I am off work today and am going into the city in awhile to have lunch with one of the park rangers from Ellis Island. I have not been to Ellis since transferring to Governors Island nearly a year ago. I still haven’t seen the new exhibit, Journeys: The People of America 1550-1890, that opened later in 2011. I am hoping to see it next month when an old friend from library school visits from Texas. The exhibit is phase one in the renovation of the immigration museum. I am pleased that it is now up and running. Many believe that Ellis Island is the story of American immigration, not realizing that the depot opened in 1892 and that millions of individuals had passed through other ports in earlier times. One of the least known stories in our rich history is that of Castle Garden, the immigration station in Lower Manhattan that processed millions of Europeans, especially Germans and Irish, from 1855-1890. Many visitors mistakenly believe their ancestors came through Ellis, not realizing that it did not open until the late nineteenth century. Phase two of the renovation will tell the story of immigration after 1924, when immigration quotas were tightened, up through the present day influx that is again transforming and enriching our society.
In yesterday’s Times Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation President Stepehen A. Briganti explains that “If we didn’t tell the current story we would be obsolete in 25 years.” This to me seems correct. Ellis Island is a fascinating place that every American should visit if they have the opportunity. Still, it is one tile in the larger mosaic of America’s immigration story. The immigration museum was built in the 1980s and opened in 1990s in the years when the immigrants were in late middle age and were eager to tell their story before they were gone. They succeeded. Now, wisely, the Foundation and Park Service are putting that story into even greater perspective.
Winter is a great time to visit Ellis Island.