Ellis Island in New York City
Ellis Island in New York Harbor was the gateway for millions of immigrants to the United States. It was the nation's busiest immigrant inspection station from 1892 until 1954. The island was greatly expanded with landfill between 1892 and 1934. Before that, the much smaller original island was the site of Fort Gibson and later a naval magazine. The island was made part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument in 1965, and has hosted a museum of immigration since 1990. A 1998 United States Supreme Court decision found most of the island to be part of New Jersey.
Geography and access
Ellis Island is located in Jersey City, New Jersey and is situated in the Upper New York Bay east of Liberty State Park and north of Liberty Island. The island has a land area of 27.5 acre, most of which was created through land reclamation. The original portion of the island is 3.3 acre and is an exclave of New York City, while reclaimed areas are part of Jersey City. The entire island has been owned and administered by the U.S. federal government since 1808. It is currently operated by the National Park Service.
Public access is by ferry from either Communipaw Terminal in Liberty State Park or from Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan. The same ferry routes provide service to the nearby Statue of Liberty. A bridge built for transporting materials and personnel during restoration projects connects Ellis Island with Liberty State Park, but is not open to the public. Proposals made in 1995 to use it or replace it with a new bridge for pedestrians were opposed by the city of New York and the private ferry operator at that time, Circle Line. Since September 11, 2001, the island is guarded by patrols of the United States Park Police Marine Patrol Unit.
Originally much of the west shore of Upper New York Bay consisted of large tidal flats which hosted vast oyster banks, a major source of food for the Lenape population who lived in the area prior to the arrival of Dutch settlers. There were several islands which were not completely submerged at high tide but most of them were submerged. Three of them (later to be known as Liberty, Black Tom and Ellis) were given the name Oyster Islands by the settlers of New Netherland, the first European colony in the Mid-Atlantic states. The oyster beds would remain a major source of food for nearly three centuries. Landfilling to build the railyards of the Lehigh Valley Railroad and the Central Railroad of New Jersey would eventually obliterate the beds, engulf one island and bring the shoreline much closer to the others. During the Colonial period Little Oyster Island was known as Dyre's, then Bucking Island. In the 1760s, after some pirates were hanged from one of the island's scrubby trees, it became known as Gibbet Island. It was acquired by Samuel Ellis, a colonial New Yorker possibly from Wales, around the time of the American Revolution. In 1785 he unsuccessfully attempted to sell the island:
New York State leased the island in 1794 and started to fortify it in 1795. Ownership was in question and legislation was passed for acquisition by condemnation in 1807 and then ceded to the United States in 1808. Shortly thereafter the War Department established a twenty-gun battery, magazine, and barracks. From 1808 until 1814 it was a federal arsenal. At the end of the War of 1812, Fort Gibson was built and the island remained a military post for nearly 80 years before it was selected to be a federal immigration station.
In the 35 years before Ellis Island opened, over eight million immigrants arriving in New York had been processed by New York State officials at Castle Garden Immigration Depot in lower Manhattan, just across the bay. Others would have used one of the other terminals along the North River (Hudson River) at that time. The peak year for immigration at Ellis Island was 1907, with 1,004,756 immigrants processed. The all-time daily high occurred on April 17, 1907, when 11,747 immigrants arrived. After the Immigration Act of 1924 was passed, which greatly restricted immigration and allowed processing at overseas embassies, the only immigrants to pass through the station were displaced persons or war refugees. Today, over 100 million Americans - one third of the population - can trace their ancestry to the immigrants who first arrived in America at Ellis Island before dispersing to points all over the country.
Generally, those immigrants who were approved spent from two to five hours at Ellis Island. Arrivals were asked 29 questions including name, occupation, and the amount of money carried. It was important to the American government that the new arrivals could support themselves and have money to get started. The average the government wanted the immigrants to have was between 18 and 25 dollars. Those with visible health problems or diseases were sent home or held in the island's hospital facilities for long periods of time. More than three thousand would-be immigrants died on Ellis Island while being held in the hospital facilities. Some unskilled workers were rejected because they were considered "likely to become a public charge". About 2 percent were denied admission to the U.S. and sent back to their countries of origin for reasons such as having a chronic contagious disease, criminal background, or insanity. Ellis Island was sometimes known as "The Island of Tears" or "Heartbreak Island" because of those 2% who were not admitted after the long transatlantic voyage. The Kissing Post is a wooden column outside the Registry Room, where new arrivals were greeted by their relatives and friends, typically with tears, hugs and kisses.
During World War I, the German sabotage of the Black Tom Wharf ammunition depot damaged buildings on Ellis Island. The repairs included the current barrel-vaulted ceiling of the Main Hall.
