From the Pale to the Golden Land
Ellis Island: Port of Immigration

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Where Immigrants Land
The Hopper for Sifting Human Souls...
as it appeared in the New York Tribune

View of Ellis Island buildings and two ferries.

Here is an article that appeared in the "New-York Tribune" on Mar. 23, 1902:



On Ellis Island, at the mouth of the North River, and just above the little island from which the Statue of Liberty looks down upon the bay, the government has built an institution which is without counterpart elsewhere in the world. It is a gigantic hopper for the sifting of human souls, the United States Immigration Station for the Port of New York. The teeth of the hopper are adjustable, being set just now to admit a vast majority of the aliens who make the long voyage across the Atlantic, and to exclude only the few who seem likely to prove a positive detriment to the country. Its enormous capacity is made necessary by the flood of immigration, which in the twelve months of last year reached a total of nearly half a million persons.

It is just about a year since the immigration authorities moved back to Ellis Island from the crowded quarters at the Barge Office, at the Battery. The buildings were not completed when the removal took place, and they are not quite finished yet, but in the year in which they have been used, more than four hundred and twelve thousand immigrants have been handled. The big hospital, where sick foreigners can have proper attention, is now being furnished, and will soon be ready for occupancy. The unfinished portions of the main buildings will soon leave the contractor's hands. Every possible device to expedite the task of examining the applicants for admission to the country has been pressed into service, and the immigrant need no longer dread the long and tedious delays which could not be avoided in the crowded quarters at the Barge Office.

More than half a century has passed since certain restrictions were placed on immigrants coming to this port. The frauds and outrages practiced on the immigrants by the boarding house and transportation runners, as well as the steamship companies which carried them to these shores, was made a subject of investigation by the State legislature in 1846. The following year a State Immigration Commission was created, and in a few years succeeded in correcting many of the abuses. In 1855 the commission took possession of Castle Garden, the old fort on the Battery, which is now the Aquarium, and was enabled fully to carry out the object of its trust. The sanitary condition of the ships was carefully investigated, and a thorough medical examination of all immigrant passengers made. The cashier issued railroad tickets at regular rates to those who were entitled to land and who intended to go to another State. The bathroom, post office, brokerage office and information bureaus, which are still found necessary, were instituted, and boarding house keepers had to take out licenses before they were allowed to seek customers. The commission was made the object of attack by those who had previously been engaged in practicing fraud and deception on the aliens, and it took a grand jury investigation to clear the members of charges.

It was in 1890 that the federal authorities took charge of immigration. Castle Garden was abandoned for the Barge Office, which had been built a few years before for the special purpose of inspecting the baggage of cabin passengers, a plan which speedily proved a failure. Preparations were immediately made for the building of an immigration station on Ellis Island, which had formerly been used as an ammunition storage place for the army and navy departments. The frame buildings composing this station were opened in 1892, and for more than four years served the purpose fairly well. On June 14*, 1897, the island was swept by fire, from which the immigrants detained there had a narrow escape. This meant a return to crowded quarters at the Barge Office, and, as the number of immigrants increased, a steamer was fitted up as a dormitory. The station was moved back to Ellis Island on December 15, 1900.

The Health Officer of the Port, a State official, is the first officer who meets the immigrants on arrival at this port. He examines the ship's passengers at Quarantine for diseased persons and passes those who seem in good health. The aliens in the cabin are inspected by the immigration authorities before the steamer has completed the trip up the bay, and those who are deemed undesirable are sent to the island with the steerage passengers for further examination. The vessel is no sooner tied to her pier than double deck barges fix themselves like leeches to her side to receive their cargo of immigrants and the mass of baggage which they bring.

On reaching Ellis Island the immigrants are separated into groups of thirty, each group remaining by itself until it passes the inspection. The pass in single file review before an officer of the Marine Hospital Service, who carefully examines them for diseases and physical defects. Generally a few in each group have to go before the surgeon's staff for further examination, and the well members of the group are forced to wait until this examination has been made. The registry clerk presides over the next ordeal. He makes them answer a long list of questions, and passes those who are beyond doubt entitled to land. Every one regarding whom he has the slightest doubt or suspicion must be held for special inquiry, at which they have every chance to prove their right to enter the country.

The immigrants who have secured railroad tickets on the other side are sent ashore as soon as their baggage has been examined, and a tremendous amount of baggage they bring, too. It comes in all sorts of packages, curious old fashioned trunks, boxes and bags made of canvas or carpet. There is so much of it, in fact, that a tramway is being built to carry the baggage from the landing stage into the inspection room. The baggage is now handled on trucks, and the new mechanical arrangement will save much time.   next ►►






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