Ellis and Liberty Islands - Tuesday, June 24
This morning we have reservations for a 10:00 AM ferry to Ellis Island, and then from there to Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty. The ferry terminal is just across the marina and probably about two blocks away as the gull flies, but to get to it we have to take a light rail train for a two stop ride, then board a shuttle bus for another ride of a mile or so.
It’s easy, and it’s all interesting and fun - even the commute. The bus dropped us off at an old train depot that serves as the ferry terminal now. In it’s day it was a main terminal of the CRR of NJ, or the Central Railroad of New Jersey. It was a major terminal for offloading coal and other materials, and was once surrounded by an extensive maze of tracks and sidings. Now only the depot and the remnants of a covered track area remain.
It’s an interesting complex because the depot is painstakingly restored and even the gates to the trains are clean and painted and look as they did originally, while the covered tracks area has been allowed to go back to nature. Parts of the roof are missing and plants as high as a man have taken over the tracks and the platforms between them. The ornamental posts that support the roof are rusted and decaying, and the old iron bumpers at the ends of the tracks are in the same shape.
We picked up our tickets and boarded the ferry for Ellis Island, which lies to the south not far from the terminal. The ride over takes only a few minutes, and we were soon tying up to the same dock where millions of immigrants from all over the world first stepped ashore on American soil.
All the original buildings on the island have been ‘stabilized’ but only the main building has been restored and is open to the public. Ellis Island operated as the nation’s immigrant port of entry from 1892 to 1924. It continued to serve as a deportation and internment center, and as a hospital and Coast Guard station until 1954. Captions on the pictures above tell some of the story, but let me say here that standing in these halls is a very moving experience.
Until today I had mistakenly thought my father must have come through Ellis Island, but he came in 1937 when Ellis Island was no longer being used to process incoming immigrants. Still - he came by boat and so surely saw the Statue of Liberty, and I’m sure he experienced the same hopes and fears of any other immigrant who passed this way. Madolyn’s grandfather did come through Ellis Island and she and her mother spent some time searching for his records on the Visitor Center’s computer system, but did not succeed in finding them yet on today’s try.
In mid-afternoon we re-boarded the ferry and set off for Liberty Island. The Statue of Liberty is the visual embodiment of all that Ellis Island represented. The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus says it all:
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land,
Here at our sea-washed sunset-gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome, her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin-cities frame.
Keep, ancient lands your storied pomp, cries she,
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore;
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
The museum is one of a kind, and I climbed the 180+ stairs to the top of the pedestal, which today is as far as you can go. The pictures above say anything Emma Lazarus left out, and do more than any words to convey the beauty and majesty of this largest of all gifts, from our friends in France.