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Ellis Island, at the mouth of the Hudson River in New York Harbor, is the location of what was from January 1, 1892, until November 12, 1954 the main entry facility for immigrants entering the United Statesmarker; the facility replaced the state-run Castle Garden Immigration Depotmarker (1855–1890) in Manhattanmarker. It is owned by the Federal government and is now part of the Statue of Liberty National Monumentmarker, under the jurisdiction of the US National Park Service. Ellis Island was also the subject of a border dispute between the states of New York and New Jersey (see below). It is situated predominantly in Jersey City, New Jerseymarker, although a small portion of its territory falls within neighboring New York Citymarker.

History

Originally called Little Oyster Island, Ellis Island acquired its name from Samuel Ellis, a colonial New Yorker, possibly from Walesmarker.

The Ellis Island Immigrant Station was designed by architects Edward Lippincott Tilton and William Alciphron Boring. They 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.

The federal immigration station opened on January 1, 1892 and was closed on November 12, 1954, but not before 12 million immigrants were inspected there by the US Bureau of Immigration (Immigration and Naturalization Service). In the 35 years before Ellis Island opened, over 8 million immigrants had been processed locally by New York Statemarker officials at Castle Garden Immigration Depotmarker in Manhattan.

1907 was the peak year for immigration at Ellis Island with 1,004,756 immigrants processed. The all-time daily high also occurred this year on April 17 which saw a total of 11,747 immigrants arrive.

Ellis Island in 1905
Those with visible health problems or diseases were sent home or held in the island's hospital facilities for long periods of time. Then they were asked 29 questions including name, occupation, and the amount of money they carried with them. Generally those immigrants who were approved spent from two to five hours at Ellis Island. However more than three thousand would-be immigrants died on Ellis Island while being held in the hospital facilities. Some unskilled workers were rejected outright 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 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.

Writer Louis Adamic came to America from Sloveniamarker in southeastern Europe in 1913. Adamic described the night he spent on Ellis Island. 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.

During World War I, the German sabotage of the Black Tom Wharfmarker ammunition depot damaged buildings on Ellis Island. The repairs included the current barrel-vaulted ceiling of the Main Hall. During the war, Ellis Island was used to intern German merchant mariners and enemy aliens as well as a processing center for returning sick and wounded U.S. soldiers. Ellis Island still managed to process tens of thousands of immigrants a year during this time, but much fewer than the hundreds of thousands a year who arrived before the war. After the war immigration rapidly returned to earlier levels.

Radicals awaiting deportation, 1920
Mass processing of immigrants at Ellis Island ended in 1924 after the Immigration Act of 1924 greatly restricted immigration and allowed processing at overseas embassies. After this time Ellis Island became primarily a detention and deportation processing center.

During and immediately following World War II, Ellis Island served as Coast Guard training base and as an internment camp for 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.

The Internal Security Act of 1950 barred members of Communist or Fascist organizations 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 were present. In November 1954, Ellis Island was closed and unsuccessful attempts to redevelop the site began until its landmark status was established.

As with all historic areas administered by the National Park Service, Ellis Island, along with Statue of Libertymarker, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966.

Today Ellis Island houses a museum reachable by ferry from Liberty State Parkmarker in Jersey City, New Jerseymarker and from the southern tip of Manhattanmarker in New York City. The Statue of Libertymarker, sometimes thought to be on Ellis Island because of its symbolism as a welcome to immigrants, is actually on nearby Liberty Islandmarker, which is about 1/2 mile to the south. There is also ferry service between the two islands.

