A couple of weeks ago my mom and I celebrated my birthday by going to the hard hat tour of Ellis Island. This tour, offed by the Save Ellis Island organization, has only recently been introduced and takes visitors through dilapidated yet stabilized areas of the island’s facilities that had previously been closed to the public. Hard hats are seriously required.We booked the tour three months in advance, but were lucky to have a beautiful but cold day for our visit.
To get you Ellis Island you take a ferry either from NY’s Battery Park or New Jersey’s Liberty State Park. The views on the way are worth the trip alone.
In 1954 the federal government declared Ellis Island “surplus government property” and the site was abandoned. They considered selling or redeveloping the island, but nothing moved forward. Without and funding the buildings sat for thirty years until the 1980’s when the Main Building and a few other structures were designated for restoration and money was provided for their stabilization.
The buildings that we toured had certainly withstood the test of time, but not without major wear and tear. Ceilings had caved in, walls collapsed, windows were blown out and Hurricane Sandy took its toll. Nature had begun to reclaim the structures with trees and plants growing indoors.
To me, the most incredible part of the tour was getting a glimpse into the lives of the immigrants that came through Ellis Island in its years of operation (1892 – 1934). About 12 million people came through Ellis Island during those years. While most were able to enter the United States without holdup, about 1% of the people were quarantined on the island for treatment or deported. I can only imagine their fear of being sent home or separated from their families.
To lose these buildings to neglect would be a tragedy. I am happy to report that in recent years more attention has been paid to preservation and funding for the Island has been increased. Ellis Island has shaped the experiences of so many of our ancestors. Its a story and history worth preserving.
What follows are my photos from the tour. As they largely speak for themselves, I wanted to share them without too much editorializing.
If you interested in visiting the island or taking a tour, go to http://www.saveellisisland.org/visit/. Be sure to make your bookings far in advance as tours book up early.
If you found this interesting, come back next week to see a second post about an important art installation called Unframed Ellis Island by JR.