allowed up there to inspect the lights up in the torch," Charlie says. "Nobody is allowed past this point."
Charlie thinks of this place as sacred.
"I love being up in the torch," he says. "It's like a prayer chapel. I feel close to god and I ask god to bless all nations. Not only America. But all nations that want democracy and freedom too."
For Charlie, liberty and freedom are more than mere ideas. They are living things that require care and nurturing.
Millions come every year to get as close as they can to the statue: to feel her power. Charlie knows its source. His thousands of hours inside have helped the old marine understand what the statue stands for.
And as long as Charlie's on the job, the rest of us will be sure to see freedom's light.
Reported by Harry Smith
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