Detention and deportation center
After 1924, Ellis Island became primarily a detention and deportation processing center. Due to this action, he was immediately stripped of his Indonesian citizenship, causing him to be imprisoned for a few months on Ellis Island as "an illegal alien". The building reopened on September 10, 1990. Exhibits include Hearing Room, Peak Immigration Years, the Peopling of America, Restoring a Landmark, Silent Voices, Treasures from Home, and Ellis Island Chronicles. There are also three theaters used for film and live performances.
As part of the National Park Service's Centennial Initiative, the south side of the island was to be the target of a project to restore the 28 buildings that have not yet been rehabilitated.
The "Wall of Honor" outside of the main building contains a partial list of immigrants processed on the island. Inclusion on the list is made possible by a donation to support the facility. In 2008, the museum's library was officially named the Bob Hope Memorial Library in honor of one the station's most famous immigrants.
The Ellis Island Medal of Honor is awarded annually at ceremonies on the island.
State sovereignty dispute
The island, largely artificially created through landfill, is situated on the New Jersey side of Upper New York Bay. The natural portion of the island, part of New York City, is surrounded by rest of the island in Jersey City.
The circumstances which led to an exclave of New York being located within New Jersey began in the colonial era, after the British takeover of New Netherland in 1664. An unusual clause in the colonial land grant outlined the territory that the proprietors of New Jersey would receive as being "westward of Long Island, and Manhitas Island and bounded on the east part by the main sea, and part by Hudson's river", rather than at the river's midpoint, as was common in other colonial charters.
When the Province of New Jersey was separated from the Province of New York in 1674, it was argued that Staten Island belonged to the former. Then-governor Edmund Andros directed that all islands in the bay that could be circumnavigated within 24 hours were part of New York. Soon thereafter, Captain Christopher Billopp sailed around it within the allotted time. The border came to be understood as being along the shore of the Hudson River, Upper New York Bay, the Kill van Kull, and Arthur Kill.
Attempts were made as early 1804 to resolve the status of the state line. The City of New York claimed the right to regulate trade on the all the waters. This was contested in Gibbons v. Ogden (22 U.S. 1) (1824), which decided that the regulation of interstate commerce fell under the authority of the federal government, thus influencing competition in the newly developing steam ferry service in New York Harbor.
In 1830, New Jersey planned to bring suit to clarify the border, but the case was never heard. The matter was resolved with a compact between the states, ratified by U.S. Congress in 1834, which set the boundary line between them as the middle of the Hudson River and New York Harbor. This was later confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in other cases which also expounded on the compact.<ref name="supreme.justia.com"/>
The federal government, which had bought the island in 1808, began expanding the island by landfill, to accommodate the immigration station opened in 1892. Landfilling continued in stages until 1934.
Nine-tenths of the current area is artificial island that did not exist at the time of the interstate compact. New Jersey contended that the new extensions were part of New Jersey, since they were not part of the original island. In 1956, after the 1954 closing of the U.S. immigration station, the then Mayor of Jersey City, Bernard J. Berry, commandeered a U.S. Coast Guard cutter and led a contingent of New Jersey officials on an expedition to claim the island. In 1997, the state filed suit to establish its jurisdiction, leading New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to remark dramatically that his father, an Italian who immigrated through Ellis Island, never intended to go to New Jersey.
The dispute eventually reached the Supreme Court of the United States, which ruled in 1998 that New Jersey had jurisdiction over all portions of the island created after the original compact was approved (effectively, more than 80% of the island's present land). This caused several immediate confusions: some buildings, for instance, fell into the territory of both states. New Jersey and New York soon agreed to share jurisdiction of the island. It remains wholly a Federal property, however, and these legal decisions do not result in either state taking any fiscal or physical responsibility for the maintenance, preservation, or improvement of any of the historic properties.<ref name="nyt-1998-05-27"/>
For New York State tax purposes it is assessed as Manhattan Block 1, Lot 201. Since 1998, it also has a tax number assigned by the state of New Jersey.
In the arts
Ellis island has been a source of inspiration or subject for the arts including film, literature and music.