Staff

Immigrants being processed, 1904


The following is a list of the station's commissioners:

  1. 1890–1893 Colonel John B. Weber (Republican)
  2. 1893–1897 Dr. Joseph H. Senner (Democrat)
  3. 1897–1902 Thomas Fitchie (Republican)
  4. 1902–1905 William Williams (Republican)
  5. 1905–1909 Robert Watchorn (Republican)
  6. 1909–1913 William Williams (Republican) 2nd Term
  7. 1914–1919 Dr. Frederic C. Howe (Democrat)
  8. 1920–1921 Frederick A. Wallis (Democrat)
  9. 1921–1923 Robert E. Tod (Republican)
  10. 1923–1926 Henry C. Curran (Republican)
  11. 1926–1931 Benjamin M. Day (Republican)
  12. 1931–1934 Edward Corsi (Republican)
  13. 1934–1940 Rudolph Reimer (Democrat)
  14. 1940–1942 Byron H. Uhl
  15. 1942–1949 W. Frank Watkins
  16. 1949–1954 Edward J. Shaughnessy


Other notable officials at Ellis Island included Edward F. McSweeney (assistant commissioner), Joseph E. Murray (assistant commissioner), Dr. George W. Stoner (chief surgeon), Augustus Frederick Sherman (chief clerk), Dr. Victor Heiser (surgeon), Thomas W. Salmon (surgeon), Howard Knox (surgeon), Antonio Frabasilis (interpreter), Peter Mikolainis (interpreter), Maud Mosher (matron), Fiorello H. La Guardia (interpreter), and Philip Cowen (immigrant inspector).

Prominent amongst the missionaries and immigrant aid workers were Rev. Michael J. Henry and Rev. Anthony J. Grogan (Irish Catholics), Rev. Gaspare Moretto (Italian Catholic), Alma E. Mathews (Methodist), Rev. Georg Doring (German Lutheran), Rev. Reuben Breed (Episcopalian), Michael Lodsin (Baptist), Brigadier Thomas Johnson (Salvation Army), Ludmila K. Foxlee (YWCA), Athena Marmaroff (Woman's Christian Temperance Union), Alexander Harkavy (HIAS), Cecilia Greenstone and Cecilia Razovsky (National Council of Jewish Women).

Noted entertainers that performed for detained aliens and US and allied servicemen at the island included Ernestine Schumann-Heink, Enrico Caruso, Rudy Vallee, Jimmy Durante, Bob Hope, and Lionel Hampton and his orchestra.

Immigration

Scenes at the Immigration Depot and a nearby dock on Ellis Island.
Statue of Annie Moore on Ellis Island.
More than 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954. The first immigrant to pass through Ellis Island was Annie Moore, a 15-year-old girl from Corkmarker, Ireland, on January 1, 1892. She and her two brothers were coming to America to meet their parents, who had moved to New York two years prior. She received a greeting from officials and a $10.00 gold piece. The last person to pass through Ellis Island was a Norwegian merchant seaman by the name of Arne Peterssen in 1954. After 1924 when the National Origins Act was passed, the only immigrants to pass through there were displaced persons or war refugees. Today, over 100 million Americans can trace their ancestry to the immigrants who first arrived in America through the island before dispersing to points all over the country.

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 bureaucratic supervision and were more interested in preventing inadmissible aliens from entering the country (which they were held accountable for) rather than assisting them in trivial personal matters such as altering their names. In addition, 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 (which owned the Titanicmarker), the North German Lloyd Line, the Hamburg-Amerika Line, the Italian Steam Navigation Company, the Red Star Line, the Holland America Line, the Austro-American Line, and so forth. 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.

Medical inspections

The United States Public Health Service operated an extensive medical service at the immigrant station called U.S. Marine Hospital Number 43; it was 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 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. The symbols below were chalked on the clothing of potentially sick immigrants following the six-second medical examination. The doctors would look at them as they climbed the stairs from the baggage area up to the Great Hall. Immigrants' behavior would be studied for difficulties in getting up the staircase. Some only entered the country by surreptitiously wiping the chalk marks off or by turning their clothes inside out.
Dormitory room for detained immigrants


Notable immigrants

Ellis Island immigrants attaining success in America include:

Museum

Front entrance


A bridge connects Ellis Island with Liberty State Park in Jersey City. It was built during the restoration of the island and heavy trucks went across it. In 1995 proposals were made either to open it to pedestrians or to build a new bridge for pedestrians. They were defeated by two vested interests: the City of New York and the private operator of the only boat service to the island, the Circle Line. The supposedly inadequate bridge is still in use but closed to the public.

