It’s safe to say not much has changed and, perhaps, it never will if war and hatred continue to be our modus operandi. The million dollar question is this: Are we doomed as humans to this destructive cycle of scapegoatism and righteous indignation? Or is there truly a possibility – a probability – for something else?
The United States, like Canada, is a country of immigrants. Between 1892 and 1954, twelve million citizens of other nations landed at Ellis Island seeking asylum in their new homeland. Close to 40% of Americans can trace their genealogy through these early immigrants.1
There are two kinds of Ellis Island tours available. The first is a free audio tour of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum and is included in the general $18 ferry ticket. (Note: most of the museum’s artifacts have been removed due to water damage incurred during Hurricane Sandy.) The ferry also makes stops at the Statue of Liberty, but does not include admission to the top of the statue.
The second, a 90-minute docent-led tour, permits access for a limited number of guests to the unrestored hospital and some of the other buildings that are not open to the general public. Within these buildings, French artist JR has installed photographs of some of the immigrants who passed through the hospital, breathing new life into the space.
I was really at Ellis Island to access the JR tour. Not only do I like exploring abandoned buildings, the subject matter is particularly relevant to my field of interest: the relationship of people to their homes and communities. And while I wholly subscribe to the idea of Ask and you shall receive, on occasion – and much to my chagrin – I don’t always get what I want.
Me: Hi. I’m in from out of town and I really want to see the J.R. art tour of Ellis Island.
Her: Do you have a ticket?
Me: No. I called this morning but no one called me back.
Her: You must buy tickets in advance.
Me: I tried, but I thought I’d just come down and see if there’s a “no show.” There are always no-shows, especially on an awful day like today. I’m happy to pay.
Her: You can’t do that.
Me: Why not if there’s room?
Her: Those are the rules.
Me: Ummm, is it a security thing?
Her: Those are the the rules.
Me: But there’s always a way around things.
Her: (Laughs) There’s no way around this. I’m the person you have to talk to. You have to call Statue Cruises. And all the tours are sold out through next month.
Me: So I guess I have to be a local or on a foreign tour that books months in advance? So much for accessibility.
A few minutes later, Buddy In a Dark Suit is standing next to me while I photograph the Great Hall.
Over the years, millions of people have passed through the old hospital at Ellis Island on their way to freedom in America. Clearly, I wasn’t going to be one of them.
Here’s a peek at the JR tour:
And a photo tour of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum:
The Library of Congress: Topics in Chronicling America – Ellis Island
Scholastic.com: Interactive Tour of Ellis Island
History Channel: This Day in History – Ellis Island
New York Public Library: Why Your Family Name Was Not Changed on Ellis Island