|Hospital Building on Ellis Island|
|Former Detention/Quarantine Buildings on Ellis Island|
|Former Hospital Building on Ellis Island|
|The outside facade of the Main Immigration Building|
|The Bell Tower on the Main Building at Ellis Island which is now the Immigration Museum|
|Me in the Registry Room (or Great Hall) at Ellis Island|
The exhibits in the Museum also portray and give voice to the immigrants themselves. Each of their stories is unique and bears witness to the courage and determination that enables men and women to leave their homelands and seek new opportunities in an unknown land.
|Layout of Ellis Island|
|This picture was one of hundreds hanging in the Museum and, of course, I found it hit home -- it is a band of German musicians practicing at a picnic in Madison, WI, in 1897|
The Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital was a hospital that operated on Ellis Island from 1902 to 1930. The abandoned buildings were made part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument by proclamation of President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. While the monument is managed by the National Park Service as part of the National Parks of New York Harbor office, the south side of the island remains off-limits to the general public. Efforts to restore the hospital buildings and others on the island are being made by government partner Save Ellis Island.
Background: Three times previously in the nineteenth century, the United States had suffered a devastating cholera outbreak, each originating abroad. As a port of entry, Ellis Island was poorly equipped to handle the threat. Its two-story wooden dispensary had neither the staff nor the laboratory to contain a disease as deadly as cholera. In 1892, believing he had no other choice, Dr. W.T. Jenkins, the Port of New York's health officer, ordered the Moravia to anchor offshore until the outbreak was contained. Five days later, two more "death ships", the Rugia and Normannia, steamed into the harbor, and they, too, were ordered to anchor offshore. Dr. Jenkins warned that anyone — passenger or crew member — who tried to leave the quarantined ships would be shot. More than a thousand passengers were stranded on the ships, and they begged to be let off, fearing that infected passengers put them at risk. Their plea was denied. Over the next several days, additional cases broke out, killing most of the infected passengers within a day. Not until nearly three weeks had passed were the passengers finally allowed to disembark. It was unclear if the inadequacy of the medical facility at Ellis Island was partly to blame for the additional deaths. Health authorities could not easily dismiss the possibility that if the arriving passengers might all have lived if they had been immediately removed from the ships and quarantined at a safe medical facility.
|Layout of Ellis Island|
The issue of how to protect the health of both the nation and the immigrant would hover over Ellis Island for the next decade. Its medical facility was not equipped to handle anything but routine illness. When the wooden infirmary caught fire and burnt to the ground in 1897, the problem intensified. A makeshift hospital was established in an old house on Ellis Island but it was small and ill equipped. Passengers with infectious diseases like measles, diphtheria, and favus were shuttled to neighboring hospitals, which increasingly refused to take them. (Favus is is a disease usually affecting the scalp, appearing in honeycomb shape, but occurring occasionally on any part of the skin, and even at times on mucous membranes. Discovered in 1829, it was sometimes confused with leprosy but wherever infected and healed, it would leave the skin void of hair.) Although New York's indigent hospital remained open to immigrants for several years to come, even it eventually stopped taking them.
|Layout of Ellis showing the Main Building, etc.|
The Marine Hospital Service had been founded in 1798 to care for American merchant seamen. In 1903, in recognition of its expansion into the wider areas of quarantine and infectious disease control, its name was changed to the United States Public Health and Marine Hospital Service both of which served Ellis Island Hospital. The medical department at Ellis Island remained under the dual authority of the Marine Hospital Service and the Bureau of Immigration until 1903.
In his first State of the Union message, President Theodore Roosevelt proposed a change in immigration policy that would thrust the medical facility at Ellis Island into national prominence. Roosevelt said that America should open its gates to the able bodied while barring the entry of the weak and the infirm.
Although the new policy applied to all points of entry, of which there were more than three dozen, Ellis Island was the key. Because of its location in New York Harbor, it handled more arrivals than all the others combined. The numbers were staggering.
|Another Angle of the Layout of Ellis|
Recognizing that Ellis Island would need strong leadership if it was to institute a more thorough screening process, President Roosevelt turned to a Wall Street lawyer who also happened to be a friend and a fellow veteran of the Spanish-American War, William Williams. An odd choice for an Ellis Island commissioner, as he was a millionaire whose roots traced to a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The immigrants, on the other hand, were new to America, and most of them were dirt poor.
