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About the Photos

Most of the photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs, 20 to 200 megabytes in size) from the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) Many were digitized by LOC contractors using a Sinar studio back. They are adjusted by your webmaster for contrast and color in Photoshop before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here.

 
 
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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • ABOUT PARIS, 1895

Ellis Island: 1911

Ellis Island: 1911

New York circa 1911. "Inspection room, Ellis Island." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.

 

Explosive Alterations

I was told by an archaeologist who works at Ellis that most of the interior (including the ceiling and walls) had to be redone after the building suffered blast damage from the Black Tom explosion of 1916.

A website for Jersey City history notes that: "the Statue of Liberty sustained $100,000 in damages from the spray of shrapnel, and newly-arrived immigrants at Ellis Island had to be evacuated for processing at the Immigration Bureau at the Battery in New York City."

Also, the buff-colored "stone" of the walls in the current photos is actually plaster with incised and painted joints (an accurate restoration of what had existed following the Black Tom incident, or so I am told).

Finding relatives

This is a wonderful photo, and I can easily imaging my grandparents sitting there as children around 1904-1906.

Mr. Mel, frequently immigrant names were not spelled as we think they should've been. You may want to try searching the Ellis Island database via a different search engine: http://stephenmorse.org/ (first item on the page). Mr. Morse, the inventor of the 8086 computer chip, created this site soon after the original EIDB went public, because their own search engine was so pitiful. He has since improved it. It will enable you to search by sounds-like, just the first letter, and more. There are FAQs to help use the search engines. (I highly recommend many of the other search engines on that page - amazing!)

CSK, congratulations! But there's a whole second page to your passenger list, which will have even more information. So go back to where you found your page, and click on "Next" or "Previous" (sometimes the original microfilms were rolled backwards on the reels).

beachgirl2, it was very rare that officials at Ellis Island changed names, this is mostly a myth. They had to match the names to the departure lists created in "the old country", and there were plenty of translators for the languages brought over. (These departure lists still exist for Hamburg and some ports in England) But sometimes a recent immigrant wrote back home, and told them to use his new name, now that he was American. Or they Americanized them soon after arrival, to blend in. Or a schoolteacher couldn't pronounce the birth name. ... So if you research, you should be able to figure out when your father changed his name - before he left Greece, or very soon after the family arrived. But probably not on Ellis Island.

Great photo - and new version too!

Guastavino Tile

Paul39 mentioned the repair after the nearby explosion. That answers my question of how they made plaster adhere to the glazed tiles that I saw when I visited a few years ago. The original substrate was probably terra cotta.
The oyster bar under Grand Central Terminal has a wonderful example of Guastavino tile ceiling which is hard to find now.

Grandma on the Lusitania

My grandparents on my father's side came through Ellis Island from Russia. My grandfather arrived sometime in the final decade of the 19th century, and just this evening, after seeing this post, I have done a search at ellisisland.org on my grandmother (who I have more information about), and may have discovered documentation of her arrival on the ship's manifest!

Thank you, Dave and Shorpy, for pointing me in this direction! I have contacted a cousin who hopefully will be able to verify or discount my findings. Here is an image of the manifest which has me so excited. Please scroll down to Line 14.

Isle of Tears

Listening to Irish Radio, couldn't help thinking back to this photo.

Dad Detained

My father came through Ellis Island in 1920 with his father, mother and two younger sisters. They came from Greece. He was a boy of 8 and he had some sores on his head. He had to be detained. They wrapped adhesive tape on his head. If you remember the old adhesive tape,if you didn't have sores before they put it on your head, you certainly would have sores afterward. They also changed his first name from Evstrathios to Charles. He was very proud of his heritage and he was glad they made a monument out of Ellis Island.

Guastavino Tile Ceiling

July 1916, an explosion occurred on Black Tom Island, a loading facility just a few hundred yards off Ellis Island.

The blast caused $400,000 in structural damage. As part of the repairs, the Guastavino Brothers installed a new tile ceiling over the Great Hall.

Ocean Border, Land Border

I'll bet that if there had been a land border between Europe and the United States, a lot of European immigrants would have slipped across, too. The sacrifice was in taking the risk and the leap of faith to come here. I'll also bet that many immigrants without documentation would gladly become citizens today. To my mind they should be given the chance.

Re: How do you do it?

I've been doing comparative shots of identical views since the mid-1980s. When I moved to DC almost 20 years ago I started using the photographs from the collections of the Library of Congress (they were only available in physical files at the library then). I research specific cities and place them in separate files along with maps where the shots were taken. When I visit those cities, I take the appropriate files with me and take current shots from the same perspective. I have hundreds of sets and thousands of shots of cities throughout the country in several lateral files as well as on several gigs of computer memory. Drives my wife insane.

Wartime

When the US entered the First World War, Ellis Island became the mobilization centre for Red Cross Nurses heading overseas.

