Posts Tagged ‘Ellis Island’

Stories of America

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009
Great Hall, Ellis Island

Great Hall, Ellis Island

Last fall, the day before Election Day, when a feeling of historic import and tension was in the air, I paid my third visit to the wonderful museum at Ellis Island.

I’d advise visitors to go as early in the day as possible. First of all, you’ve got to stand in line at Castle Clinton to get your ticket for the ferry. Then you have to stand in a long line to go through the airport-style security, although if you buy reserve tickets (rather than flex time) you get a shorter line. (Tickets are $12 for adults; $20 with an audio tour. The museum is free, but you can’t get there without taking the ferry.)

The ferry stops at Liberty Island first. The Statue of Liberty is definitely worth a visit, but Ellis Island can easily take hours by itself; we skipped the statue and stayed on the ferry. And still, we didn’t get to see everything in the museum.

A few facts I learned:

  • The first choice for the location of the immigration station was Bedloe’s Island (now Liberty Island), but the Statue of Liberty’s sculptor, Auguste Bartholdi, considered it a “desecration” of the statue to put an immigration station there. (Peter Morton Coan, Ellis Island Interviews)
  • In 1916, presumed German saboteurs detonated fourteen munition barges at New Jersey’s Black Tom Wharf, less than a mile from Ellis Island, damaging the buildings. I had never heard of this.
  • By the late 19th century, as many as a third of immigrants traveled back and forth (at least once) between the United States and their country of origin.
Processing new arrivals

Processing new arrivals

The museum looks at the immigration experience from several angles. The Peopling of America exhibit, on the first floor, is full of charts and information. Upstairs, there are exhibits about the processing experience for new arrivals, and displays of documents, advertising, and beloved items brought from home. There’s also a genealogical research center.

Sustenance for the rest of the journey

Sustenance for the rest of the journey

You can learn about the restoration of the buildings. You can take a free tour with park rangers or watch a film. And you can eat french fries on the terrace, if you’re brave enough to fight off the gigantic gulls.

But mainly, the attraction of the museum is found in the oral histories, the pictures. The children’s shoes. The joy and the sadness. The reasons people came here, and still come here. There is no single Story of America, of course, but here you will find many, many stories of America.

And, if you go in the winter and take the last boat home, you can join everyone in snapping pictures of this view.

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Ellis Island hospital documentary

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

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Highly recommended!

At 10 pm Monday, Feb. 2, PBS will air Forgotten Ellis Island, a documentary narrated by Elliott Gould about the Ellis Island hospital. All steerage passengers who wished to enter the United States through Ellis Island had to undergo a brief health inspection. Those who failed got a further inspection. Immigrants who couldn’t pass the followup were almost all checked into the Ellis Island hospital (about 1% were deported), where their stays might be brief or might go on for several weeks.

Some sick patients died; some babies were born; and many families were frightened by a separation they didn’t understand. Their stories are fascinating, and you can hear about them and see their faces in this documentary by Lorie Conway. The film also looks at those who were diagnosed as “feebleminded,” which sometimes seems to have amounted to not much more than disagreeable.

Ellis Island hospital update

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

As part of its Lost Jersey series on WBGO Journal, WBGO radio investigates what’s going on with Ellis Island’s project to stabilize and restore its old hospital complex. (According to the National Park Service, “Ellis Island is federal property partly within the territorial jurisdiction of the both the States of New York and New Jersey.”) Andrew Meyer will be on the air with this story from 7:30 to 8 pm Friday, July 25. If you miss it, you can hear it later from their website here.