Up until July 2013, millions of tourists did not have the chance to visit the Statue of Liberty and
Ellis Island thanks to Hurricane Sandy. Both islands suffered massive damage since they were
straight in the storm’s path, and the evidence of the storm’s destruction can still be seen even
though the islands are now open to visitors. While some of the artifacts in the Ellis Island Museum are in a climate controlled facility in Maryland, for example, thanks to the efforts of many since Hurricane Sandy hit, there is still much to see and experience in nature, history, and maybe even
personal family genealogy.
It is recommended to start this adventure early. While the ferries run every twenty or so minutes
between Battery Park, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island, the lines will get bigger as the day
progresses, especially on beautiful days. The ferry tickets cost almost twenty dollars for adults,
but considering it includes the ferry that takes people to Liberty Island and Ellis Island, and it
includes entry into the Ellis Island Museum, it is well worth it.
Board the ferry at the dock in Battery Park. Since the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are
federal landmarks, there is airport style security in order to board the ferry. Therefore, it’s helpful
not to carry bags. But unlike airport security, the line to board the ferry doesn’t have to be a
single file line. So fill up the spaces! Food and drink cannot be brought onboard, but there is a
concession stand onboard.
The first stop is Liberty Island, which of course has the famous Statue of Liberty. A gift from
France, it was the symbol of many people who immigrated through Ellis Island since it was the
first sight seen with a panoramic view of New York City in the background. Once on the island,
walk around and see the views. Of course take pictures of the Statue of Liberty, and yes, selfies
may just turn out good too!
Next board the ferry again to Ellis Island. Once off the ferry, head right and go into the Ellis Island
Museum. There is three floors, which is like heaven for history and/or genealogy buffs. The first
exhibit is a chronological timeline of immigrants who came through Ellis Island when it was
functioning. There is a lighthearted section which displays how immigrants have influenced
popular music of today, such as country or blues. But there is a more serious display where
visitors can hear the pain in an Irish mother’s voice as she tells her son she doesn’t want him to
come home again because she selflessly wanted her son to have a better life in America. But in
another speaker, one can hear sounds of xenophobia, which is the fear of foreigners, that was
just as rampant amongst the natives as the immigrant’s desire to make a new life in the new
land. Hearing the mean words spoken against the immigrant’s begs the question did they
replace with suffering?
But one thing is certain. No matter if the immigrant’s came by choice of a better life as many did
or they were brought by force as many Africans were in order to become slaves, everyone had
their own struggle, and they worked through and overcame. There is a timeline demonstrating
this by including different milestones including using Native Americans as slaves in the 1500’s to
the women’s anti slavery movement in 1834, which included freed slaves and middle class white
women who worked together to help others.
There was a half hour long movie which shows how hard the journey was for the millions of
immigrants who crossed the ocean. Sailing with the American Steamship Company was
nothing like flying with Delta! The ships were so uneasy on the water, not much food to eat, and
many people got sick. Those who had a blanket went to the top for fresh air due to the smelly
conditions on the bottom levels. Unfortunately for most, the clothes they had on their back was
all they could afford. They spent their last penny on the ship ticket, not a warm blanket.
On the second floor is the registry room. The room is huge to today’s visitors but imagine it with
a new ship coming in with eager immigrants who must wait here to find out their fate-get
entrance to a new life in America or get sent back to their originating port of departure. For
many, going back was not an option. As one immigrant said, “I would jump into the water if they
tried to send me back to Russia. I never wanted to see it again.”. But unfortunately, some
weren’t lucky. Immigration officials profiled for disease, and disease meant certain deportation.
Immigrants were allowed to keep their culture and language until the 1900’s when America
began holding its isolationist policies towards the rest of the world that was heading to war. In
fact, during this time, 75% of America’s biggest cities were new immigrants or the child of new
immigrants. While they were able to live amongst themselves, many lived in poverty and felt the
pressure to assimilate. Then came the two world wars where the new immigrants and their
families fought their own people. After all, the new immigrants had now become people between
two worlds. Also around this time period, the Quota Laws were passed, which put an end to
America’s open door immigration policies and leading into immigration policies still in effect in
Behind the museum is a grass area containing the Wall of Honor containing names of people who
entered through Ellis Island. It all started with Annie Moore in 1892 who came from Ireland. Of
all the immigrants who passed through Ellis Island during its operation, the Irish are the third
largest and Russians are the second. Although German ancestry is the largest in the United
States, the number one nationality to pass through Ellis Island is Italian.
It is worth it to wait until after the museum to see the wall. After all, the line back to the ferry might
be long enough to reach this part of the island anyways so take all the time needed to find an
ancestor’s name. Then while waiting to board the ferry, visitors can think about all they’ve seen
and learned as they look out and see the same beautiful skyline that these same immigrants, full
of hope and probably a bit of uncertainty, saw before