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History of New York's Ellis Island

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Visitors flock to New York City for many reasons including work and play. The city is filled with spectacular nightlife, business opportunities, landmarks and attractions which breathe life into one of the most popular metropolitan cities in the US

From 1892 to 1954, people arriving in the New York area did so with dreams of having a better life and a more substantial opportunity for freedom from oppression. It is said that 40 percent of all people in America have at least one person in their family history that they can be traced back to Ellis Island.

Ellis Island main building (Photo: KCDSTM/Flickr CC)

Ellis Island main building (Photo: KCDSTM/Flickr CC)

The Background of Ellis Island

Ellis Island is located off the tip of Manhattan, sitting on 27.5 acres of land in the middle of a harbor. In 1812, the small island was a fort. It was the United States Federal Government which turned it from a fort and into an immigration processing station or center. The Statue of Liberty standing tall in all her glory and splendor, representing freedom for all who pass her way, is visible from the point of Ellis Island.

History tells us that Ellis Island was the processing area for immigrants. The island had gone through some major renovations throughout the decades; improving on size and housing more buildings as it was developed from 1776 to the 1900's. The island now holds a museum, which tells the stories of how it came to be and the immigrants that are a part of that history.


The Voyage to Freedom

Coming to America appealed to many immigrants from the southern and northern parts of Europe as they found a way out of their dire situations of persecution, oppression and hardships, including both political and economic difficulties. The fleeing people came from all different backgrounds. Once arriving off their voyage to America, some passengers were allowed to go on shore without making their way through inspection. This privilege was given to those considered to be first and second class citizens. All others of lesser standing were shipped off to Ellis Island by way of ferry to go through inspection.

Those immigrants planning the trip to America had to pay anywhere from twelve dollars to sixty dollars per person, which meant that families had to save their money for years before they could travel to America. Even when the money was available, families still had to go through the process of being screened before they could get on board a ship to sail to America.

Lower class passengers had to deal with over crowdedness and no fresh air because they were put on the bottom floor of the ships to make the journey. Once they made it to their destination, passengers had to go through the a check of their personal belongings and a physical inspection by doctors before they were set free into their new life or were detained because of issues that the doctors found. For each individual, lower class immigrant, the inspections and evaluations lasted up to five hours. Sometimes, what was supposed to be a happy ending to coming to America ended in grief, heartache, and disappointment. This happened when a family member was not set allowed to go live in freedom and security when the final inspection and evaluation was finished.


Ellis Island and the Immigrant- Annie Moore

Although Ellis Island is a main feature of New York City, its size is so huge that 80 percent of its structure lies in New Jersey. Before its name change, Ellis Island had also been called Oyster Island, Island of Tears and Island of Hope. However, the Native American's called this place Gull Island.

On January 1, 1892, a ship coming in from Ireland, landed at Ellis Island with a load of Irish Immigrants. The first person to step foot on the island was Annie Moore, a 15 year old girl. Upon doing so, the teenager was presented with a gold coin; its monetary value was worth ten dollars for being the first person to step foot on the newly constructed Ellis Island. Annie and her brothers had spent 12 days on the ship as they set out to join their parents who were already living comfortably in New York. This girl and her brothers are recognized as the first people to arrive on the renovated island. A statue with the image of Annie and her younger siblings now stands at the Ellis Island Museum, depicting when she first arrived.

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