The hall where immigrants used to be processed
There is a "Wall of Honor" outside of the main building. A myth is that it lists all of the immigrants processed there. It is actually a wall giving people the opportunity to make a donation to honor any immigrant into the United States.

Bostonmarker based architecture firm Finegold Alexander + Associates Inc, together with the New Yorkmarker 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 US$150 million was required for this significant restoration. The building was opened to the public on September 10, 1990.

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.

In 2008, the Museum's Library was officially named The Bob Hope Memorial Library in honor of one the station's most famous immigrants.

In film

Ellis Island attracted the imagination of filmmakers as long ago as the silent era. Early films featuring the station include Traffic in Souls (1913); The Yellow Passport (1916), starring Clara Kimbell Young; My Boy (1921), starring Jackie Coogan; Frank Capra's The Strong Man (1926), starring Harry Langdon; We Americans (1928), starring John Boles; Ellis Island (1936), starring Donald Cook; Gateway (1938), starring Don Ameche; and Exile Express (1939), which starred Anna Sten.

The island was a scene used in the 2005 feature film romantic comedy, Hitch, starring Will Smith, in which his and Eva Mendes' characters take a jet ski to the island and explore the building.

The IMAX 3D movie, Across the Sea of Time, about the New York immigrant experience, incorporates both modern footage and historical photographs of Ellis Island.

Ellis Island as a port of entry to the United States of America is described in detail in Mottel the Cantor's Son by Sholom Aleichem. It is also the place where Don Corleone was held as an immigrant boy in The Godfather Part II, where he was marked with an encircled X.

In the film X-Men, a UN summit held on the island is targeted by Magneto, a former immigrant who attempts to artificially mutate all the delegates present.

The opening scene of Brother From Another Planet takes place on Ellis Island.

The 2006 Italian movie, The Golden Door, (directed by Emanuele Crialese) takes place largely at Ellis Island.

A documentary on the hospital at Ellis Island was created by Lorie Conway.

Federal jurisdiction and state sovereignty dispute

According to the United States Census Bureau, the island, which was largely artificially created through landfill, has an official land area of 129,619 square meters, or 32 acres, more than 83 percent of which lies in the city of Jersey City. The natural portion of the island, lying in New York Citymarker, is 21,458 square meters (5.3 acres), and is completely surrounded by the artificially created portion. For New York State tax purposes it is assessed as Manhattan Block 1, Lot 201. Since 1998, it also has a tax number assigned by the state of New Jerseymarker.


On October 15, 1965, Ellis Island was proclaimed a part of Statue of Liberty National Monumentmarker, which is managed by the National Park Service. The island is entirely on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. During the colonial period, however, New York had taken possession, and New Jersey had acquiesced in that action. In a compact between the two states, approved by U.S. Congress in 1834, New Jersey therefore agreed that New York would continue to have exclusive jurisdiction over what was the territory of the island at that time.

Thereafter, however, the federal government expanded the island by landfill, so that it could accommodate the immigration station that opened in 1892 (and closed in November 1954). Landfilling continued until 1934. Nine-tenths of the current area is artificial island that did not exist at the time of the interstate compact.

New Jersey contended that the new extensions were part of New Jersey, since they were not part of the previous cession. New Jersey eventually filed suit to establish its jurisdiction, leading New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to remark dramatically that his father, an Italian who immigrated through Ellis Island, never intended to go to New Jersey.

The dispute eventually reached the Supreme Court of the United Statesmarker, which ruled in 1998 that New Jersey had jurisdiction over all portions of the island created after the original compact was approved (effectively, more than 80% of the island's present land). This caused several immediate confusions: some buildings, for instance, fell into the territory of both states. New Jersey and New York soon agreed to share claims to the island. It remains wholly a Federal property, however, and these legal decisions do not result in either state taking any fiscal or physical responsibility for the maintenance, preservation, or improvement of any of the historic properties.

See also



Notes

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Further reading



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