~ Ellis Island, New Jersey ~

Ellis Island, in Upper New York Bay, was the gateway for millions of immigrants to the United States as the nation's busiest immigrant inspection station from 1892 until 1924. The island was greatly expanded with land reclamation between 1892 and 1934. Before that, the much smaller original island was the site of Fort Gibson and later a naval magazine. The island was made part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument in 1965, and has hosted a museum of immigration since 1990. A 1998 United States Supreme Court decision found most of the island to be part of New Jersey.

The south side of the island, home to the Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital, is closed to the general public and the object of restoration efforts spearheaded by Save Ellis Island. The entire island has been closed to the public since Hurricane Sandy in October 2012(February 2013).

Ellis Island is located in Jersey City, New Jersey and is situated in the Upper New York Bay east of Liberty State Park and north of Liberty Island. The island has a land area of 27.5 acres, most of which was created through land reclamation. The original portion of the island is 3.3 acres and is an exclave of New York City, while reclaimed areas are part of Jersey City. The entire island has been owned and administered by the U.S. federal government since 1808. It is currently operated by the National Park Service.

Originally much of the west shore of Upper New York Bay consisted of large tidal flats which hosted vast oyster banks, a major source of food for the Lenape Indian population who lived in the area prior to the arrival of Dutch settlers. There were several islands which were not completely submerged at high tide, although most of them were submerged. Three of them (later to be known as Liberty, Black Tom and Ellis) were given the name Oyster Islands by the settlers of New Netherland, the first European colony in the Mid-Atlantic states. The oyster beds would remain a major source of food for nearly three centuries. Landfilling to build the railyards of the Lehigh Valley Railroad and the Central Railroad of New Jersey would eventually obliterate the beds, engulf one island (Black Tom) and bring the shoreline much closer to the others. During the Colonial period Little Oyster Island was known as Dyre's, then Bucking Island. In the 1760s, after some pirates were hanged from one of the island's scrubby trees, it became known as Gibbet Island. It was acquired by Samuel Ellis, a colonial New Yorker possibly from Wales, around the time of the American Revolution.

New York State leased the island in 1794 and started to fortify it in 1795. Ownership was in question and legislation was passed for acquisition by condemnation in 1807 and then ceded to the United States in 1808. Shortly thereafter the War Department established a twenty-gun battery, magazine, and barracks. From 1808 until 1814 it was a federal arsenal. At the end of the War of 1812, Fort Gibson was built and the island remained a military post for nearly 80 years before it was selected to be a federal immigration station.

The Immigration Museum

Heading to Ellis Island on the ferry
After 1924, Ellis Island became primarily a detention and deportation processing station. During and immediately following World War II Ellis Island was used to intern German merchant mariners and 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. Sort of an early times Guantanamo. It was also a processing center for returning sick or wounded U.S. soldiers, and a Coast Guard training base. Ellis Island still managed to process tens of thousands of immigrants a year during this time, but many fewer than the hundreds of thousands a year who arrived before the war. After the war immigration rapidly returned to earlier levels. The Internal Security Act of 1950 barred members of communist or fascist organizations from immigrating to the United States. Ellis Island saw detention peak at 1,500, but by 1952, after changes to immigration law and policies, only 30 detainees remained.
The first immigrant to pass through Ellis Island was Annie Moore, a 15-year-old girl from Cork, Ireland, who arrived on the ship Nevada 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 gold piece. It was the largest sum of money she had ever owned. The last person to pass through Ellis Island was a Norwegian merchant seaman by the name of Arne Peterssen in 1954.

New York City skyline from the ferry near Ellis Island

The hospital section of Ellis Island (under restoration)

Les Paul's Spirit of America Gibson guitar

Was the Immigration Processing Center and now the Immigration Museum

Representation of items that immigrants brought to this country with them

A photo of a photo of actual immigrants arriving at Ellis Island

Another photo of immigrants, people filled with hope

A photo of a photo of actual luggage and immigrant belongings

This was taken from the deck of the ferry as we docked

A model of Ellis Island
We docked on the right side of the slip running up the center of the island. The left half of the island contained the hospital and housing. This area is off limits to visitors and is undergoing a restoration. The right half of the island was the processing area and now contains the museum.

Another photo of some immigrants

Lady Liberty from Ellis Island

Chief Joseph

Back outside
I was really happy to see Chief Joseph represented among the historical displays.
"I am tired of fighting. Our Chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead, Toohoolhoolzote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes and no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are -- perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs, I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever."
Most historical accounts state that Joseph gave this short speech as he surrendered to General Howard and Colonel Miles, but it was undoubtedly made before the surrender to the other remaining chiefs in the band. He wanted to give them the choice to attempt an escape to Canada or surrender with him. And, in fact, upon his surrender to Howard and Miles, he was able to stall the surrender long enough for many of his people to make their escape. One of those was his daughter.
The surrender agreement contained many promises to Joseph and his people, but not one of them was kept. Miles, who later became a General, made many attempts to enforce the terms of the surrender, but, because of Genarals Sherman and Sheridan overruling him, he was unsuccessful. Joseph was never allowed to return to his homeland and died in exile at the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington state.

Back Outside and Flowers

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 supervision and were more interested in preventing inadmissible aliens from entering the country (for which they were held accountable) than in assisting them in trivial personal matters such as altering their names. 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, the North German Lloyd Line, the Hamburg-Amerika Line, the Italian Steam Navigation Company, the Red Star Line, the Holland America Line, and the Austro-American Line. 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. I have personal knowledge of this practice of changing name after immigration. The German name Victor was changed by family to Victorski, because of the neighborhood in which they lived. There was not much love between Germans and Poles in the 1940s. Also, several of my classmates Americanized their names prior to graduating from college.

Taken just before boarding the ferry for Liberty Island

Unidentified building, also off limits

The photo on the left was also taken just prior to boarding for Liberty
Island. The photo above was taken on board just before we shoved off.
I chose the upper level on the trips going out to allow for better
photographic possibilities. On the return trip to Liberty State Park,
I would stay on the bottom deck level in order to get off the boat sooner
and head back to Arvie and Budder.

Back To The Ferry

My ship is coming in

Headed for Liberty Island

Goodbye, Ellis island

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