Monday, November 12, 2012

November 12: Ellis Island

On this date in History .... 1954:

Ellis Island closes. The Island, named after the land owner Sam Ellis, was designated by (Indiana) President Benjamin Harrison as a federal immigration center in 1890 and was officially opened January 1, 1892. 
The first immigrant through Ellis Island was 15 year old Annie Moore from Ireland in 1892 with her two little brothers. They were arriving to join their parents who had come to America two years earlier. As the first person to come thru the new facility, she was given a ten-dollar gold piece.  She married a German immigrant and had “at least” eleven children. A statue was erected in her honor at Ellis Island.
The last person to pass through Ellis Island was a Norwegian merchant seaman by the name of Arne Peterssen in 1954.

Before being used as an immigration entry port, the island was known as Oyster Island because of its plentiful oyster beds. It was also a favorite spot for pirates and became an ammunitions depot, named Fort Gibson after an officer killed in the War of 1812.

Over 12 million immigrants passed thru Ellis Island from its opening in 1892.  Only 3rd class passengers were processed thru Ellis.  First and second class passengers disembarked in New York and New Jersey and went through customs with just a cursory inspection. The reasoning?  If one could afford a first or second class ticket, then one was less likely to require some sort of public assistance due to medical or legal issues.  The irony, here, is that the traveling conditions of third class (steerage) passengers was likely to cause medical issues during the journey, which could result in the person being denied entry to the United States.  However, only 2% of arrivals were denied entry.

A fire in 1897 destroyed almost 50 years of immigration records. The facility was ordered to be rebuilt as fireproof.

The busiest year was 1907 where over 1 million people came through, prior to WWI.  Many of these people were fleeing dangerous conditions in their own countries. The 1984 renovation costing $160 million was the largest historical renovation in U.S. history. Today, Ellis Island receives over two million tourism visitors a year.

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