Visitors arrived to find “CLOSED” signs at the Statue of Liberty, the Smithsonian and other parks and historic sites across the country. Callers looking for help from the government reached only voicemail. And federal employees were left to wonder when they would return to work.
The first government shutdown in 17 years took hold Tuesday in ways large and small.
About 800,000 federal employees were sent home — a number greater than the combined U.S. workforces of Target, General Motors, Exxon and Google.
“After next week, if we’re not working, I’m going to have to find a job,” said Robert Turner, a building mechanic at the Smithsonian’s American History museum in the nation’s capital. He was called in for part of the day to take out the trash, turn off the water and help close up the place.
The effects played out in a variety of ways, from scaled-back operations at federal prosecutors’ offices and the FBI to revoked permits for dozens of weddings at historic sites in Washington.
Campers and hikers at the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone and other national parks were given two days to pack up and leave, and new visitors were being turned away. St. Louis’ landmark 630-foot-high Gateway Arch was off-limits as well.
In Philadelphia, Paul Skilling of Northern Ireland wanted to see the Liberty Bell up close but had to settle for looking at the symbol of democracy through glass. And he wasn’t optimistic about the chances of visiting any landmarks in Washington, the next stop on a weeks-long visit.
“Politics is fantastic, isn’t it?” he said ruefully.
In New York, tourists who had hoped to see the Statue of Liberty were instead offered an hour harbor cruise.
“There has to be better ways to run the government than to get to a standstill like this,” said Cheryl Strahl, a disappointed visitor from Atascadero, Calif. “Why take it out on the national parks?”