Ellis Island: General Hospital

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Welcome back to National Parks and other public lands with T! 

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The Abandoned General Hospital Complex on Ellis Island»

A significant number of Americans today (40-50%) can trace their ancestry to immigrants who first set foot in the USA on Ellis Island. Twelve million people were processed through Ellis Island in its 60 year history. All had to pass a brief medical and psychological screening before proceeding into NYC or New Jersey.

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Those who showed signs of an ailment were marked with chalk at the Main Arrivals Building and were detained in the island’s hospital for further evaluation. The hospital complex sat on land created from excavation of the NYC subway tunnels. The General Hospital was just across the ferry basin from the arrivals building while the Contagious Disease Hospital was furthest away and separated by another body of water to prevent the spread of disease.

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The General Hospital was used to fix immigrants up so that they could join the American workforce. It also had a maternity ward. The 350 or so children born there did not have birthright citizenship in those days…it was up to the decision of individual officials.

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I was recently invited on an extended tour of the hospital complex as part of a focus group for Save Ellis Island. Save Ellis Island is the non-profit fundraising group seeking to restore or arrest the decay of Ellis Island’s south side. They receive no federal money and depend on the income from the tours they conduct to fund the preservation.

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The hospital complex was deemed part of the State of New Jersey by the courts in 1998 and therefore receives little of the proceeds from the visitor center concessions which are on the New York side of the island. Save Ellis Island began conducting the ‘hard hat’ tours in 2014.

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Our tour began in the industrial laundry room of the general hospital. Here, they laundered thousands of garments, sheets and bedding a day. It was state-of-the-art for its day.

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In the room’s window is the first of the many art installations by French artist JR. JR collaborated with Save Ellis Island to transfer actual photos from the archives, enlarged, on the walls, windows and doors of the hospital complex. They help bring the buildings to life and tell the stories of some who passed this way.

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The laundry room mural uses a photo of immigrants standing on the pier looking out at the city. Please scroll down to the end of the post for a brief CNN clip about the Ellis Island hospital.

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Ellis Island Posts:

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Location: Jersey City & New York City

Designation: National Monument

Date designated or established: 5/11/1965

Date of my visit: 2/29/2020

 

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17 thoughts on “Ellis Island: General Hospital

    1. Immigration slowed and began to take different routes. Ellis Island fell into disuse. The coast guard used the hospital for storage for a while, but nature began to reclaim the buildings as the years passed.

      1. Long before Ellis Island, immigrants brought many diseases into the country’s interior. The 1849 cholera epidemic that raged through the Mississippi drainage is an example. This hospital clearly served a very important function. Too bad our current government doesn’t have any concern about public health matters.

  1. My grandmother came through Ellis Island. I have not visited there yet. My daughter did. When my daughter sent me a picture of her standing on Ellis Island, it was very touching to think she was where my grandmother entered our country so many years before. My grandmother had been a little girl coming with her mother and sister to join their father who had come over as a carpenter to work on the St. Louis 1904 World’s Fair. I hope the Island is completely restored. Thanks for your post.

  2. Kings On the Road

    Another great post. Ellis Island is a fascinating story of the ancestors of so many of us today. Thanks for including the video. Can’t wait to visit next time we’re in New York or New Jersey.

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