In his first directive as commissioner, Williams sought to curb Ellis Island's barbaric reputation stating that the immigrants should be treated with kindness and civility by everyone at Ellis Island and that harsh language nor abusive handling would be tolerated. However, a lawyer by training and a stickler for the rules, Williams had no particular affection for the new arrivals and insisted that immigration law be strictly applied -- meaning all able-bodied persons, BUT only those who were able bodied, would be allowed entry.
|And Yet Another Angle of the Layout of Ellis|
Right after taking the commissioner's job, Williams saw that a more rigorous inspection process would require a state-of-the-art medical facility. With William's goal seeming out of reach, even if he could convince Congress to appropriate the money for a hospital, Ellis Island had no vacant land on which to build it.
Expansion of Island: At the time tons of rocks were being excavating to build the New York City Subway, Secretary of Labor and Commerce Metcalf, announced that they were about to build a hospital, but first needed to build an island on which to place it. With the excavating going on, there was, in fact, so much fill available for land reclamation that two new islands were built next to the existing Ellis Island. Designated simply as Island No. 2 and Island No. 3, they were precisely sited. The Surgeon General of the United States defined the location of the island that would house the infectious disease hospital with an outside limit of 410 feet from the present island and 200 feet of clear water space between the two islands, it would be amply sufficient to insure freedom from danger or contagion according to modern ideas of hospital construction.
|One more angle of the layout of Ellis Island|
Construction: The first hospital in the Ellis Island complex — the General Hospital — opened on Island No. 2 in 1902. Connected to the main island by a 200-ft gangplank, it had 120 beds, making it larger than most city hospitals of the era. Even so, Commissioner Williams immediately complained to Washington officials that the new hospital's size was utterly inadequate. The General Hospital eventually would expand to 275 beds — more than three times the size of the typical city hospital. It included four operating rooms, a delivery room, and a morgue.
After two mentally ill patients committed suicide in the general hospital, the Psychopathic Pavilion was built. It was charged with housing "idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded persons, insane persons, and epileptics." According to an Ellis Island doctor who helped design it, the Psychopathic Pavilion would make possible the "humane and efficient treatment to those immigrants who, during the voyage to America, become the victims of acute mental disorders." Soon after it opened, however, the psychiatric hospital became a center of controversy, as it was a place where innovative mental tests were developed, yet, unfortunately, also a place where ideas about the mental inferiority of Italians, Slavs, and Jews thrived.
During Williams’ second term as commissioner, the third and largest medical facility opened — the 450-bed Contagious Disease Hospital. Opening in 1911 and located on Island No. 3 and more than 400 feet from the main island, the Contagious Disease Hospital was the world's most advanced hospital of its kind. It boasted a mattress autoclave ( instrument used to sterilize equipment and supplies by subjecting them to high pressure saturated steam) that could sterilize entire beds, an eight-cadaver refrigerator, an autopsy amphitheater that enabled visiting physicians and medical students to study the pathology of exotic diseases, and a sophisticated diagnostic laboratory staffed around-the-clock by a senior physician.
It had eighteen wards, each built to house patients with a particular disease. There were, for example, separate wards for whooping cough, measles, scarlet fever, favus, and diphtheria, and two wards each for trachoma and tuberculosis. The wards were connected by a central corridor that was nearly two football fields in length, with the doors to the wards staggered so that air from one could not easily enter another. Built to a size that provided the exact cubic feet of air prescribed by the health guidelines of the time, each ward was ventilated by banks of windows, maximizing the flow of air between the interior and exterior, while minimizing the flow between wards. It also had its own laundry where approximately three thousand sheets and towels were washed and dried there each day.
When fully completed, the hospital complex also included nineteen other buildings. Heat, light, and power for the hospital were furnished by the power plant on the first island. Sewage flowed, by gravity, into New York Harbor. The kitchen served two-thousand meals a day prepared by its own cooking staff. All told, three hundred people worked in the Ellis Island hospital complex, about a third of them medical doctors, nurses, and orderlies, many of whom lived in staff housing on the island.
