Edited by Gerald Boerner
Ellis Island is very dear to me and close to my heart. Both branches of my family entered this country through the ports of New York and New Jersey. My maternal grandparents passed separately through Ellis Island around 1910; my paternal great-great-grandparents passed through the port in the mid-1860s before the Ellis Island facility was established. They stood in the lines. They went through the screening. They endured the uncertainty of the whole process. After the process was completed, my father’s family settled in western Minnesota while my mother’s family settled in the Los Angeles area.
We have searched the ancestry record through the generations in this country and have begun the search of records in Germany and Prussia. Unfortunately my maternal grandmother never talked about the process. Programs on the History/History International channels have traced this process in several programs. I have tried to incorporate some f this background with the Ellis Island Web Site and National Parks Service accounts and Wikipedia sources for this posting. In addition, I have included two videos for your enjoyment: one is only about 3 minutes while the other is about 30 minutes long.
So, let’s get this exploration started… GLB
These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2010 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved
[ 3646 Words ]
Quotations Related to IMMIGRATION:
“Going forward, as we work to strengthen our border in the interests of homeland security, we must also recognize the economic importance of immigration reform.”
— Dave Reichert
“However, in recent years our nation has seen a sizable influx of illegal immigration that at best highlights some alarming inadequacies and at worst indicates a broken system.”
— Spencer Bachus
“House Republicans want to pass a strong border security, illegal immigration bill. We want a bill. There is no ifs, ands or buts about it.”
— John Boehner
“Everywhere I travel throughout Eastern Washington, I hear from people demanding we do a better job of controlling our borders and reducing illegal immigration.”
— Cathy McMorris
“But then I came to the conclusion that no, while there may be an immigration problem, it isn’t really a serious problem. The really serious problem is assimilation.”
— Samuel P. Huntington
“Because the worst of all worlds is when you pretend like you have an immigration policy, you make coming into the United States without our permission illegal, and then you actually don’t enforce it.”
— Tom Tancredo
“Canadians tend to be a bit more religious than most Europeans – though not more than the Poles or Ukrainians. Most important, their attitude to immigration and ethnic minorities is more positive than that of most Europeans.”
— Timothy Garton Ash
“But my view is that you need a system at the border. You need some fencing but you need technology. You need boots on the ground. And then you need to have interior enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws inside the country. And that means dealing with the employers who still consistently hire illegal labor.”
— Janet Napolitano
Ellis Island — Gateway for Immigrants Entering the United States
Ellis Island in the New York Harbor was the gateway for millions of immigrants to the United States as the site of the nation’s busiest immigrant inspection station from 1892 to 1954. Before that, the much smaller original island was the site of Fort Gibson and later a naval magazine. The island was greatly expanded with landfill between 1892 and 1934. Since 1990, restored buildings on the island host a museum of immigration run by the National Park Service as part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. A 1998 United States Supreme Court decision found most of the island to be part of New Jersey.
For generations Ellis Island, located in upper New York Harbor near the Statue of Liberty, has been a symbol of immigration to the American people. In earlier times Ellis Island was known by other names and served other purposes. The local Indians originally called Ellis "Kioshk" or Gull Island when it was a small, 3.5 acre natural island. During the Dutch and English Colonial periods in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Ellis Island was known as one of the three Oyster Islands in the harbor, because of the abundant oyster beds and fishing grounds in its surrounding waters. In its history Ellis Island was also known as Dyre’s Island, Bucking Island, and Gibbet Island before permanently acquiring the name of Ellis Island from Samuel Ellis, a New York City merchant who was the island’s last private owner from the mid to late eighteenth century.
From 1794 to 1890 Ellis Island was used for military purposes by the U.S. Government after it purchased the island from the family of the late Samuel Ellis in 1808 for $10,000 through condemnation procedures. Fort Gibson was completed by the U.S. Army on the eve of the War of 1812 to aid in the coastal defense of New York, and was in use as a powder magazine by the U.S. Navy until the late nineteenth century. In 1890, when the U.S. Government assumed all responsibility for immigration reception from the states, a study was made to determine the best location for a new federal immigration station in New York Harbor. Originally Castle Garden in lower Manhattan served as the first immigration station under the state of New York from 1855 to 1890. But over time it had failed to meet the growing needs of the increasing multitudes seeking America’s shores.
