My First Visit to Ellis Island
I need to preface this post by saying it took me 20-something years to finally visit the most incredible island in all of NY. This place echoes endless tales of unification, acceptance, freedom, and hope. I truly wish every tourist (and resident) gives Ellis Island a respectable amount of time to come visit, walk her halls, learn something new. The museum may not be the most Instagrammable place, but I guarantee you, its rich history and bold message makes it all worth it.
The walls are lined with portraits of families that passed through these halls decades ago. You can see sacred objects from different cultures left behind. What I found most fascinating were the traditional Kiddush cup and tefillin (phylacteries) placed on display. Another must-see is the Bob Hope Memorial Library that was opened back in 2008 in honor of Ellis Island’s most famous immigrant.
Ellis Island was named after owner Samuel Ellis in the 1780s, but it went through quite a few name changes before settling on this one. Back in the 1600s, it went by Gull Island and Oyster Island, later to be called Dyre’s Island, Bucking Island, and Anderson Island by 1765.
Ellis Island also had a holding cell for criminals and a quarantined section for infected immigrants. But of all the people that came through these doors from the years 1892 to 1954, only about 2 percent of them were turned away. After November of ’54, the island was closed down since most immigrant matters were to be handled in the INS Manhattan offices. Ellis Island went from being a bustling space to a ghostly, abandoned expanse. It was only in the mid-80s that the National Park Service along with generous financial donors began their restoration on the island and later turned it into the museum it is today.
After having just missed my ferry back to Manhattan, I had some time before the next one arrived. I walked the outdoor grounds and saw similarly-detailed sculptures to those inside the museum. The American Immigrant Wall of Honor was also a sight to see.
I managed to head back to the gift shop, (something I don’t normally do), and buy a mini glass bottle with the constitution scrolled up inside; so very kitschy, I know. There’s never an obligation to visit a museum’s gift shop, but when it’s housed in such a historical place, sentimentality might get the best of you.