Hardly any other place is so associated with immigration to the USA as Ellis Island. For millions of people the dream of a better life in the USA began here and for countless people it ended here too. Because not everyone managed to pass the interviews, examinations and tests of the immigration authorities. The gate to the USA has been closed since November 12, 1954. But Ellis Island is still one of the main attractions of New York City, along with the Statue of Liberty and other landmarks.
Since 1991, the main building of the authority on the 11.1 hectare island in the port area of New York City has been a museum.
Where is Ellis Island located?
Ellis Island is located about 1.6 kilometers southwest of Manhattan and about 400 meters east of New Jersey in the port area formed by the Hudson River. Ellis Island in Upper New York Bay was created between 1892 and 1934 for the most part (90 percent) through artificial land reclamation. This newly created part belongs to the state of New Jersey, the rest to New York. A decision that was preceded by a dispute that lasted several centuries and that ultimately only the Supreme Court could settle. Because the Supreme Court did not decide on the assignment until 1998. Since then, most of it belongs to the state of New Jersey.
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A car bridge extends between Jersey City and the island. The bridge is not accessible to visitors. It serves to supply Ellis Island.
The history of the island
Hollywood legend Cary Grant, cosmetics legend Max Factor, the legendary Lucky Luciano, Hollywood chief gangster Edward G. Robinson, Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmuller, comedian Bob Hope and heartbreaker Rudolph Valentino are just a few of the famous American personalities who came to the USA via Ellis Island came. And they are not the only ones who have come here to find happiness.
A 2000 census showed that almost one in three Americans can trace their roots back to Ellis Island. According to the census, every sixth person has German ancestry. But how did Ellis Island come to be the collection point for immigrants in New York, where adults and children were handled? To do this, we have to go back a few centuries. In the time when they arrived on board ships after a long and arduous journey from Germany and other European countries as passengers in the New World.
The early history of the island
Ellis Island was originally much smaller than it is today and was used differently in its early days and not just renamed once. The Indians called Ellis Island “Kioshk”, which means something like seagull island. In the 17th century it was named by Dutch immigrants around 1630 because of its mussel beds. Oyster Island “, Ie oyster island, renamed. It was later called “Gibbet Island”. The name, which translates as Gallows Island, owes it to the fact that many pirates were hanged on the gallows there at the time. During the American Revolution, Samuel Ellis finally acquired the island and tried – after it was used as a picnic area for a long time – to sell it unsuccessfully. After Ellis died in 1807, New York State took over the island and eventually sold it to the federal government of the United States for $ 10,000 in 1808.
After the island was initially used as Fort Gibson as a prison and ammunition depot for the army, it was renamed Ellis Island in 1861. And as immigration soared in the late 19th century, the official immigration service was eventually moved from Castle Clinton on the southern tip of Manhattan to Ellis Island, and the island was enlarged through artificial land reclamation. On January 1, 1892, it began its time as the United States’ immigrant assembly point and contact point for all those people who boarded ships as passengers in Europe with the hope of escaping poverty or after a difficult and often dangerous journey in the USA to find happiness in another way.
The history of Ellis Island in immigration to the United States
In the beginning, the number of immigrants was small and there were only 152,000 immigrants between 1820 and 1830. But the numbers rose rapidly. It was mainly German and English immigrants who set out for the New World in the hope of finding happiness there. Over time, government restrictions on immigration to the United States have tightened and the need for civil servants to screen immigrants more thoroughly.
To achieve this, the authorities chose Ellis Island as a port of call, as immigrants from the island could not enter the city unseen. The immigration office buildings were designed to accommodate 500,000 immigrants per year. But there were many, many more who came into the country via Ellis Island. The record day was April 17, 1907 with almost 12,000 people who had to be processed by the 500 or so officials in the immigration office. These numbers only declined when the number of immigrants was limited by the Immigration Act of 1924.
During the world wars, Ellis Island was used by the government as an internment camp for “enemy aliens” and as a hospital and assembly point for wounded US soldiers. The immigrant collection point on Ellis Island was finally closed on November 12, 1954. At that time, around 12 million people had immigrated to the United States via the island in New York City.
Ellis Island has been open to visitors since 1965 and is managed by the National Park Service as part of the Liberty Island National Monument and is constantly undergoing gradual renovations. The Hurricane Sandy caused significant damage to buildings and facilities in 2012. The citizens’ initiative “Save Ellis Island” is supporting the renovation and is collecting money for it, among other things.
A girl’s answer to one of these questions is almost legendary. Because when asked whether you would clean stairs from top to bottom or from bottom to top, she replied: “ I didn’t come to America to clean stairs. ”
But the strict review only applied to normal mortals. First and second class passengers with money and reputation were allowed to start the USA adventure directly in Manhattan after a brief visitation and had the opportunity to enter the country more or less directly from the ship.
The process sometimes took days to weeks
Due to the large number of immigrants, many families and their children had to spend days or weeks on Ellis Island and could only catch a glimpse of the New York skyline before the USA could become their new home in the best case. A hospital was also available for these in addition to separate beds for the sexes. At times there were peaks of up to 5,000 people who had to wait on the dark wooden benches in the hall of the “registry room” for their future fate to be decided. Something that could take three to five hours.
The actual interview only took about two minutes. Previously, the immigrants were asked to climb a steep staircase with 50 steps right at the beginning and doctors watched them climb. If problems arose, the subjects were examined more thoroughly. They were also examined for infectious diseases and their hands, face and hair were examined. Anyone who was suspicious and looked sick, for example, was given a chalk mark on their shoulder.
Those who passed the exam were allowed to cross the door marked “Push to New York” and begin their new life in the USA. The first to be shot in this way via Ellis Island in the United States was 15-year-old immigrant Annie Moore. At the end of the 19th century, Moore arrived at the port in the USA on New Year’s Eve 1891 with the steamship SS Nevada from Liverpool in the UK, along with 126 other Europeans from Russia, England, Germany and Ireland. In her honor, a bronze statue was erected as a monument on the island.
It is a myth that the immigrants were forcibly given an English name. It happened, however, that people made mistakes when they were admitted and the name that had been given inadvertently was retained as the new family name in the new country.
Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears – for many, the American Dream ended on Ellis Island
Ellis Island is not only called the gateway to freedom, but also the island of tears. 3,500 people died here (35 were born) and ten percent of all travelers are said to have died during the crossing due to inadequate hygienic conditions on the ships. A fact that earned the immigrant ships the unflattering nickname “coffin ships”, as infectious diseases spread quickly among the passengers on the ships.
In addition, not all of the newcomers succeeded in surviving the immigration process and entering the land of opportunity. About two percent of those willing to immigrate were sent back to Europe for medical or other reasons over time and were not allowed to enter the United States.