VISITING ELLIS ISLAND
Ellis Island is located in New York Bay. It has thirty-six buildings. Between 1892 and 1954 more than sixteen million people pass through Ellis Island hoping to become Americans. Upon arriving to Ellis Island inspectors boarded the ships the immigrants arrived on to survey the immigrants. Most of the passengers came in third and fourth class or steerage and were put on barges or ferries and taken to Ellis Island.
The medical exam began as the immigrants climbed the stairs to the Great Hall. Doctors were standing at the top of the stairs watching as the immigrants climbed them. If the doctors thought something was wrong with you, they would mark your back with a chalk mark. An "X" meant that there was a possible problem. "B" meant that that person had to go back to his/her homeland. "E" meant that you had a disease in your eyes. "P" meant you had a problem in your lungs. "Sc" stood for scalp. "L" stood for lameness. "Ct" stood for trachoma. Every child's head and nails were checked for a disease called favus.
If your sickness was curable you were kept at the Islands hospital. Many babies and young people arrived with measles, scarlet fever, diphtheria, or Favus, a head or nail disease. To keep the disease from spreading there was a notice that read,"DO NOT KISS A PATIENT." If your disease was contagious or incurable you were sent back to your old country.
One little girl was so nervous about passing inspection that she developed warts on her hands. The doctor marked the back of her coat with an "X." Her and her family were afraid that should we have to go back to their country. She was wearing a new coat with very pretty lining. A kind man told her to turn her coat inside out. The girl followed the man's instructions and was not inspected again.
After you were cleared by the doctors, you would wait in long aisles until your ships manifest, or number, was called. Everyone had an ID card with the manifest number on it. Many people wore their ID cards around their neck or pinned to their clothing. Legal inspectors sat at high desks at the end of the Great Hall. Next to the inspectors were interpreters. Each inspector had the ships manifest. The officers had filled out information about each passenger. The immigrants were asked the same questions by the legal inspectors that they were asked before boarding the ship in Europe. They were asked: "What is your name?" "Where were you born?" "Where are you coming from?" "Where are you going?" "Have you ever been in the United States before?" "Do you have any relatives here?" "Where do they live?" "Is there anyone who came out to meet you on Ellis Island?" "Who paid for your passage?" "Do you have any money?-Let me see it." "Do you have any skills?" "Do you have a trade?" "Do you have a job waiting here for you in the United States?" "Do you have a criminal record?" If the immigrant answered any of the questions improperly, he or she would be taken out of the line and marked with an "SI" (Special Inquiry) in chalk. This person would be detained until they could be inspected further by the legal examiners.
At the end of the Great Hall was the Staircase of Separation. If you passed all the inspections or not, you still had to go down the staircase. A turn to the right at the bottom lead to the railroad ticket office. A turn left at the bottom lead to a ferry to Manhattan. Straight ahead lead to the detention rooms that you stay in if you have a disease or if you had to go home. You would be sent back if inspectors thought you had committed crimes in your old country, if you wouldn't be able to support yourself or your family, or if you had certain mental or physical problems that would keep you from being able to work. (Photo by National Park Service)
For 80 percent of the immigrants, the average stay on Ellis Island was three to five hours. Between 1892 and 1924 only two percent, about 250,000 people among the millions that came through, were not allowed to enter the United States.
Take a tour of Ellis Island. Click here.
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Immigrants from Asia entered Angel Island known as "Ellis Island of the West."