This is the side of the main Ellis Island building.
Today, Ellis Island is mostly valued as an historic site. However, very few people know the struggle it went through to stay open not so long ago.
In 1954, Ellis Island was closed for the following reasons:
1. Most immigration tests were being done in the country of origin.
Even though Ellis Island was no longer needed as an immigration center, Ellis Island still was important to immigrants and their descendants. President Lyndon B. Johnson agreed. In 1965, he signed a statement adding Ellis Island to the Statue of Liberty Monument.
In 1976, Ellis Island was opened to the public for tours. That first year alone, 50,000 people visited Ellis Island. One of my teachers told me that she was one of those people who went on a tour that year. She said that the only way to see the island was to go on a tour run by The National Park Service. You had to walk on boards and stay out of certain areas.
The number of visitors wasn't the only thing growing. Several public officials and private citizens became interested in the restoration of Ellis Island. However, the government didn't have enough money to restore even one building.
In 1982, President Reagan formed the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Centennial Commission. The committee would restore the two places. President Reagan asked Lee Iacocca, who was the head of the Chrysler Corporation, to head the commission. Iacocca said yes. His parents had come through Ellis Island from Italy and he called it a "labor of love for my mother and father."
Everybody pitched in, from huge businesses to average citizens. There were hundreds of fund raisers held. The foundation came up with 136 million dollars. This may sound like a lot of money, but it wasn't enough to do all the restorations.
Then Iacocca had an idea to build the American Immigrant Wall of Honor. For $100, a person could get an immigrant ancestor's name on the wall. His idea raised $20,000,000!
Then in 1984, the restoration began. Everything was where it had been left 30 years before. Damaged water pipes and glass shards littered the floor. The engineers had their work cut out for them. The place was a mess!
The first picture is of an unidentified stairway and the second is of the third floor.
Planners wanted the main hall to look as it was in the early twentieth century. Builders studied old pictures to see how the place looked back then. Computers were used to study paint shards so that the original paint color could be matched.
Engineers studied the original construction materials and some materials had to be totally remade. An example of this was the lost recipe for a certain type of plaster called Caen stone, which was required for the Registry Room. Experiments were made until the correct recipe was found. Also, half the copper trim had come off of the roof and had to be perfectly reproduced and replaced. Soot had to be wiped off the outside of the building. Everything found was salvaged. For example, washroom sinks were repaired and installed in the bathrooms. Several pictures, documents, and even donated family heirlooms were collected for the exhibits.
Special features were also added to educate people about Ellis Island. Through fun computer activities, visitors could learn about Ellis Island. Some activities involving computers and other interactive media include:
There is a sixteen screen video wall on which the movie, Island of Tears , is shown.
This is a picture of the huge map which shows how many people
from each country settled in the United States.
The Ellis Island Museum reopened on September 10th, 1990. Drawings were held to decide who could attend. People in their ethnic dress paraded down the walkway, feeling glad that because they cared, Ellis Island was back.
Today, when you approach Ellis Island you see the mast of an old sunken ship which used to carry immigrants. As you enter, you feel as if you are entering a palace. In the main hall, there is luggage that was left behind by immigrants as well as computers where you can find immigrants on the Wall of Honor. Graffiti is still left on the walls and an exhibit that shows donated treasures is a very popular attraction. However, the biggest attraction is not the museum, but the wall. The names of 200,000 immigrants are engraved on the surface of the wall.
Today people are still immigrating from all over the world, but Ellis Island remains an important monument to early American Immigration.
Home | A Brief History of Ellis Island | Ellis Island at a Glance | The Exams | The Immigrants |
HyperStudio Stacks | References and Related Links | Virtual Tour of the Ellis Island Museum |
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