Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.

Entering via Ellis

11 Comments

Ellis Island is waiting for you.

Ellis Island is waiting for you.


The best advice I can give you about visiting Ellis Island is to give yourself a lot of time because there’s so much to see. Take it slow and let all that history sink in. And try to take a ranger guided tour. (Check for times at the information center inside the building.)

Telling us the story.

Telling us the story.

In a short half hour guided tour you’ll get a great base of knowledge which will help you understand all the rest. Our ranger used the story of a sixteen year old girl’s experience as she traveled across the ocean and through the system at Ellis Island.

At the end he reveled that girl was his grandmother. And that his grandfather came across as a young man not too long after and lived only a few blocks away from his grandmother. And the rest, he says, is his family’s history.

People passing through Ellis Island today.

People passing through Ellis Island today.

Did you know that only the third class and steerage passengers had to go through Ellis Island? I didn’t either. First and second class passengers got the run of the ship, and were able to begin their new lives here in America as soon as they arrived. Those who only paid about $300 (in current dollars) for their passage were brought to the island to be inspected.

The luggage was left in the luggage room and they were sent upstairs to wait. As they climbed the stairs they were observed. If they appeared sick people at the top of the stairs marked their coats with chalk. Those people were examined more carefully.

Both the luggage and the passengers had to be inspected.

Both the luggage and the passengers had to be inspected.

The rest waited in benches in a huge and beautiful room.

The Grand Hall waiting area would have been filled with long benches.

The Grand Hall waiting area would have been filled with long benches.

Perhaps they had never seen such a place before, or if they had, as the ranger said, rooms such as this would have been built in castles, not for people like them.

Beautiful floors.

Beautiful floors.

But this was America, where anything was possible. Note the curved tile ceilings and the mosaic floors.

An immigrant could wait for a few hours, or days for their name to be called, but once it was they moved forward to answer the inspector’s questions. They were the same questions the ship company asked; What is your name, Where are you going? Where will you live? How much money do you have? If you answered correctly and passed the eye exam and a cursory physical you were allowed to leave and begin your new life.

Notice the beautiful tiled arches.  And the original fixture.

Notice the beautiful tiled arches. And the original fixture.

If you did not pass, say you forgot the address of the family member taking you in, you were sent to have a hearing. You could bring in witnesses to collaborate your story. Many immigrants had never seen government treat them so fairly. It was one of their first lessons about freedom in America, and ninety-eight percent of those that arrived were eventually allowed into the country.

Still, it was a terrifying experience, to travel in the belly of a ship, arrive in a strange place, listen to strange languages, be told where to sit, be questioned by uniformed strangers. What hope and strength they must have had to travel toward such an uncertain future.

Thousands of people a day.  So many faces.

Thousands of people a day. So many faces.

They told us that forty percent of Americans today can trace a relative through Ellis Island. Forty percent of us owe our lives to someone that took the risk and came to make a better life.

If you’re ever in New York take the time to visit this historic place. Look at the views of Manhattan from the windows of the grand building. Think about what it must have felt like to sit looking across that water at the place you’d dreamed about.

Over there was opportunity.

Over there was opportunity.

And think about all they had left behind; family they’d never see again, familiar homes and towns. Think about what it must have been like to have only a few possessions, a few dollars, to know only a few people here in the new country.

So many.

So many.

Then think about how lucky we are to have been born here. Regardless of your political views, regardless of the stress of an election year, regardless of economic times, this is still the greatest country in the world.

We should take time to appreciate that.

Freedom forever.

Freedom forever.

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Author: dawnkinster

I'm a long time banker having worked in banks since the age of 17. I took a break when I turned 50 and went back to school. I graduated right when the economy took a turn for the worst and after a year of library work found myself unemployed. I was lucky that my previous bank employer wanted me back. So here I am again, a long time banker. Change is hard.

11 thoughts on “Entering via Ellis

  1. Love this muchly much, Dawn! Thanks for the reminder. Our ancestors were a courageous lot — how blessed we are to come from such people!

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  2. believe it or not mom has never been there and she is from NJ. She always wanted to go. Its so interesting
    Snorts,
    Lily & Edward

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  3. It is always amazing to look back and see where it all began

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  4. I visited Ellis Island almost 10 years ago. A very humbling experience. I have been wanting to go back with my camera for a few years.

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    • Wait till after Labor Day or schedule your visit at 8 a.m. to avoid some of the crowds. Then again we stayed almost all day. The clouds built up over Manhattan in the mid-afternoon, for the daily afternoon rain, and that made for great shots of the city. It’s a beautiful place.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I have been working on my family tree ~ on three sides my ancestors were here before the American Revolution. The last side came in before Ellis Island. History is so interesting. To tour where so many walked to become citizens must be humbling,
    Sweet William The Scot

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  6. All the times I spent in NYC when my dad worked there and I never made it to Ellis. What a loss for me. Thank you for sharing.

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