SPOTTING of America’s iconic symbol of freedom, the Statue of Liberty must have been a comforting sight for immigrants as they steamed into New York – and nothing compares to seeing it in real life.
But, new arrivals could begin their new lives in the ‘land of the free,’ they had to pass through the dreaded immigration centre at Ellis Island, which you can now freely explore.
After spending days, sometimes weeks, in dire conditions in the dark depths of passenger vessels, the sight of Liberty and America could not come soon enough. Boats moored at the immigration station on Ellis Island. This was only the first part of the journey for those desperate people who wanted to become US citizens.
It was once observed that the island ‘was a protective institution set up by a great country that is determined to import none but healthy stock.’ New arrivals had to endure a thorough medical examination, with doctors testing for up to 20 different conditions. Within a space of 10-minutes, officials shot off 29 questions ranging from name, occupation, and reasons for turning up on Americas doorstep.
The station’s peak year was 1907, when 1,285,349 immigrants were admitted, sometimes at a rate of 5.000 a day – that year interviews could take less than two minutes.
Authorities quickly honed in on those with visible health problems or diseases. Some were packed-off home immediately, or if in very poor condition, kept in the island’s hospital – where it is estimated more than 2,500 would-be immigrants died.
Those with communicable diseases of public health significance were inadmissible and often quarantined – about two percent were refused admission deported to their countries of origin for reasons such as having a chronic contagious disease, criminal background, or showing signs of insanity. Some unskilled workers were turned back because they were considered “likely to become a public charge.”
Today, you can follow in the footsteps of the millions of people who were processed at Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954.
An endlessly fascinating museum tells the story of the life of the new arrivals through interactive displays, first hand stories and memorabilia. It is a fascinating sight into how millions of people became US citizens.
Ellis Island was a landfall of freedom for fifty-four years to the greatest tide of immigration in America’s history. Known as the great “clearing-house” for a while is was dubbed “Terror Island”.
Today, over 100 million Americans can trace their roots to the immigrants who crossed Ellis Island before dispersing to points all over the United States.
No visit to the New York is complete without a trip to these landmarks. Incidentally, Ferries between the Battery and Staten Island offer views of lower Manhattan and also run throughout the day.
WHERE: Be aware there is an ‘airport style’ security check prior to boarding the ferry, during high season queues can be long. Tickets can also be purchased near the ferry terminal. Tickets for the ferry, which stops at both Ellis Island and The Statue of Liberty, are available online at: https://www.statuecruises.com