Ellis Island: Main Arrivals Building

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

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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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I was recently invited on an extended tour of the hospital complex as part of a focus group for Save Ellis Island,  the non-profit fundraising group seeking to restore or arrest the decay of Ellis Island’s south side. Though I had covered the Main Arrivals Building in my previous post on the Museum of Immigration, I took a quick walk through for photos before my tour of the hospital began.

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Without the tourist crowds, I noticed some antique photos on display in the Registry Room that provided a nice contrast to seeing the room as it exists today. Back then, it teemed with throngs of hopeful people. In the early morning, before my tour began in 2020, it was a gleaming, cavernous space.

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I also found this interactive tour of Ellis Island by Scholastic. This tour is designed for teachers and provides a step by step journey from the immigrants’ point of view, complete with audio and video clips. It’s a great way to visit the monument if you can’t physically get there.

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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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25 thoughts on “Ellis Island: Main Arrivals Building

  1. Nemorino

    My father was one of the few people who entered the United States twice through Ellis Island. The first time was in 1928, when he arrived as an immigrant, and the second time was three years later, in 1931, when he was returning from a business trip. At that time he was already a resident of the United States, but was not yet a citizen, so he had to enter through Ellis Island again.
    https://operasandcycling.com/german-emigration-center/

  2. “Give me your tired, your poor, your hungry masses yearning to be free.” What a contrast with today’s America. I wonder what the psychological test consisted of? –Curt

    1. I may have touched briefly on the psychological evaluations in the contagious disease hospital post. Our tour guide spoke at length about what went on in the ‘insane’ ward and the tests were hardly fair. The spirit of the Lazarus poem with its lofty ideals is not necessarily representative of how immigration was conducted. In practice, it was more a matter of utilitarianism…what could the prospective immigrant offer the USA? Were they healthy and strong enough to work? Those deemed mentally ill were considered neither and were deported. The bigotry and nationalism going on today also happened back then, unfortunately.

  3. I was there a few years ago. A very interesting place of History to visit. However, when we went there it was cold, windy, and cloudy with a light rain. Wanted to walk around more outside, but the weather was not friendly. The inside is quite something to see. I enjoyed it, despite the bad weather.

    1. I think it’s always a little colder there. I’ve been in May when it was nice on the mainland, but windy, damp and cold on Ellis Island . Imagine convalescing there while waiting to be deported πŸ˜₯

  4. Being an immigrant myself, it was very touching to visit this location many years ago, and to imagine what it must have felt like for those earlier immigrants.Thank you for helping preserve it.

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