Ellis Island was finally chosen as the new site after Bedloe’s Island (Liberty Island) and Governor’s Island, had been considered. From its opening in January 1892 until its closing in November 1954 over twelve million immigrants entered the United States through Ellis Island, which was gradually expanded over time through landfill to its present size of 27.5 acres 36 buildings. Between the peak years of 1903 to 1914 approximately 5,000 to 7,000 immigrants were being inspected on Ellis Island everyday primarily from Southern and Eastern Europe. Despite increasing legal barriers which excluded various classes of undesirables: anarchists, paupers, beggars, lunatics, persons likely to become a public charge, polygamists, prostitutes, individuals suffering from medical disorders, the illiterate, and certain oriental immigrants.
In August 1914 the outbreak of World War I in Europe, drastically cut immigration to the United States sharply. Ellis Island which had inspected approximately 5,000 to 7,000 immigrants a day, had few immigrants to process during the war and was able to assume its share of wartime activities. During World War I 1,150 German merchant seamen and other enemy aliens were interned on Ellis Island for the duration of the war. After the entrance of the United States into the war in April 1917, the U.S. Army Medical Corps utilized the hospital buildings on the island for the treatment and care of sick and wounded soldiers returning from Europe.
After the end of World War I immigration to the United States had revived quickly by the early 1920′s and threatened to reach the huge numbers of the pre-war years. But restrictive legislation which had long been a subject of pre-war concern went into effect in 1921 and 1924 with the passage of the First and Second Quota Acts to restrict immigration. A limit was now placed on the number of immigrants allowed to enter the United States on a yearly basis determined by nationality quotas. Under these new laws, Ellis Island during the 1920′s and 1930′s found its use as an immigration reception station greatly reduced, and its use as a place of detention and deportation increased. Not only were fewer arriving immigrants landed on the island, but their legal and medical inspection was now being increasingly handled by the State Department at U.S. Embassies and Consulates in their homelands.
With the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, Ellis Island went through a period of use similar to what it had experienced in World War I. During World War II the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy, utilized the buildings on Ellis Island for training and ship assignment for its personnel. The crews of several German, Italian, and Japanese merchant ships were temporarily detained on Ellis Island until they were transferred to permanent detention camps. By May 1942, the FBI had rounded up approximately 1,000 German, Italian, and Japanese enemy aliens for detention on the island. Some of whom were not released until 1947.
Geography and Access
Ellis Island is located in the Upper New York Bay in Jersey City, New Jersey, east of Liberty State Park and north of Liberty Island. According to the United States Census Bureau the island has a land area of 32.030 acres (12.962 ha), of which more than 83 percent was created through landfill. The original portion of the island is 5.302 acres (2.146 ha) and is completely surrounded by landfilled sections. The original 3.3 acres (1.3 ha) are part of New York City, while the surrounding land and water are part of Jersey City. The entire island has been owned and administered by the U.S. federal government since 1808.
Public access is by ferry from either Communipaw Terminal in Liberty State Park or from Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan. 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 September 11, 2001, the island is guarded by patrols of the United States Park Police Marine Patrol Unit.
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. Three of them (later to be known as Liberty, Black Tom and Ellis) were given the name Oyster Islands by the settlers of New Netherland, 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. In the 1760s, 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:
TO BE SOLD
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 United States 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 and remained a military post for nearly 80 years before it was selected to be a federal immigration station.
The federal immigration station opened on January 1, 1892 and was closed in 1954, with twelve million immigrants processed there by the US Bureau of Immigration. 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. Today, over 100 million Americans – one third of the population – can trace their ancestry to the immigrants who first arrived in America at Ellis Island before dispersing to points all over the country.
In the 35 years before Ellis Island opened, over eight million immigrants had been processed by New York State officials at Castle Garden Immigration Depot in lower Manhattan, just across the bay. It is estimated that 10.5 million immigrants departed for points across the United States from the Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal 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. The all-time daily high occurred on April 17, 1907, when 11,747 immigrants arrived. 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.
Generally, those immigrants who were approved spent from two to five hours at Ellis Island. Arrivals were asked 29 questions including name, occupation, and the amount of money carried. 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 2 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 his orchestra.
The Internal Security Act of 1950 barred members of communist or fascist organizations from immigrating to the United States. Ellis Island saw detention peak at 1,500, but by 1952, after changes to immigration law and policies, only 30 detainees remain
A myth persists that government officials on Ellis Island compelled immigrants to take new names against their wishes. In fact, no historical records bear this out. Federal immigration inspectors were under strict supervision and were more interested in preventing inadmissible aliens from entering the country (which they were held accountable for) than in assisting them in trivial personal matters such as altering their names. The inspectors used the passenger lists given to them by the steamship companies to process each foreigner. These were the sole immigration records for entering the country and were prepared not by the U.S. Bureau of Immigration but by steamship companies such as the Cunard Line, the White Star Line, the North German Lloyd Line, the Hamburg-Amerika Line, the Italian Steam Navigation Company, the Red Star Line, the Holland America Line, and the Austro-American Line. The Americanization of many immigrant families’ surnames was for the most part adopted by the family after the immigration process, or by the second or third generation of the family after some assimilation into American culture. However, many last names were altered slightly due to the disparity between English and other languages in the pronunciation of certain letters of the alphabet.
