16 December 2007

From Island to Island

front entrance
Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
I don't know how an empty building can capture one's fascination for four hours, but that's exactly what happened.

A couple of months ago I learned about a special exhibit titled, "Sicilian Crossings," that would be showing at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum for only three months.

Visiting New York City has long been on my personal travel list, and when coupled with low air fare and generous friends who provided a bed for me to sleep on -- how could I pass on the opportunity?

Ellis Island has significant meaning to me because my great-grandparents immigrated from Sicily to Pennsylvania via this port of entry. So in the forefront of my mind during my time there was the experience Angela Marie, her three children, and her brother may have had as they were processed among thousands of other immigrants.

The baggage room was on the main level just beyond the entrance. New arrivals were instructed to leave their trunks here while they continued upstairs to the Grand Hall on the second floor.


The Grand Hall was often referred to as the Hall of Babel due to the cacophony of foreign tongues that filled this space, all vying to be heard and understood during a process that could often be fraught with uncertainties.

grand hall

The floor of the Grand Hall was lined with row after row of wooden benches, where immigrants would sit and wait for medical inspections.


full hall

Following their clearance, they would exit the Grand Hall down one of three stairways. The door on the left lead to the ticket counter for passage to New York City. The door on the right was for those leaving for other destinations. And those who were filed through the center door were being detained on the island.

three doors

If you were a single woman, or a married woman traveling solo or without a chaperone, you could not leave the island until your husband or another male relative came to claim you.

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