Sep 11, 2010

Skip the Statue of Liberty and Head for Ellis Island

The Registry Room at Ellis Island.
Notice the Gustavino tiles.
If you even have a hunch that one of your ancestors may have ventured into the United States via Ellis Island, you should pay the twelve dollars for a ferry at the ticket kiosk at Castle Clinton in Battery Park and skip the Statue of Liberty stop and head straight for a strange parallelogram almost abut New Jersey. For more than a century, travelers from foreign lands hoped to find safe passage on Ellis Island to the United States. In 1954 immigration law mandated that prospective citizens be screened at their respective points of debarkation. The island was shut down by the federal government and remained vacant for years. A cool exhibit at the museum on the third floor are photographs by artists who visited the site during its vacancy period. In the 1980s the complex was renovated and restored by the National Park Service


My own grandfather, Joseph Roselli, emigrated from Italy circa 1920. After his mother died, my grandfather travelled with his brother and father, almost a century ago. His father left he and his brother in Detroit to make a living for themselves in the States. The father returned to the old country to remarry.

I felt a shock of emotion when I walked into the registry room. My grandfather waited in this grand room, designed by the Gustavino brothers, the same brothers who designed the old City Hall subway station and thousands of tiles scattered through the New York City subway system.

Be sure to explore the individual stations where immigrants had to pass through: the medical rooms, the legal hearing halls and the on-site dining halls. An added plus is the installation of audio samplings from immigrants who tell their individual stories.


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