So many things to see in New York that we are sure we were not the first to ask ourselves if it was worth visiting Ellis Island and its immigration museum. We did not know of any ancestor of ours who had emigrated to the United States and went through that “ door of the American dream ” – well, a third uncle, or something like that, of Sara, who we did not remember the name of and who never knew his name again. family-. But we knew Vito Andolini, and we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to relive a movie in the first person.

We did like the visit, the atmosphere, the history, the museum … it was like being transported in a movie – in fact, the whole trip to New York was like living a movie. We feel, for a few moments, more immigrants than tourists. It was an experience we lived a few years ago, but we have not stopped “reviving” from the other side of the Ocean when we visit the Titanic Belfast museum or the Red Star Line Museum in Antwerp. There he embarked in search of that American dream that could be fulfilled or died on Ellis Island.


The small island in the Upper Bay of New York already existed before the decision was made to make it the gateway to the United States. Together with Liberty Island – where the Statue of Liberty stands today – and Black Tom Island – today connected to New Jersey – formed the Oyster Islands, the oyster islands.

Many were the hands through which the small island passed – about 13,000 square meters – but it was those of Samuel Ellis that sold it to the state of New York at the end of the 18th century and those that gave it its final name.

The first thing New York State did on Ellis Island was to fortify it. Subsequently, it was under the control of the country’s government and became part of the United States fortification system for about 80 years, until it became a federal immigration station in 1892.

From a small fort, 31 buildings and more than 100,000 square meters were passed. One of them was the Ellis Island hospital, which had more than 300 doctors on staff. For years, it was the best in the United States and the best in the world. There was a specific building for infectious diseases that was built on an independent island for fear of contagion – subsequently joined the main island.

In case you wonder, how was the surface of the island multiplied by 10? The answer comes from the Big Apple. The land that was extracted for the construction of the New York subway and the one that was part of the ballast of the ships arriving at the port was used.


Ellis Island – Ellis Island in Spanish – was the entry point for all immigrants arriving in the United States between 1892 and 1954. Between Annie Moore, Irish, and Arne Peterssen, Norwegian, about twelve million people passed through its facilities! In 1907 alone, almost 1,250,000 immigrants landed on this small island “stolen” from the sea.

If you count, twelve million in sixty-two years, taking into account that in just one year there were more than one million … it is not as much as one would imagine. And is that Ellis Island was also many other things that do not tell you in the immigration museum. Because the lights must be shone and the shadows left hidden – although later I will bring them to light as well.

In any case, statistics say that 40% of the population of the United States has ancestors who crossed the threshold of the Ellis Island immigration center.

The world wars reduced the flow of immigrants for obvious reasons, but it was the Cold War that ended the need for the center. Immigration laws became more restrictive over the years and, together with the quota system, it was no longer necessary, and profitable, to maintain Ellis Island.

With the closure of the center in 1954 , the complete abandonment of the island and the facilities arrived. The former immigrant reception center reopened in 1990 as an immigration museum.


It was when passing through the large reception room with its barrel vault covered by ceramic tiles and its flags of the United States, when we came to feel – although on a very small scale – what those millions of people who came to a country in the who thought the streets were “paved with gold.” From the illusion of the American dream to the fear of medical controls and deportation, even the feeling of being insignificant in the gigantic reception hall….

After the first medical check-up, healthy people climbed the huge staircase to the second floor. We, without medical control in between, also climb those steps. The cardboard suitcases are still there, reminding us what the luggage was like – of the most favored because many carried their belongings in simple atillos. Of course, the first-class passengers were the first to pass the controls, then the second and, in the end, the third, who could meet with lines between three and five hours.

By the way, if you find the questions asked when requesting a visa to enter the United States today strange, know that already in Ellis Island they asked if you were an anarchist, if you had been convicted of a crime or if you had More than one wife … Not everything changes over the years.

The panels explain the whole process. Health was a key concern. There were still cholera epidemics in Europe at that time and, after the First World War, there were many diseases that were traveling on those ships. In addition to the hospital buildings, there were also other quarantines – where Vito Antolini spent three months because of smallpox he brought from Corleone – pharmacy, kitchens …

One of the panels recalls the legend of an Italian immigrant who wrote to his house saying that he had gone to New York thinking that the streets were paved with gold but that, not only there was no gold, but they were not paved at all, it is more , they waited for him to pave them.

The records say that 12 million people passed through here, and they say it because their names and surnames are there. The last of the rooms has several computers in which to look for your ancestors and discover how and with what they arrived in the United States. If you’re curious, you can also do it from the Liberty Ellis Foundation website.

Not only is there talk about immigration that went through the island, but there are also maps with migratory flows throughout the planet.
in the museum.

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