Inspections: Each day at Ellis Island, nearly two thousand new arrivals climbed the most fateful staircase of their lives. A uniformed officer of the Public Health Service stood at the top landing, watching intently. As the passengers scaled the steps, lugging their suitcases, he looked for the slightest indication of poor health. Upon reaching the top, they were handed a medical card and directed to the left or right, depending on whether they were being processed in the registry's south or north hall. Once there, they stood in line until it was there turn to come forward, each step studied by a uniformed doctor who then examined the scalp, hands, eyes, and throat.
The inspection process was like an assembly line. Every ten seconds or so, another passenger was instructed to step forward. As indicated above, a chalk mark was swiped across the clothing of anyone suspected of disease. It was said that even the turns in the inspection line had a purpose. They used to like to have passengers while in inspection line make two right angle turns, which served to bring the light on both sides of a passenger's face. The turns also helped bring out imperfections in muscular coordination which may be the product of some infectious disease.
Immigrants who could afford first- or second-class passage and therefore presumed fit to become Americans went through a speedy inspection line that included a cursory medical exam. Close scrutiny was reserved for the poor passengers that traveled in steerage and were presumed headed for factory jobs. Roughly one in five of these arrivals was pulled out of the line for a fuller medical examination. Seventeen conditions, ranging from problems of the eyes to weaknesses of physique, could result in detention. "Class A" conditions, which included trachoma, were cause for deportation. The process could be unnerving.
Immigrants with infectious diseases like measles, mumps, diphtheria, and whooping cough were sent to the Ellis Island hospital for what was usually a short stay.
The medical inspection at Ellis Island was conducted by order of Congress. Diseases that scarcely get passing notice today were life threatening in 1900. Measles was easily spread and could be fatal. Life expectancy in America was only 48 years of age for whites and a mere 33 years of age for blacks. The PHS physicians at Ellis Island were "guardians of the gate" — the nation's first line of defense against immigrant-borne illness. Even so, disease slipped through. When polio broke out in the Italian section of Brooklyn, frightened residents blamed it on a recent immigrant.
Fifteen years after Ellis Island opened, growing opposition to immigration led Congress to expand the Public Health Service's authority, requiring it to weed out the weak and the unemployable as well as the sick. The new list of excludable conditions included "likely to become a public charge" — meaning someone who had little hope of finding a job. It was a Class A condition — cause for deportation.
As medical doctors, the PHS physicians were sworn to heal the patient. As uniformed officers of the Public Health Service, they were obliged to identify the medically unfit. The available evidence, though largely anecdotal, suggests that most PHS doctors adhered to the strictures of the law while showing leniency when possible.
While walking out from the fortresses of Ellis Island, I feel haunted by the information, sites and feelings of apprehension, fear, excitement, disappointment that the immigrants were faced with once stepping foot on the island. The eeriness seems embedded within its confines -- many secrets of its past never to be known.
|Our departing ferry - Miss Ellis Island|
|One of the Grayline Tour Buses|
|Marriachi Band Performers on the Subway Train|
|Mime Performers at a Subway Station Platform|
|Mime Performers - I think they were doing "Thriller"|
I have found out since that many of these terrific performers are from a program called Music Under New York. They compete for top locations (Times Square, Penn Station, Grand Central, 14th St, etc ), and over 100 of them usually perform with the MUNY banner. Everything from Chinese dulcimer to classical violin to barbershop singing to Haitian folk music to anything else you could imagine.
They really represent the diversity of NY residents! They often sell CD's so you can have a real good souvenir of NYC.
FYI, the athletic break dancers are usually at the 34th Street Herald Square station. Apparently, that station always has a lot of excellent performers, singers, bands, etc.
Well, this is it. We are hopping on another train and then heading over to finish our tour of the American Museum of Natural History. All that fresh air and smell of the seawater is making me tired. I need to get inside and warm up. We will have a big night ahead of us after the AMNH tour, too, as we are heading to SoHo to do some shopping. But, for now, we are off to see some treasures.
I hope you enjoyed your tour and informative guide through Ellis Island. It may be a lot to learn but I think it is good for everyone to know a little more about Ellis Island. Because for most of us, it was a piece of the beginning of our heritages.