Early films, including those from the silent era, which feature the station include Traffic in Souls (1913), which starred Matt Moore; The Yellow Passport (1916), starring Clara Kimball Young; My Boy (1921), starring Jackie Coogan; Frank Capra's The Strong Man (1926), starring Harry Langdon; We Americans (1928), starring John Boles; The Mating Call (film), 1928, co-starring Thomas Meighan and Renee Adoree; Ellis Island (1936), starring Donald Cook; Paddy O'Day (1936), starring Jane Withers; Gateway (1938), starring Don Ameche; Exile Express (1939), which starred Anna Sten; I, Jane Doe (1948), starring Ruth Hussey and Vera Ralston, and Gambling House (1951), starring Victor Mature
Some films have focused on the immigrant experience, such as the 1984 TV miniseries Ellis Island. The IMAX 3D movie Across the Sea of Time incorporates both modern footage and historical photographs of Ellis Island. The 2006 Italian movie The Golden Door, directed by Emanuele Crialese, takes place largely on Ellis Island.
The island has also been used as a film location. In the film X-Men, a UN summit held on the island is targeted by Magneto, a former immigrant who attempts to artificially mutate all the delegates present. In the 2005 feature film romantic comedy, Hitch, starring Will Smith, his and Eva Mendes' characters take a jet ski to the island and explore the building. The opening scene of The Brother From Another Planet takes place on Ellis Island.
Photographer Stephen Wilkes' series Ellis Island: Ghosts of Freedom (2006) captured the abandoned south side of Ellis Island and helped raise $6 million in funding from the United States Congress towards restoration of that area.
Ellis Island as a port of entry is described in detail in Mottel the Cantor's Son by Sholom Aleichem. It is also the place where Don Corleone was held as an immigrant boy in The Godfather Part II, where he was marked with an encircled X.
' is a work for actors and orchestra with projected images by Peter Boyer, composed in 2001-02. Also a documentary on the hospital at Ellis Island was created by Lorie Conway.
"Scenes from Ellis Island" (for guitar ensemble, piano, double bass, two violins and percussion) was composed by American classical guitarist Benjamin Verdery, and was inspired by a visit to Ellis Island.
The song "The New Ground - Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears," on the 2010 album ' by the group Celtic Woman, is about Annie Moore and Ellis Island.
- Immigration to the United States
- Angel Island, California
- Geography of New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary
- Port of New York and New Jersey
- Hoffman Island
- Swinburne Island
- National Register of Historic Places listings in Hudson County, New Jersey
- National Register of Historic Places listings in New York County, New York
- Philadelphia Lazaretto
- Pier 21
- Save Ellis Island
- Ellis Island: Blocks 9019 thru 9023, Block Group 9, Census Tract 47, Hudson County, NJ; and Block 1000, Block Group 1, Census Tract 1, New York County, NY; United States Census Bureau.
- Report of the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization under joint resolution of Senate and House of January 29, 1892, submitted by Mr. Stump. Ordered to be printed July 28, 1892. By United States Congress, House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization.
- Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, Personal Justice Denied, 1982 report;
- Baur, J. 'Commemorating Immigration in the Immigrant Society. Narratives of Transformation at Ellis Island and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum', in: König, M./Ohliger, R. (ed.), Enlarging European Memory. Migration Movements in Historical Perspective, 2006, 137-146.
- Baur, J. 'Ellis Island, Inc.: The Making of an American Site of Memory', in: Grabbe, H. J./Schindler, S. (ed.), The Merits of Memory. Concepts, Contexts, Debates, 2008, 185-196.
- Bolino, A. The Ellis Island Source Book, 1985
- Coan, P. M. Ellis Island Interviews: In Their Own Words, 1998.
- Conway, L. Forgotten Ellis Island, 2007.
- Corsi, E. In the Shadow of Liberty: The Chronicle of Ellis Island, 1935.
- Fairchild, A. Science at the Borders, 2004.
- Moreno, B., Images of America:Children of Ellis Island, 2005.
- Moreno, B., Images of America:Ellis Island, 2003.
- Moreno, B., Images of America:Ellis Island's Famous Immigrants, 2008.
- Moreno, B. Encyclopedia of Ellis Island, 2004. Google Books
- Moreno, B. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Ellis Island, Fall River Press, September 2010
- Novotny, A. Strangers at the Door, 1971.
- Pitkin, T. M. Keepers of the Gate, 1975.
- Ellis Island home page
- Ellis Island Visitor information
- Ellis Island Historical Timeline
- Ellis Island timeline
- Ellis Island Immigration Museum
- Free Search of Ellis Island Database - Port of New York Arrivals 1892–1924
- Supreme Court opinion in New Jersey v. New York (1998)
- National Park Service map showing portions of the island belonging to New York and New Jersey
- American Memory from the Library of Congress
- The Myth of Ellis Island Name Changes
- NPS: A brief early history
- The History of Ellis Island
- Eerie Ellis Island, Then And Now - slideshow by NPR
- The Ellis Island Experience - Articles, Documents and Images - Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives