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New York's Top 10 : Ellis Island Immigration Museum (part 1)

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Ellis Island is the symbol of America’s immigrant heritage. From 1892 to 1954, it was the arrival point for over 12 million people fleeing religious persecution, poverty, or unrest in their homelands. Their descendants, more than 100 million people, comprise almost 40 percent of today’s population. First and second class passengers were processed for immigration on board ship, but the poor traveling in steerage class were ferried to the crowded island for medical and legal examinations. It was a frightening prospect after an exhausting journey to a land where few newcomers could speak the language. As many as 5,000 passed through in a day. The museum not only retraces their experience here, but is a picture of the total immigrant experience in America.

  • For a map of Ellis Island see Lower Manhattan to Midtown

  • 212 363 3200

  • www.nps.gov/elis

  • Ferries from Battery Park: 866 STATUE4

  • Ferry rides to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island: adults $12, seniors $10, children (4–12) $5, children under 4 free

  • Open Jun–Aug: 9am–6pm daily; Sep–May: 9am–5:15pm daily

  • Free


New Jersey’s Ellis Island

Although federal property, a long-fought battle over territorial jurisdiction of Ellis Island was settled in 1998. Originally a 3-acre site, Ellis Island’s landmass was increased in the 1900s with landfill to more than nine times its original size, to over 27 acres. A US Supreme Court ruling in 1998 decided the added landfill to be in the territory of New Jersey, and the original portion to be in New York. New Jersey officials launched a restoration program that included saving the derelict hospital buildings.


The island’s cafeteria and picnic areas are great for lunch or snacks.


Catch an early ferry from Battery Park to avoid crowds on the island.


Stop at the museum information desk for tickets to the free 30-minute film “Island of Hope, Island of Tears.”



Top 10 Features
  1. Arrival Area

    Crowds of steerage passengers entered through the original gateway here after being ferried from arrival vessels. Instructions were given by interpreters in a babel of languages.

  2. Great Hall

    Huddled on benches, immigrants awaited examinations that would determine whether they would be granted entry. A doctor watched as they ascended the stairs and marked letters in chalk on those who showed signs of conditions needing special inspection.

    The vast interior of the Great Hall
  3. Medical Examining Line

    Interpreters guided immigrants through their medical examinations. The most dreaded were the “eye men,” looking for symptoms of trachoma, a disease that caused blindness. It was the reason for more than half the medical detentions and meant sure deportation.

  4. Dormitory

    Immigrants who were detained for further examinations slept here in separate quarters for men and women. Although the process was nerve-wracking, only two percent of those seeking refuge were sent back.

  5. Railroad Ticket Office

    Those traveling beyond New York were ferried to railroad terminals in New Jersey to continue their journeys. Agents could sell as many as 25 tickets per minute.

  6. Baggage Room

    Here newcomers checked the boxes, trunks, and baskets that held the meager belongings they carried, now all their worldly possessions.

  7. The Peopling of America

    400 years of immigration history are displayed in more than 30 galleries. Exhibits such as The Peopling of America have artifacts, heirlooms, posters, maps, and photos donated by immigrants’ families.

  8. American Family Immigration History Center

    Using computer and multimedia technology, visitors can access passenger arrival records of more than 22 million people entering New York between 1892 and 1924.

  9. American Immigration Wall of Honor

    To honor their forebears, Americans pay to have their names inscribed on this list. Including the families of John F. Kennedy and Barbra Streisand, this is the world’s largest wall of names; over 600,000.

  10. Immigrants’ Living Theater

    Daily theatrical productions that are based on actual immigrant accounts are given by actors who recreate the experiences of Ellis Island. The museum has two movie theaters, a Library and an Oral History Studio with taped reminiscences.

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