It’s hard to imagine how immigrants felt leaving their homelands, families, with minimal belongings for a land that they knew nothing about and didn’t speak the language. It’s impossible to imagine the wonder and fear as they sailed into New York Harbor and saw the Statue of Liberty on their way to Ellis Island.
For the generations that came after the great immigration decade of 1900-1910, we are fortunate that we can tour Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty to learn about their plight. If you have the chance, visit these two monuments that are so rich in history.
We started our tour by ferry boat. You can take a ferry boat either from the New York side or the New Jersey side. We choose the New Jersey side and our first stop was Ellis Island. Ellis Island was the processing center for millions of travelers mainly from Europe that wanted a new life away from religious persecution, political strife, and unemployment. All in all, 12 million immigrants came through Ellis Island.
The main building has been restored as a museum which was part of the tour. There is a separate tour of the hospital and contagious wards. The museum building houses the Registry Room where inspectors questioned immigrants with up to 31 questions before allowing them to pass and go downstairs to exchange their money and buy provisions and possibly rail tickets if they weren’t staying in New York.
The museum has three floors with main exhibits on the first two floors. The first floor has two exhibits-The Peopling of America and New Areas of Immigration. The open area is called the Baggage Room where the immigrants would have entered and left their baggage while they went up a floor to the Reception Room.
The second floor has three exhibits-Through America’s Gate, Hearing Room, and Peak Immigration Years. Through America’s Gate details the process of inspection with the Hearing Room set up for detained immigrants to plead their case.
After the inspections, the immigrants would reach the ‘Stairs of Separation’. Most of them boarded New York or New Jersey bound ferries while some awaited further inspections that could lead to detention.
Although the third floor has the potential for exhibits, almost all was closed except for a Dormitory Room that details the room for detainees.
You can search for ancestors at Ellis Island or online at libertyellisfoundation.org. In this same area is citizenship questions that could be asked of applicants. There is an exhibit that has 10 questions that test your knowledge. Would you pass the test??
After finishing our time at Ellis Island, we took a second ferry to Liberty Island. The Statue of Liberty sits upon on a pedestal. You can climb 195 steps up the pedestal to the observation deck to look out from the statue. Normally you can further climb up to the Crown to look out. It was closed on our visit due to COVID.
Once you climb the stairs to the top of the pedestal, you can look up above you and see the interior of the statue. Pictures below are of the interior of the statue and the outside view from the pedestal. 👇
At the base, there is a museum and one cool exhibit shows people that visited the Statue of Liberty that forms the shape of the statue.
After finishing our time at Lady Liberty, we took the third ferry back to our starting point. On our way to the car, we came across a dilapidated train station which turned out to be a train station used by the immigrants upon clearance from Ellis Island on the New Jersey side.
Map of the two monuments and how the ferries run for both states👇