Ellis Island

Ellis Island
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We left the Statue of Liberty, boarded the ferry and headed over to Eliis Island. Over one hundred million Americans can claim ancestors who came through Ellis Island. “There were probably as many reasons for coming to America,” wrote President John F. Kennedy in a A Nation of Immigrants, “As there were people who came.” Religious persecution, political strife, unemployment, family connections, the lure of adventure: these were the circumstances of the greatest migration in modern history, when shipload after shipload of people, mostly Europeans, came to the United States. In the decade after the American Revolution, about five thousand people immigrated to the U.S. every year. By the early 1900’s, that many arrived at Ellis Island each day, with a record 11,747 on the 17th of April 1907. All told, some twelve million came through Ellis Island.
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Ellis Island in New York Harbor was the gateway for millions of immigrants to the United States. It was the nation's busiest immigrant inspection station from 1892 until 1954. The island was greatly expanded with landfill between 1892 and 1934. Before that, the much smaller original island was the site of Fort Gibson and later a naval magazine. The island was made part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument in 1965 and has hosted a museum of immigration since 1990. A 1998 US Supreme Court decision found most of the island to be part of New Jersey.


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Geography and access: Ellis Island has a land area of 27.5 acres. The original portion of the island is 3.3 acres and is an exclave of New York City, while reclaimed areas are part of Jersey City. The entire island has been owned and administered by the U.S. federal government since 1808. It is currently operated by the National Park Service. Public access is by ferry from either Communipaw Terminal in Liberty State Park or from Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan. The route we took. The same ferry routes provide service to the nearby Statue of Liberty. A bridge built for transporting materials and personnel during restoration projects connects Ellis Island with Liberty State Park, but is not open to the public. Proposals made in 1995 to use it or replace it with a new bridge for pedestrians were opposed by the city of New York and the private ferry operator at that time, Circle Line. Since the 11th of September 2001, the island is guarded by patrols of the US Park Police Marine Patrol Unit.


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Ownership: Originally much of the west shore of Upper New York Bay consisted of large tidal flats which hosted vast oyster banks, a major source of food for the Lenape population who lived in the area prior to the arrival of Dutch settlers. There were several islands which were not completely submerged at high tide but most of them were submerged. Three of them (later to be known as Liberty, Black Tom and Ellis) were given the name Oyster Islands by the settlers of New Netherlands the first European colony in the Mid-Atlantic states. The oyster beds would remain a major source of food for nearly three centuries. Landfilling to build the railyards of the Lehigh Valley Railroad and the Central Railroad of New Jersey would eventually obliterate the beds, engulf one island and bring the shoreline much closer to the others. During the Colonial period Little Oyster Island was known as Dyre's, then Bucking Island. In the 1760’s, after some pirates were hanged from one of the island's scrubby trees, it became known as Gibbet Island. It was acquired by Samuel Ellis, a colonial New Yorker possibly from Wales, around the time of the American Revolution. In 1785 he unsuccessfully attempted to sell the island:


By Samuel Ellis, no. 1, Greenwich Street, at the north river near the Bear Market, That pleasant situated Island called Oyster Island, lying in New York Bay, near Powle's Hook, together with all its improvements which are considerable;...

—Samuel Ellis advertising in Loudon's New York-Packet, January 20, 1785


New York State leased the island in 1794 and started to fortify it in 1795. Ownership was in question and legislation was passed for acquisition by condemnation in 1807 and then ceded to the U.S. in 1808. Shortly thereafter the War Department established a twenty-gun battery, magazine, and barracks. From 1808 until 1814 it was a federal arsenal. At the end of the War of 1812, Fort Gibson was built and the island remained a military post for nearly eighty years before it was selected to be a federal immigration station.

