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Right in front of Manhattan, in the beautiful natural bay in which the port is located in New York, just minutes by ferry from the main island which is the heart of the Big Apple, there’s Ellis Island. Ellis Island was the main platform through which, more than fifteen million immigrants who left their native lands, entered the United States, hoping to get settled.
Ellis Island (originally called gibbet Island by the British who used to confine the pirates caught “red-handed” and then used as a system of fortifications and munitions depot) is one of the forty islands in around New York Bay. It became famous since 1894 as a receiving station for immigrants; it was used for this purpose until the federal government took control of migration, which was necessary for the massive influx of immigrants coming mainly from southern and Eastern Europe. (Szucs, P.56)
The home of first asylum-prison “remained active until 1954, when it was closed and abandoned to the elements. Over one hundred million Americans can trace their origin in the United States to a man, woman or child who passed through the great hall of Ellis Island. Today it is transformed into a Museum of Immigration.
Until about 1850, there were no official procedures for immigration to New York. On that date, the surge in the number of European immigrants fleeing the great famine of 1846 and the failed revolutions of 1848, led the authorities to open an immigration center at Castle Clinton in Battery Park, on the southern tip of Manhattan Island. Around 1880, the hardships which were suffered in Eastern and Southern Africa, and the strong economic depression in the South, led thousands of people to leave the Old World. At the same time, America was taking away the industrial revolution, with an accelerating process of urbanization. (Cannato, p.99)
Ellis Island was opened in 1894, when America overcame a period of economic depression and began to establish itself as a world power. Rumors were spread across Europe, about the opportunities offered by the New World as a result of which, thousands of people decided to leave their homeland.
When steamships came into the port of New York, the richest, first and second class passengers were inspected at their convenience in their cabins to the ground and escorted by immigration officials. The steerage passengers were taken to Ellis Island for inspection, which was not easy. The historic Ellis Island ferry was used by the Immigration Service to transport the immigrants and the staff of the immigration center.
Each arriving immigrant brought a document with information on the ship that brought him to New York. The doctors examined each immigrant briefly, and marked on the back of those, who needed further examination about their health status, and if there were special conditions of disability.
After this initial inspection, immigrants proceeded towards the central part of the recording studio, where inspectors questioned immigrants one by one. Each immigrant needed at least a full day to pass the entire inspection process at Ellis Island.
The scenario of the island was truly harrowing, as most people came hungry, dirty and penniless, not knowing a word of English, and feared of the alluring metropolis on the other side.
Immigrants were assigned Inspection Card with a number. Furthermore, it even took a whole day, waiting while officials worked in Ellis Island for examination. (Peacock, p.45)
After inspection, immigrants came down the studio for “Stairs of Separation” which marked the dividing point for many families and friends to various destinations. The center was designed to accommodate 500,000 immigrants a year.
Scammers jumped out from everywhere, stealing the luggage of immigrants during audits, and offered rates of exchange for the money and belongings which they had robbed. Families were divided, men on one side, women and children on the other, while performing a series of examination, to eliminate unwanted and sick. These were taken on the second floor, where the doctors monitored and dealt with the presence of “filthy and contagious diseases and manifestations of madness. Those who failed to pass the medical examinations were marked, as already mentioned, with a white cross on his back and confined on the island until a different decision was made, or were re-embarked. The captains of the ships were obliged to return the immigrants who were not given the clearance to enter the city, to their port of origin. According to official records, however, only two per cent were refused. Furthermore, many of them dived into the sea and tried to get to Manhattan by swimming, or committed suicide rather than facing the journey back home. (Houghton, p.125)
Many purposes have been served by the Ellis Island, which is located in the New York City Bay. It was originally the property of Samuel Ellis and his successors until the early part of the 18th century, later served as an area of a fortress and armory in the middle of the 19th century. Furthermore, through the course of both the World Wars, it served as a hospital for the injured and wounded servicemen, detention centre for people waiting to be deported which include Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman. At present, Ellis Island is the home of an Immigration Museum. Ellis Island has its own significance and importance. It is widely known for its contribution as the key immigrant screening center for the federal government. The island was used for the purpose examining new entrants between 1892 and 1924. Throughout that time, 71 percent of the immigrants, who were mostly Europeans, reached the New York City port. Furthermore, over 12 million immigrants were given clearance to enter through Ellis Island. As the majority of the immigrants settled in United Statesââ‚¬â„¢ cities and approximately one-third in New York city and the nearby areas, Ellis Island developed into a doorway to the cities if America and the focal point of its inhabitants. According to the statistics of 1910, it was found that the population of the main cities such as New York, Boston, Chicago, and Detroit, consisted of more than three-fourths of immigrants and their children who arrived through Ellis Island. In the latter part of the 20th century, an estimated of 100 million American citizens, which accounted for 40 percent of the United States, were found to have connections and associations with those people, man, woman, or child, who arrived in America through Ellis Island.