My ex-husband's grandmother. Charlotte Edith Anderson was the first Canadian Indian to be trained as a nurse, though no hospital in Canada would train her. She trained at the New Rochelle Hospital. Edith (as she preferred to be called, wrote in her wartime diary about her arrival at Ellis Island from New Rochelle where she had been working as a Public Health nurse, visiting New York City before heading overseas and her departure.

I was pleased to have transcribed her wartime diary but sad that I didn't get a copy before my husband and I divorced.

http://www.shorpy.com/node/7764

Lost And Found

Seeing that lone bag on a bench makes me wonder if they had a lost and found. If so, the abandoned/lost bags might be part of the exhibits mentioned in another comment, with their own tales to tell.

Plaster Job

Looking at the post +99 from timeandagainphoto and one that I took when there this summer, it looks like they plastered over all of the block walls and tile ceilings in that building. Unless they added that in the restoration--which would seem strange.

How do you do it?

timeandagain, have you simply been visiting the sites in the LOC photos and reshooting them or are you n cahoots with Dave and know a couple years in advance what he's going to post?

When I immigrated

Forty-seven years later, I arrived at Idlewild (now JFK) on Pan Am (now extinct) with $75 in my pocket (now spent). It was certainly a more pleasant way to begin the new life, but the excitement felt by the Ellis Island immigrants could not have been any higher than mine.

+99

Same view from August of 2009.

Roots

Both my parents were immigrants. My father, his mother and three siblings came through Ellis Island in 1922. I was able to find them on the Ellis Island Web Site. My mother's family came here in 1923. Eastern European immigration just about ended in 1924 because of the so called "Red Scare" laws. Interestingly , I found my Mother's mother (my grandmother) and my mother's 2 younger sisters and her only brother on the Website but not my mother, an older sister or my grandfather. They left Southampton, England in 1923 but don't appear on any Ellis Island records. My mother lived 103 years and I could hold a conversation with her up to about a year before her passing. She always insisted that she came into "Castle Gardens" but Castle Garden stopped receiving immigrants in 1892 and turned the job over to Ellis Island. I sort of believe she may have come in to Boston or Philadelphia but just didn't remember. Every so often I start searching for the records again but with no tangible results. In any case I'm one grateful guy. They endured enormous hardships to get here and they just made it. God Bless America.

Mine too

My grandmother came through Ellis Island with her parents and siblings. My father and his family came from Eastern Europe via Canada to the USA. It's worth noting in these present times that my family and millions like them waited in line and came to the USA legally. Everyone who does otherwise, regardless of the country from which they come, disrespects the sacrifices made by millions of honest immigrants from around the world.

My Grandmother

My grandmother arrived at Ellis Island as a young woman (12 or 13) after traveling by ship from Greece with her father. The mother she barely knew met them there and on the ferry back to NYC, threw my grandmother's precious belongings into the river and told her she was in America now and would start over. That story used to break my heart when I was a girl; I guess it still does.

My family and I visited a few years ago and it really does feel like a sacred space. Like OTY here, I am so thankful my grandparents left their Greek villages and became Americans.

Stairway to Heaven

I made a special trip to New York from Colorado just to see Ellis Island. It was one of the most moving places I have been as both sides of my family passed through there. My favorite spot was the stairs leading out after you passed inspection and were granted entrance to America. They're about 15 feet wide and you can see and walk in the indentations made by the millions of feet that have worn down the steps. I couldn't help but think of my grandparents who walked down the same stairs.

It was worth every penny spent to restore Ellis Island. And I recently heard from a friend who's a project manager for the National Parks Department that the other buildings at Ellis Island will begin restoration soon.

Detained

My grandmother was detained (coming in from Poland) due to an eye infection. Her two younger siblings and mother waited for three days with relatives in new York. Once Grandma was released they left to settle in Chicago.

Ellis Island Kids

Since all four of my grandparents came to America through the gates at E.I., I took my kids to this sacred place many moons ago. We toured all the floors, the museums, the infirmary, every inch of it, it was riveting to me. They have exhibits of authentic luggage and possessions carried overseas, actual clothing that was worn, photographs of many of the immigrants with their personal autobiographies on headphones (if you are curious) and it really puts one back there in time. One of my young sons could not believe how very poor so many people were, having written that they came with just coins or a few dollars or even nothing in their pockets. He was totally immersed in the photos and in so many of them, the kids' faces were blurred out to blankness like the child with the lady on the second floor. Anyway, at one point my tearful son said "This boy is so poor, he doesn't even have a face." It took us a minute before we 'got it' but has provided much laughter in the retelling; maybe you had to be there. I'm grateful every day that my ancestors' decision to become Americans was a priceless blessing for all their descendants. Ellis Island is unforgettable. God bless America.

This Room Was

A Cathedral of Hope for so many thousands.

A new beginning, or maybe not

Imagine what this room must have been like when all those benches were full. Such emotion, such optimism, and likely, such fear. I can only wonder how the immigrants felt who were directed to the door behind the officials on the left.

 
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