The United States Public Health Service operated an extensive medical service at the immigrant station, called U.S. Marine Hospital Number 43, more widely known as the Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital. It was the largest marine hospital in the nation. The station was staffed by uniformed military surgeons. They are best known for the role they played during the line inspection, in which they employed unusual techniques such as the use of the buttonhook to examine aliens for signs of eye diseases (particularly, trachoma) and the use of a chalk mark code. Symbols were chalked on the clothing of potentially sick immigrants following the six-second medical examination. The doctors would look at the immigrants as they climbed the stairs from the baggage area to the Great Hall. Immigrants’ behavior would be studied for difficulties in getting up the staircase. Some immigrants entered the country only by surreptitiously wiping the chalk marks off, or by turning their clothes inside out.
- B – Back
- C – Conjunctivitis
- CT – Trachoma
- E – Eyes
- F – Face
- FT – Feet
- G – Goiter
- H – Heart
- K – Hernia
- L – Lameness
- N – Neck
- P – Physical and Lungs
- PG – Pregnancy
- S – Senility
- SC – Scalp (Favus)
- SI – Special Inquiry
- X – Suspected Mental defect
- X (circled) – Definite signs of Mental defect
The wooden structure built in 1892 to house the immigration station burned down after five years. The station’s new Main Building, which now houses the Immigration Museum, was opened in 1900. Architects Edward Lippincott Tilton and William Alciphron Boring received a gold medal at the 1900 Paris Exposition for the building’s design. The architecture competition was the second under the Tarsney Act, which had permitted private architects rather than government architects in the Office of the Supervising Architect to design federal buildings.
After the immigration station closed in November 1954, the buildings fell into disrepair and were all but abandoned. Attempts at redeveloping the site were unsuccessful until its landmark status was established. On October 15, 1965, Ellis Island was proclaimed a part of Statue of Liberty National Monument. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966.
Boston based architecture firm Finegold Alexander + Associates Inc, together with the New York architectural firm Beyer Blinder Belle, designed the restoration and adaptive use of the Beaux-Arts Main Building, one of the most symbolically important structures in American history. A construction budget of $150 million was required for this significant restoration. This money was raised by a campaign organized by the political fundraiser Wyatt A. Stewart. The building reopened on September 10, 1990. Exhibitions include Hearing Room, Peak Immigration Years, the Peopling of America, Restoring a Landmark, Silent Voices, Treasures from Home, and Ellis Island Chronicles. There are also three theaters used for film and live performances.
As part of the National Park Service’s Centennial Initiative, the south side of the island will be the target of a project to restore the 28 buildings that have not yet been rehabilitated.
The "Wall of Honor" outside of the main building contains a partial list of immigrants processed on the island Inclusion on the list is made possible by a donation to support the facility. In 2008, the museum’s library was officially named the Bob Hope Memorial Library in honor of one the station’s most famous immigrants.
The Ellis Island Medal of Honor is awarded annually at ceremonies on the island.
The video sequence is almost 30 minutes in length, but tells the Ellis Island story well…
Please take time to further explore more about ELLIS ISLAND, IMMIGRATION,
NATIONAL PARKS SERVICE, and the PROCESSING OF IMMIGRANTS by
accessing the Wikipedia articles referenced below…
Other Events on this Day:
Betsy Ross, said to have sewed the first American flag, is born in Philadelphia.
Abraham Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation.
Ellis Island in the New York Harbor was the gateway for millions of immigrants to the United States as the site of the nation’s busiest immigrant inspection station from 1892 to 1954.
The first Rose Bowl is played in Pasadena, California (Michigan defeats Stanford 49-0).
The first air-conditioned office building opens in San Antonio, Texas.
Dates and events based on:
William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)
Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Ellis Island…
National Park Service: Ellis Island National Monument…
Vasváry Collection: Jeffrey S. Dosik: Early History of Ellis Island…
Brainy Quote: IMMIGRATION Quotes…
Other Posts on this Topic:
Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: The Story of Ellis Island…