Of all the places we visited Ellis Island was the most humbling to me. As we sailed up to the Island I tried to imagine what it might have been like for those who came from so far away many years ago to start a new life.
The Island had many names. The Indians called it Seagull Island, Dutch Settlers called it Oyster island and when pirates where hanged from the trees there it was called Gibbet Island. It wasn't until around the time of the American Revolution in 1776 that a merchant Samuel Ellis from New York owned it and built a restaurant on it for fishermen. In 1808 an heir to Samuel sold it to the city of New York who kept the name Ellis Island. Later that same year it was sold to the Federal Government. Later the Island was expanded and other islands built from the landfill taken from building the subway system.
The brick structure was opened in Dec. of 1900 at a cost of 1.5 million dollars and was designed to handle 5000 immigrants a day. As years went by more buildings were added to the Island. Later
When the U.S. entered WW1 the island was used to detain German soldiers and a couple of years later it was taken over by the Army and Navy to care for sick and wounded soldiers.
When you first walk in you are taken aback by the size of great room where the immigrants were first processed as they came off the boats. The room measures 100 ft. by 200 ft. with 56 ft. vaulted ceilings. The tall ceiling and huge windows are beautiful. Right across the room from the doors is a line of hundreds of pieces of luggage that was left there by the immigrants. When you look at them you visualize what must have been in them at one time. Ones entire life's possessions in each and every one of them.
The many rooms there are of different sizes and uses. There is the medical examination room, the mental examination room, the registration room, a court room, a dinning room (which we ate lunch in on the very same tables) a hospital, a laundry room and of course the dormitories.
We watched a movie while we were there. Before the movie starts a tour guide tells you about the island and what the immigrants had to go through to be able to stay here. I found out that if you had any medical issues no matter how small you could be sent back to your home country. Many who came had an eye disease. A doctor would examine their eyes and if they were infected they would be turned away and sent back. They would watch to see if you had any physical disabilities as well and if you did you too were sent back. When I heard that the first thing I thought of is, I would have been one of those turned away. I was born with a dislocated hip and have always limped. Since they only wanted or allowed the healthiest and the strongest to stay I would have had to leave. Parents of children who had any problems had to decide who would stay here and who would go back with their children if they were turned away. Can you imagine what that must have been like? If you were allowed to stay and if you had family here to claim you your native currency was exchanged for American money and you were free to go.
Throughout the building they have rooms of pictures placed inside cardboard boxes which are lighted of some of those who came here. They have rooms of clothes from every corner of the world each with it's own style and fashion at that time. You can visit the dormitories where the bunks are 3 high and the bathrooms of just the basic necessities but were probably a blessing for them. They have letters and letters written by many. What I found interesting and funny at the same time that even back then those in charge, who had to be immigrants at one time as well, were complaining about all the immigrants coming and should put a stop to it or slow it down at least (sound familiar?). Some of the letters that were displayed were heartbreaking while some where joyous and happy. There were drawings on the walls where people drew pictures of birds or a outline of their hands with their names in it.
They have books and books of the names of those who came and you can look through them to find your family name. We found ours. We found both sides except for my grandmothers as she was a Cherokee Indian. In fact, there is a website where you can search the registry for your family. Just go here.
I was very humbled after visiting Ellis Island. To think what our ancestor's went through to make a better life for themselves and for their families for whatever reason they had makes you feel a little ashamed for complaining when the power goes out or something breaks down and yet, grateful at the same time. As many problems as our country has it is still the best country in the world and we are lucky to live here. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.
I know I'm probably forgetting something and if I think of it I'll throw it in another blog. For now though I'll leave you with a video of a scale model of the Island. Here's a link to a website that tells you more about Ellis Island then I every could. I was so impressed and humbled from this expierence.