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The Gateway To a New Life
As a modern-day visitor to the US, it seemed only fitting that I should visit Ellis Island – which was the gateway to a new life for so many migrants. 12 million of them in fact.
The first thing that struck me … the island is tiny. It seems far too small to hold such an important place in history.
When the immigrant station was first opened there in 1892, the island was just over three acres. Over the years, it was enlarged to more than 27 acres. I could walk around it in a very short time – if it was allowed.
The Island has a fascinating history. In the colonial period it was known as Little Oyster Island for the obvious reasons. In the 1760’s it was Gibbet Island – after some pirates were hanged there. The name Ellis Island derives from its private owner around the time of the American Revolution, after which it was acquired by the government of the new nation, and fortified to protect New York Harbour from invasion.
Such a lot of responsibility for a tiny island.
In the late 1800 and early 1900s, when US policy was to welcome migrants, Ellis Island was the busiest point of entry for those brave and hopeful souls. After 1924, when US policy changed dramatically – it’s main role was the deportation of those who were not wanted.
Then it was abandoned – and fell into disrepair.
There are some amazing photographs on display of the buildings back then.
How I wish I could have visited when it was like that.
There are a couple of displays of ‘rubbish’ from the time they just walked away and closed the doors.
I found that part very evocative. I had to wonder what the migrants who passed through three would have thought to see it like that – the officials and their endlesspaperwork gone. The paint peeling from the walls. The floor covered with debris.
Since 1990 has it been reopened as a museum – telling the story of migration to the US.
Only the main building is currently open to visitors.
It’s really attractive – beautifully restored.
The main registration hall where people waited for hours to have their papers checked is light and airy and clean…
It wouldn’t have been like that for the migrants who passed this way… and whose faces still gaze out from the walls.
The other buildings, including the hospitals where the migrants were taken to recover from any illness – or in some cases die – remain in disrepair.
Looking at them, I so desperately wanted to get inside… because that’s where the ghosts will be.
What stories they would have to tell…
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