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Ellis Island

Ellis Island is a federally owned island in New York Harbor, situated within the U.S. states of New York and New Jersey, that was the busiest immigrant … See more



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Jan 4, 2023
After taking the ferry to see the Statue of Liberty, we travelled across to Ellis Island. I thought we would be there max 30 minutes but the teens actually enjoyed it. In particular, they were captiv… Full review by joannemU9652UY
Dec 29, 2022
The Ellis Island Hard Hat Tour is exceptional! My family of 5 - including 3 teens - all thought the Hard Hat Tour was one of the highlights of our trip to NYC. You get to walk through the abandoned… Full review by CookseyMom
Dec 27, 2022
We found the museum really interesting and regretted that we hadn’t allowed a bit more time for the visit. The museum is engaging with information being presented in a variety of ways. I had no idea… Full review by ClareNic77


History of Immigration to America
The epicenter of the largest migration in human history, Ellis Island was in near-continuous use from 1892 to 1954 as the point-of-entry processing center for the majority of immigrants who settled in the U.S. during those years. Over 12 million people passed through its halls, sometimes as many as 12,000 in a single day. The stories of these immigrants—what they were escaping, what they found once here, and what they experienced in their short time in the purgatory that was Ellis Island—are at the core of the Ellis Island experience. But in 2015, Ellis Island decided to expand its mandate, widening its focus to embrace the entire history of immigration to America. This makes it a solid candidate for a repeat visit from those who’ve toured it before. First time visitors, however, will want to concentrate on the original exhibits which remain the most emotionally resonant for the simple reason that they’re about Ellis Island itself, and learning about this endlessly fascinating place while walking through its hallowed halls is a powerful experience. Start in the second-floor Grand Hall, awe-inspiring with its massive white tile-vaulted ceiling and larger than any church or temple these immigrants likely would have attended in their home villages. Behind the Grand Hall is a warren of small rooms where immigrants were tested for mental competency, literacy, and communicable diseases. How these tests were done—and the fear they inspired—is chronicled in historical photos, wall text, and most poignantly at listening stations, on which you hear actual immigrants share their memories of their time on the island. The top floor chronicles the history of the processing facility itself. These exhibits can be skipped if you’re short on time, but don’t miss the “Treasures from Home” exhibit, also on this floor, which features 2,000 of the possessions that were brought through Ellis. Somehow seeing the china dolls, the precious wedding photos, the native costumes, and the letters home brings the immigrant experience more vividly to life than any other part of the museum. Note: The heating and cooling facilities on the island were knocked out by Hurricane Sandy and were still being repaired in 2015 as this book went to press, forcing the closing of the Treasures from Home exhibit. Hopefully that exhibit will be re-opened by the time you visit. For those coming on a repeat visit, there's a new tour and three new exhibitions of note, two of which expand the story of immigration to America, to the era before Ellis Island opened and to the period after World War II through today. Both are quite wall text heavy, which may frustrate some visitors. If you have to choose between the two, I’d pick “New Eras of Immigration” as it features affecting videos profiling recent immigrants, both legal and illegal. It also tells a story that’s rarely discussed in a balanced fashion: the myriad and surprising ways in which immigration is reshaping today’s America. The highlight of the last new exhibit, American Stories, are the monitors that allow visitors to take an actual, current citizenship test. The final newish experience is the Hard Hat Tour, which takes visitors through the haunting—and unrenovated—Ellis Island hospital. Some 10% of the Ellis Island immigrants spent some time here, often right before being shipped back to Europe, their only crime being ill. The facility was closed for 60 years and it’s falling apart—hence the need for hard hats. The only new items are the oversized archival photos of hospital residents that French artist JR added onto the crumbling walls, broken windows, and metal lockers—a moving tribute. There's also a cafeteria on-site should you need a break, along with the "American Family History Center" which was expanded by 32 million records in 2015. Trained genealogists are on site to help visitors navigate the computer search; the cost for a session is $7. I am one of the 40% of all Americans who had a relative come through Ellis Island, as I said at the start, and I find it difficult to tour this museum without tearing up at some point. I have no doubt that even those visitors without this direct a connection will find the journey through Ellis to be one of the most moving experiences of their New York visit.
The Once Gateway to American Life
Ellis Island, now a 27.5-acre site located just minutes off the southern tip of Manhattan Island, New York, is likely to connect with more of the American population than any other spot in the country. It has been estimated that nearly half of all Americans today can trace their family history to at least one person who passed through the Port of New York at Ellis Island. Now, nearly a century since the peak years of immigration, Ellis Island is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the National Park Service. The Foundation then turned its attention to the restoration of Ellis Island--the largest historical restoration in the history of the United States. Ellis Island, our most potent symbol of the American immigrant experience, had become sadly deteriorated. Again the American people responded with passion and generosity. When the Island opened in September of 1990--two years ahead of schedule--it unveiled the world-class Ellis Island Immigration Museum, where some rooms appeared as they had during the height of immigrant processing. Other areas housed theaters, libraries, an oral history recording studio, and exhibits on the immigration experience. In the 1990s, the Foundation restored two more buildings, expanding and upgrading the Museum Library and Oral History Studio, and creating a Children’s Orientation Center and the Ellis Island Living Theatre. The Ellis Island Immigration Museum has welcomed nearly 40 million visitors since its opening in 1990. Working to promote knowledge of the Island, the Statue, and immigration history, the Foundation has also published and made available to libraries and schools many books and curriculum guides, as well as a CD-ROM produced in collaboration with the History Channel. The Foundation’s current project is a significant expansion of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum to be called The Peopling of America® Center. The Center will enlarge the story currently told of the Ellis Island Era to include the entire panorama of the American immigration experience from this country’s earliest days right up to the present. It is expected to be completed in 2012.
Glimpse Into Immigration History
Ellis Island is America's most famous and historically important gateway. Between 1892 and 1924, over 12 million immigrants passed through this processing station, their dreams in tow. Today, its Immigration Museum delivers a poignant tribute to the immigrant experience, featuring narratives from historians, the immigrants themselves and other sources; the tour brings to life the museum’s hefty collection of personal objects, official documents, photographs and film footage. Always purchase your tickets online to avoid the soul-crushingly long queues. When you arrive, stop in the museum lobby to pick up your free audio guide, which offers rich insight into the exhibitions. If you're very short on time, skip the Journeys: The Peopling of America 1550–1890 exhibit on the 1st floor and focus on the 2nd floor. Here you'll find the two most fascinating exhibitions. The first, Through America's Gate, examines the step-by-step process faced by the newly arrived, including the chalk-marking of those suspected of illness, a wince-inducing eye examination, and 29 questions in the beautiful, vaulted Registry Room. The second, Peak Immigration Years, explores the motives behind the immigrants' journeys and the challenges they faced in beginning their new American lives. For a history of the rise, fall and resurrection of the building itself, make time for the Restoring a Landmark exhibition on the 3rd floor; its tableaux of trashed desks, chairs and other abandoned possessions are strangely haunting. The audio tour offers optional, in-depth coverage for those wanting to delve deeper into the collections and the island's history. If you don't feel like opting for the audio tour, you can always pick up one of the phones in each display area and listen to the affecting recorded memories of actual people who came through Ellis Island, taped in the 1980s. Another option is the free, 45-minute guided tour with a park ranger, which you should book in advance. The tour is also available in American sign language.

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