On January 1st 1892, the first immigration center on Ellis Island was opened. It was functional until 1897. Throughout that time, about 1.5 million people were investigated and given clearance to enter the country. Among those people were, Irving Berlin, Felix Frankfurter, and Samuel Goldwyn. There was a fire which broke out on June 14 1897 which entirely destroyed the wooden buildings of the center wooden. There were no injuries, and all the 191 people who were present on the island during that time were safe, but the precious data and records of immigrants from 1855 got destroyed. Later, assistance was hired by the Bureau of Immigration, as Boring and Tilton was asked to build a fireproof substitute. The new building was constructed, similar in style of a French Renaissance, with brick and limestone. On December 17, 1900, the new station opened again. The new facility was designed to provide accommodation to more than 500,000 immigrants a year. But later, the facility proved to be insufficient to accommodate the entrants as the actual number of new arrivers mostly exceeded the capacity. Approximately one million people entered through Ellis Island in 1907. To manage the inflow of the huge number of immigrants, it was decided by the government to expand the island with landfill. Originally, it had an area of 3 acres which stretched to 27.5 acres. Furthermore, new wings were added and a third floor was constructed to the main building. Finally, 33 new buildings were constructed out of which, minimum of 15 provided hospital services. (Lee, p.89)
The new comers disembarked at the Hudson River Piers after which, they were ferried to the island. The immigrants were escorted to the huge room where they were registered by the immigration officials. The registry room was situated in the main building. The officials examined the entrants to determine if they were paupers, had several wives, mental illness, contract laborers, and offenders. Women and children, who had no one to look after them, were kept in detention until their relatives from America, especially male, could find them and provide care and protection to them. The officials from 1917 onwards, started to investigate if the grown up people immigrants had the ability to read in non native languages. Doctors who belonged to the Public Health Service, started searching and seeking for those new entrants, who were having debilitating or infectious diseases. New entrants, who were likely to recover, were transferred to the wards of Ellis’s hospital for medical attention and care. However, those individuals who had symptoms of incurable illness (at that time) such as trachoma, tuberculosis, or heart diseases, were declined. Even after rigorous sessions of inquiry and medical investigation, more than 90 percent of the potential immigrants were cleared to enter. Furthermore, 80 percent of those new entrants were able to gain entry within 8 hours. After getting clearance from the immigration officials, train tickets were purchased by the immigrants to travel across the country and embarked on railroad barges to reach New York and New Jersey. On the other hand, immigrants took the ferry from the Ellis Island to reach Battery Park.
Mass immigration came to an end due to the National Origins Quota Act of 1924. Furthermore, it stated that those who were looking to get an admission or entry into America, would be investigated in their native countries. After the reformed immigration act, the role of Ellis Island as an inspection station for immigrants came to an end. Afterwards, Ellis Island was used mainly as a detention centre for those who were to be deported. As the Immigration and Naturalization Service was transferred to Manhattan in 1954, Ellis Island was declared by the government as a surplus property. The government even tried to sell the property but protest and objection from public and shortage of sufficient bids brought an end to its sale.
Ellis Island was declared as part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument in 1965. It was done by President Lyndon B. Johnson, as he acknowledged the historical significance of Ellis Island. Furthermore, he placed Ellis Island in the permanent attention and protection of the National Park Service (NPS). Adequate funds were not approved by Congress to let the NPS to revamp buildings which were abandoned. Rather, it was proposed to maintain the center as a handsome shrine. In 1976, the main building of the center was opened for public visits by the NPS, but even then, the historic location continued to deteriorate continuously.
A private association was initiated in 1982 by entrepreneur Lee A. Lacocca. Lee had historic associations with Ellis Island as his parents were immigrants, who came from Italy through the gateway of Ellis Island. The foundation was named as the Statue of Libertyââ‚¬”Ellis Island Foundation. The purpose of this foundation was to collect donations, from both corporate and individual sources, to revamp and repair the two sites. In 1984, as a result of the efforts which were initiated, Ellis Island was closed to public visits, and the reconstruction project worth $156-million started on Ellis Island. After the completion of the reconstruction project, the main building was restored as it looked between 1918 and 1924, and Ellis Island Immigration Museum came into being which was inaugurated in on September 10, 1990. Ever since the Museum came to being, almost 2 million people visited Ellis Island, dedicated and committed to spread the story of the settlers, who inhabited and contributed in the development of urban America. (Chermayeff, p.105)
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