Jason Kottke, one of my favorite internet curators, continues with his awesome internet ‘finds’. This post points to a cool set of photos of immigrants that came through Ellis Island. The photo above (a Norwegian woman coming into Ellis Island) is found when you click through to the article Jason points to.
I visited Ellis Island years ago. It was a work trip and we had some downtime before our flight home. I ended up walking through mostly in my own.
The exhibit is pretty powerful and conveys what is was like to go through that Ellis Island process.
The act of immigrating from one country to another is a huge leap of faith. The logistics of it made it even riskier in the early 1900s. No phones, no internet, no email. Only letters that took weeks. And trusting those officials you worked with on both sides of the ocean.
The display I particularly remember is the one that explained some of the medical checks. While considered barbaric now, they were ‘best practice’ at the time. But if someone was rejected for medical reasons, they might be put back on a boat to their original country with limited or no chance to explain to the rest of the family what happened.
As a father, I can’t imagine being in that situation and having a child or spouse routed into a different line and then they just disappear. The language barrier would be a major obstacle to finding out their fate. You wouldn’t know until weeks or months later when you may get a letter letting you know that they arrived back safely. If you got a letter.
Or being the one routed back to your original country and not knowing what happened to the rest of your family.
Museums don’t usually bring tears to my eyes, but this one did.