Three of my four grandparents were immigrants. While none of them passed through Ellis Island, the sheer history of this site made it a target of my admiration.
In 2010, Meg and I visited the traditional side of Ellis Island prior to a visit to Ireland. While there, the ranger made note of the abandonment across the ferry docks. It was only recently this was made available to visit/tour.
Save Ellis Island (www.saveellisland.org) is working to restore this side of the island. It’s because of their preservation efforts that even touring this side has become available.
Hurricane Sandy attacked the grounds, but as those of us in the Northeast are, both the site – and the people who work to preserve it – are resilient.
As for my tour, I was fortunate in the majority of my group was delayed or didn’t arrive. As a result, only two of us set off on the tour of the abandoned hospital, kitchen, morgue, and (–captains house??–). While others joined us as we went, this “quiet” beginning was quite beneficial.
We began with a bit of history, ranging from the purpose of Ellis Island and immigration, to fires on the grounds and the changing of purpose (island ownership in the 16/1700’s, immigration, Coast Guard activities, prisons capabilities, etc.)
As the others joined, we made our way through the kitchen and other wards throughout the grounds. The United States not only verified that the immigrants were fit to enter the country, but also cared for those that might have needed an extra “bump” (medically).
Sadly, while numbers were extremely low, a number of those arriving in America did not survive. A full morgue (right), with freezer, allowed autopsies of the deceased to be completed. With the classroom-like arrangement, it also allowed the morticians to share the knowledge with their students.
It was humbling to walk the hallowed grounds so many had once strived to set foot on. It was even more humbling to know my grandparents had once strived for the same exact thing.