The Isle of Tears

Rex's USA Diary

Ellis Island

The Statue of Liberty was the dream symbol that over 12 million immigrants saw as they sailed into New York Harbour. They probably never gave a second glance to Ellis Island nearby. Customs and medical inspectors would have boarded their vessels, cleared the entrance requirements for the wealthy, and disembarked with them at the Manhattan wharf. The other passengers were loaded onto barges and taken back out to the Immigration Station on Ellis Island - the Isle of Tears.

Ellis Island

Tears? Mmm, tears of emotion. To have finally arrived in the land of the free, away at last from a miserable existence in Southern Europe, the symbol of freedom holding her torch of liberty for all to see. Tears for having got so close to Manhattan, then doubling back out to ominous-seeming buildings on an isolated island - what would happen there? Tears as families were separated - men to one side, women and children to another - would they meet again? Tears at the strange voices, different languages, medical inspections. And for most, the tears of joy as families reunited with the knowledge that they were now a part of this new land with all its new opportunities.

Immigration Hall

Ellis Island was an Immigration Station between 1894 and 1954. It fell into stately disrepair, then was revived as a museum, family history research center and memorial to those millions of people who entered America through here. The great hall (above) was once filled with rails forming waiting-stalls, rows of hard benches, thronging crowds and a babble of foreign voices.

Hall lights

Exhibits show the people who flowed through, the personal effects they bought with them, and described the con men who preyed on them as they arrived in Manhattan. 'May I carry your suitcase Sir? Let me take you to a nice hotel just up the road' - and the suitcase disappears into the crowd forever. Or friendly money changers who give great exchange rates that turn out to be not so great after all. But among the crowd a cousin or uncle, a remembered face waiting to take care of them. More tears and hugs.

Shadow grills

It doesn't take much imagination to feel the emotion pouring out of the walls here. I rate Ellis Island as a 'must visit' site.

The National Parks Service administers Ellis Island