Liberty and Ellis Islands

Why have I decided to write of them now? Simply because May is coming soon. It means my birthday. And two years ago I had an one-day trip to Statue of Liberty as a birthday gift. It’s about time to make a decision of my upcoming birthday.

For now I’ll tell you what I’ve learned during that (two years ago) one day trip.

Liberty and Ellis Islands – historical sights of the United States. This is the same as the Red Square in Moscow: all Russians know about it, but not all have been there.

So, both islands are located in New York Harbor. Visitors arrive and depart Liberty and Ellis Islands via ferries.

Statue of Liberty

For over one hundred years, the Statue of Liberty has stood in New York Harbor, facing out to sea and holding high a burning torch.

View from the ferry

The statue’s full name is Liberty Enlightening the World. It was a gift from France, given to America in 1886. It is the tallest statue in the world. From the ground to the top of the torch the statue measures 93 meters (305 feet), and weighs 204 metric tonnes. The statue has an iron infrastructure and copper exterior which has turned green due to oxidation. Although it’s a sign of damage, the patina (green coating) also acts as a form of protection from further deterioration. But the most impressive thing about this statue is how powerfully it conveys the idea of freedom to people all over the world.

At the statue’s feet there is a broken chain to show that the United States had broken free from Great Britain’s rule. In her left arm, Liberty carries a tablet with the date of the Declaration of Independence( July 4, 1776) written on it.

History of Statue of Liberty

In 1865, Edouard de Laboulaye (French historian and professor) provided the idea for the statue, while Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi (Sculptor) designed it. Laboulaye proposed that a great monument should be given as a gift from France to the United States as a celebration of both the union’s victory in the American Revolution, and the abolition of slavery.  Laboulaye also hoped the gift of the statue would inspire French people to fight for their own democracy in the face of a repressive monarchy under Napolean III.

In early 1870s, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi travels to the United States to drum up support for the project.

In November 1875, The Franco-American Union decided to raise funds for the project. Also it  decided that France will build the statue and the United States will build the pedestal upon which it will stand.

Within 1875-1882, French citizens raised approximately $250,000 through fundraisers and lotteries. The French government didn’t not contribute to the building of the statue.

In July 1884, Lady Liberty was completed in France.

In June 1885, the statue arrived in New York Harbor aboard the French ship “Isere.”

The pedestal was completed in April 1886.

In October 28, 1886, President Grover Cleveland dedicates the Statue of Liberty.

President Calvin Coolidge declared the Statue on Liberty a national monument on October 15, 1924. In 1933, the National Park service was put in charge of administration and maintenance of the statue, acquiring the entire island when Fort Wood was decommissioned in 1937.

The Statue of Liberty became the symbol of immigration during the second half of the 19th century, as over 9m immigrants came to the United States, with the statue often being the first thing they saw when arriving by boat.

In 1984, The United Nations designates the Statue of Liberty a World Heritage Site.

Ellis Island, history

Ellis island was not always a place to welcome weary travelers. Once, it was a place where oysters were farmed, ammunition was stored, and even a place where pirates were hanged.

In the 1600s, Chippewa Indians called the island Kioshk, which means Gull island, because of the great number of seagulls living there. The new owner, a Dutch settler, Michael Paauw, changed the name to Oyster Island. Because he discovered the oysters buried in the sand there. Michael Paauw purchased Kioshk from the American Indians on July 12, 1630.

The island was bought and sold many times, so, the island’s name changed several more times.

In the late 1770s, Samuel Ellis became the owner and the island was named after him.  

In 1808, the US government purchased the island, built a fort there and named it fort Gibson after a fallen soldier. Fort Gibson was used by the military for some time as a place to store ammunition and to imprison criminals.

An Immigration Station

In 1892 Ellis Island began its  sixty-two-year function as an immigration station.  

Passengers who journeyed to America by ship did not sail directly to Ellis Island. Immigrant ships were stopped at the Coast Guard’s Quarantine station in the Narrows off Staten Island. Officers would board the ships and check the people for diseases. Ships were then docked at the Hudson River or East River piers, and passengers were brought by ferry to Ellis Island. There immigrants had to undergo detailed physical and mental examinations. Doctors would scrutinize the physical health of each individual, checking for issues such as eye infections, lameness, or mental disturbances. As these conditions were spotted, people were brought elsewhere for a more specialized examination, which sometimes resulted in hospitalization or quarantine. Others were given simple tests that were designed to reflect their logic skills, the results of which would determine whether they were sent back to their country of origin.

If it was determined that an immigrant was physically and mentally healthy, he or she would proceed to the Registry Room, also known as the Great Hall. Once there, the immigrants would prove to the inspectors that he or she had some money to begin his or her new life. The inspectors also wanted to see letters from relatives who were waiting in America for the newcomer.

During its time of operation, Ellis Island was the start of a new life for some and the end of life for others. Out of all the arrivals (over 12 million) over the  sixty-two years Ellis Island operated, some 3,500 died on the island, 350 babies were born, and 3 people committed suicide. In spite of that Ellis Island was the beginning of a positive new era in the lives of many individuals and families.

Ellis Island closes

After 1924, the number of immigrants dropped, and immigration laws were becoming more strictly enforced. An immigration station at Ellis Island was no longer needed. Soon on November 12, 1954, the doors to Ellis Island’s immigration station finally closed.

Eleven years later, Stewart Udall, the secretary of the interior in then-president Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, convinced President Johnson to proclaim Ellis Island a part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument in 1965. Ellis island was taken under the care of the National Park Service, part of the United States Department of the Interior.

Immigration Station

Located behind the main building there is the American Immigrant Wall of Honor, the largest wall of names in the world. Over five hundred thousand names are engraved into the metal plates that make up the wall.

There are over 100 million Americans who can trace their ancestry to someone who passed through Ellis Island. Could you be one of those people?

So, if it would be your birthday coming up, where would like to go to celebrate?

Author: Elena

Hi, My name is Elena. I am Russian living in the US. My blog is about my life and experience. This is my new hobby. So, please, don't be too hard on me. Thanks

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