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Immigration station: In the thirty five years before Ellis Island opened, over eight million immigrants arriving in New York had been processed by New York State officials at Castle Garden Immigration Depot in lower Manhattan, just across the bay. The Federal Government assumed control of immigration on the 18th of April 1890 and Congress appropriated $75,000 to construct America's first Federal immigration station on Ellis Island. Artesian wells were dug, and landfill was hauled in from incoming ships' ballast and from construction of New York City's subway tunnels, which doubled the size of Ellis Island to over six acres. While the building was under construction, the Barge Office nearby at the Battery was used for immigrant processing. The first federal immigration station was an enormous three-story tall structure, with out-buildings, built of Georgia pine, containing all of the amenities that were thought to be necessary. It opened with celebration on the 1st of January 1892. Three large ships landed on the first day and 700 immigrants passed over the docks. Almost 450,000 immigrants were processed at the station during its first year. On the 15th of June 1897, a fire of unknown origin, possibly caused by faulty wiring, turned the wooden structures on Ellis Island into ashes. No loss of life was reported, but most of the immigration records dating back to 1855 were destroyed. About 1.5 million immigrants had been processed at the first building during its five years of use. Plans were immediately made to build a new, fireproof immigration station on Ellis Island. During the construction period, passenger arrivals were again processed at the Barge Office.

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Edward Lippincott Tilton and William A. Boring won the 1897 competition to design the first phase, including the Main Building (1897–1900), Kitchen and Laundry Building (1900–01), Main Powerhouse (1900–01), and the Main Hospital Building (1900–01). The present main structure was designed in French Renaissance Revival style and built of red brick with limestone trim. When it opened on the 17th of December 1900, officials estimated 5,000 immigrants per day would be processed. However, the facilities proved to be able to barely handle the flood of immigrants that arrived in the years just before World War I. Writer Louis Adamic came to America from Slovenia in southeastern Europe in 1913 and described the night he and many other immigrants slept on bunk beds in a huge hall. Lacking a warm blanket, the young man "shivered, sleepless, all night, listening to snores and dreams in perhaps a dozen different languages". The facility was so large that the dining room could seat 1,000 people.
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By the time it closed in 1954, twelve million immigrants had been processed by the U.S. Bureau of Immigration. It is estimated that 10.5 million immigrants departed for points across the USA from the Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal, just across a narrow strait. Others would have used one of the other terminals along the North River (Hudson River) at that time. The peak year for immigration at Ellis Island was 1907, with 1,004,756 immigrants processed. After the Immigration Act of 1924 was passed, which greatly restricted immigration and allowed processing at overseas embassies, the only immigrants to pass through the station were displaced persons or war refugees.


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Generally, those immigrants who were approved spent from two to five hours at Ellis Island. Arrivals were asked twenty nine questions including name, occupation and the amount of money carried. It was important to the American government that the new arrivals could support themselves and have money to get started. The average the government wanted the immigrants to have was between $18 and $25. Those with visible health problems or diseases were sent home or held in the island's hospital facilities for long periods of time. More than three thousand would-be immigrants died on Ellis Island while being held in the hospital facilities. Some unskilled workers were rejected because they were considered "likely to become a public charge". About two percent were denied admission to the U.S. and sent back to their countries of origin for reasons such as having a chronic contagious disease, criminal background, or insanity. Ellis Island was sometimes known as "The Island of Tears" or "Heartbreak Island" because of those 2% who were not admitted after the long transatlantic voyage. The Kissing Post is a wooden column outside the Registry Room, where new arrivals were greeted by their relatives and friends, typically with tears, hugs and kisses. During World War I, the German sabotage of the Black Tom Wharf ammunition depot damaged buildings on Ellis Island. The repairs included the current barrel-vaulted ceiling of the Main Hall.




Detention and deportation center: After 1924, Ellis Island became primarily a detention and deportation processing center. During and immediately following World War II Ellis Island was used to intern German merchant mariners and enemy aliens - American civilians or immigrants detained for fear of spying, sabotage, etc. Some 7,000 Germans, Italians and Japanese would be detained at Ellis Island. It was also a processing center for returning sick or wounded U.S. soldiers and a Coast Guard training base. Ellis Island still managed to process tens of thousands of immigrants a year during this time, but many fewer than the hundreds of thousands a year who arrived before the war. After the war immigration rapidly returned to earlier levels. Noted entertainers who performed for detained aliens and for U.S. and allied servicemen at the island included Rudy Vallee, Jimmy Durante, Bob Hope and Lionel Hampton and orchestra. The Internal Security Act of 1950 barred members of communist or fascist organisations from immigrating to the U.S. Ellis Island saw detention peak at 1,500, but by 1952, after changes to immigration law and policies, only 30 detainees remained.
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                     OTHERS DID TOO, IT WASN’T JUST ME
                     NO BUT YOU WERE THE ONLY ONE SNORING...........