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The Gateway to a New World Ellis Island - The Borderline All of Them Passed in Search of the American Dream


04 Jul, 2015 00:00 944 Marime text

At the beginning of the 20th century, America was the Promised Land for a whole world.

The U.S. Declaration of Independence guaranteed that each citizen had the right to a life, freedom and surprisingly, the pursuit of happiness. The American dream means promise, prosperity, freedom, equal chances, the mirage of simple people that have become heroes and billionaires over night or, on the contrary, just the once valid phrase „a thousand per year” earned with a lot of hard work.

One out of three Americans, the descendants of Ellis residents

The dream about the Land of All Possibilities started on the Ellis Island for all immigrants that arrived in the USA in the pursuit of happiness. A piece of land of just 11 hectares, emerging out of New York Bay, in New Jersey City, close to the Statue of Liberty was the place where it all started for around 40% of the country’s current population. Its name comes from merchant Samuel Ellis, who owned this land around 1770. It was later purchased by the state of New York.

The Island of Broken Hearts

In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison opened here the first federal center for immigrants, trying to control the migration phenomenon, which was at its peak. Actually, only the simplest people, those that traveled by ship on the 3rd class, were island residents. The peak of this phenomenon was registered between 1802 and 1924, when the center had expanded very much and new facilities were built in order to manage the massive immigrants’ inflow. The newcomers went through a series of checkpoints – they had to answer to 29 questions, then they went through a medical test. Those who had legal or health problems would undergo an additional screening. In time, those with contagious illness or a criminal record (around 2% of immigrants) were denied entry on American land, and were sent back to their countries of origin. Thus, Ellis Island was known as the “Island of Tears” or the “Island of Broken Hearts”.

The Island of Hanged Pirates

Since immigration had tapered off during World War I, officials designated Ellis Island as one of the main holding centers for would-be enemies of the state. Some 1,500 people were eventually detained there and the island’s double life as a prison later continued during World War II, as well. In the end, it wasn’t the first time when Ellis Island was a symbol of opposition. It had been used, before 1839, and before becoming the property of Samuel Ellis, as a place where pirates, criminals and mutinous sailors were hanged. Eventually, it was referred to as the “Gibbet Island”.
On the 12th of November 1954, the activity on Ellis Island – the gateway to America – had officially been shut down after it was processing center and point of entry for over 12 million immigrants, since 1892. Ellis is now a live museum. The names of the immigrants are written on the boards that surround the island.

Two decades of oblivion

At a certain point, when the U.S. government tried to sell the island, would-be developers proposed everything from a resort marina to “an experimental city of the future” designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. None of the schemes for private development got off the ground, however, and the “gateway to America” spent the next 20 years in oblivion.
The plans for turning this attraction into a historical museum came together in the 1980s, when the President of Chrysler Corporation, Lee Iacocca, helped spearhead a fundraising project for Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. The restored island was opened to the public in September 1990 and now it is a museum dedicated to immigration, part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. For more than 129 years, the Statue of Liberty watches it over from Liberty Island.


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