More to See at Ellis Island

Ellis Island, as viewed from the ferry to Governor's Island National Monument.
Ellis Island, as viewed from the ferry to Governor’s Island National Monument.

 

Ellis Island, which is operated by the National Park Service as part of Statue of Liberty National Monument, is one of those national park sites that needs almost no introduction.   The site of the immigration inspection station through which millions of new arrivals first came to the United States between 1900 and 1954 is on many peoples’ bucket lists – not just those of national park completists.   Not only has Ellis Island become almost synonymous with America’s European immigration story itself, but the Ellis Island Immigration Musem, run by the non-profit Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation, is a world-class museum meriting a place on anyone’s New York City itinerary.

Unfortunately, Ellis Island suffered severe damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and was closed for almost exactly a year in the aftermath.   As of this writing, it still has not fully re-opened.

There is good news, however, in that the National Park Service has just announced that the hospital buildings on Ellis Island will be opened to the public for the first time starting October 1, 2014.

This map from the official NPS Brochure shows the location of the hospital buildings on Ellis Island relative to the Main Building, which is now the famous Ellis Island Immigration Museum.
This map from the official NPS Brochure shows the location of the hospital buildings on Ellis Island relative to the Main Building, which is now the famous Ellis Island Immigration Museum.

 

If you want to take in the hospital buildings, however, it will take some planning ahead.   Access is to be limited to just four 90-minute daily tours of 10 persons each.   The ticket price for these tours of $25 will go towards funding additional preservation efforts on Ellis Island.  With only 40 tickets per day, though, I expect that many of them will sell out well in advance.

Still, it will be an interesting situation to monitor.   Also, as an interesting bit of trivia, in 1998 the Supreme Court ruled that since most of Ellis Island sits on landfill on the New Jersey side of the river, the island is technically part of the state of New Jersey.   On the other hand, the hospital buildings that are newly being opened to the public sit on the original, “natural,” Ellis Island, and so are part of the state of New York.

The Statue of Liberty National Monument generally has two Passport cancellations available, one for the Statue of Liberty and one for Ellis Island – although different variations on those cancellations have been found over the years.  For example, stamps reading “Ellis Island,” “Ellis Island National Monument” (which is technically incorrect), and “Ellis Island Immigration Museum” have all been found just within the past year on the island- some may find those differences in the Passport cancellations meaningful, whereas others may not.

In any event, if you’ve already been to Ellis Island, the opening of the hospitals may provide a good reason to make a return visit and experience a new corner of this park.   On the other hand, if you haven’t been yet, the new buildings to explore provide another reason to make the visit and walk in the footsteps of so many who left one life behind to start a new life in a far away land.

Even if you can't land one of the tickets for the tours of the hospital buildings, the Great Hall at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum is still a sight to behold.
Even if you can’t land one of the tickets for the tours of the hospital buildings, the hallways of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum are still a sight to behold.

 

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