Always purchase your ticket online to avoid huge queues, and don’t forget to pick up a free audioguide in the lobby
Historically, Ellis Island was the gateway to America. Before planes became so ubiquitous, immigrants would step off a steamboat and pass through this processing station to enter New York. Between 1892 and 1924, over 12 million immigrants did just that. It has been estimated that almost 40 percent of all current U.S. citizens can trace at least one of their ancestors to Ellis Island.
Over time, Ellis Island has known many names: it was, for example, Oyster Island during the Dutch and English colonial periods due to its abundant oyster beds. Yet when Samuel Ellis became the island’s private owner in the 1770s he put his name on it — and it stuck. Since then it has variously been a site for pirates, a harbour fort and ordinance depot called Fort Gibson, and finally an immigrant station, watched over by the Statue of Liberty.
Island of Hope, Island of Tears
The museum can be found in the Main Building of the former immigration station complex, a restored Renaissance Revival structure. It provides a poignant tribute to the experience of being an immigrant, focusing on those passengers in third class who faced a more arduous and desperate journey, always with the risk of being sent back where they came from.
The exhibitions focus on their stories, while also taking a broader historical perspective to understand the geopolitics behind the flux of people — be sure to check out the World Migration Globe, a radiant sphere that illustrates migration patterns throughout human history. Besides that, there is also a huge collection of personal objects, official documents, photographs and film footage to be seen.
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