Ellis island was a major port of entry for immigrants entering the United States.Of those entering approximately 1% were turned away from direct entry due to various medical conditions/concerns. The majority of those turned away were sent to the infirmary also located on Ellis Island. Earlier in 2015 a friend from my photo club, Photographic Society of Rhode Island (PSRI) asked if I was interested in taking a trip to NYC to visit the Infirmary on Ellis Island. I recently saw an online post of the infirmary called the ” Hard Hat Tour ” so it was easy to say let’s go. Sal had purchased a book called “Ellis Island – Ghost Of Freedom” by Stephen Wilkes which he lent me. That book only festered my desire to see and photograph that place. In May 2015 we had booked our reservations for the tour through the US National Park service.
Most of the infirmary was off limits to our tour group due to hazards and debris as the building was in the midst of its rehabilitation, not restoring it “as new” rather removing asbestos, lead paint, broken glass et.al. making it safer for people interested to visit while maintaining its historical significance. That part of the Infirmary that was open to us was “awesome” as you will see as you view the images attached.
Ellis Island opened in 1892 and closed in 1954. We were told approximately 2 million men, women and children passed through its doors. First class ship passengers were the first to disembark and had quick and easy access to the country. It was when the immigrants, who traveled, I believe the term is “stowage” were embarked that people deemed “spotters” eyed the people getting off the ship and delayed those with coughs, appearing feeble, sickly, and or pregnant. We were told that all pregnant women were not allowed in the country until their child was born, thus a child born within the confines of the infirmary was “not” considered to be born in the USA. A child under the age of 7 not admitted to the USA also had their parents denied access as well. It was interesting to learn that if the child was older than 7 the parents or people responsible for that child could remain in the USA if they chose and the child was returned to their country of origin.
As we started the tour we were being led down a long passageway with windows on each side. The ceilings were covered with fresh paint as well as the concrete floors were sealed. The windows gave the viewer of the embarkation building. The passageway soon showed its deterioration first with uncleaned brick then wires hanging from the ceilings all of which led to halls and rooms that embodied the infirmary itself. There was no electricity so the only light was ambient from nearby or distant windows. The walls in the rooms displayed peeling paint with debris scattered on the floor. The realization of what people endured became quickly evident. I could only imagine what it must have been like to travel thousand of miles in search of a new life in America to be delayed and interred in this infirmary. Some of the rooms had windows that allowed a view of the Statue of Liberty which must have seemed so close yet so so far away. An artist had painted images of immigrants depicting their idea of what life was like behind these walls. All in all the experience was moving, the images I captured are riveting to me as I see a story of times past where hopefulness was delayed or denied.
I would highly recommend anyone interested in experiencing this tour first hand know that reservation are required. The National Park Service will assign a time for your tour to start. Know that means you have to be present, on Ellis Island for that time. When you enter the building, turn to the left and walk straight till your see the Tour Signs. Remember to make your boat reservations for a time that allows you to get to Ellis Island on time for your tour. Hard Hat Tour link: http://www.statueoflibertytickets.com/Hard-Hat-Tour-of-Ellis-Island/