Ellis Island: JR’s ‘Unframed’


Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! Here in the New York/New Jersey area, we are sheltering in place to slow the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. I hope that you are all well and taking steps to protect yourself and others from this disease. It seemed apropos to bring you these images from the USA’s first public health installation, from which many of our modern day procedures for dealing with infectious diseases were developed.


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.


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.


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.

Czech grandmother

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.

The people in this photo are taking a psychological evaluation

Part of our tour was photographing and hearing the details of the many art installations by French artist JR. JR collaborated with Save Ellis Island to transfer actual photos from the archives, enlarged, onto 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. Please scroll to the end of this post for a brief WSJ interview with JR about the work he did on Ellis Island.

Young Swedish girl

Ellis Island Posts:

Location: Jersey City & New York City

Designation: National Monument

Date designated or established: 5/11/1965

Date of my visit: 2/29/202020200229_103241

JR’s Ellis Island courtesy of The Wall Street Journal on You Tube