Ellis Island was the gateway for millions of immigrants into the United States. The first sight of America that they saw from their steamships was the Statue of Liberty. Once their steamship arrived, ferries took the immigrants and all their belongings to Ellis Island for the registration process. At Ellis Island, immigrants were required to pass a medical inspection and legal exam.
Ellis Island opened in 1892 as a federal immigration station, a purpose it served for more than 60 years. Millions of newly arrived immigrants passed through the station during that time. It's been estimated that forty percent of all current U.S. citizens can trace at least one of their ancestors back to Ellis Island.
When Ellis Island opened, a great change was taking place in the immigration to the United States. Arrivals from northern and western Europe slowed, and more and more immigrants poured in from southern and eastern Europe. Jewish people, hoping to escape oppression in czarist Russia and eastern Europe, and Italians escaping poverty in their country, along with Polish, Hungarians, Czechs, Serbs, Slovaks and Greeks. They all left their homes in the Old World and all had hopes for greater opportunities in the New World.
Immigrants passing through Ellis Island were checked for more than sixty diseases that might disqualify them from entry into the United States. Those suspected of being afflicted with having a disease, or disability were marked with chalk and detained for closer examination. All were checked for trachoma, a contagious eye condition. To do that the examiner used a button hook to turn each immigrant's eyelids inside out. Most immigrants remembered this as being particularly painful and terrifying.
The food at Ellis Island was plentiful; a typical meal might include beef stew, bread, herring, or baked beans and stewed prunes. Immigrants were also introduced to new foods such as bananas, sandwiches and ice cream. Surely many thought their new country was heaven on earth!
On Sunday March 11, 2012, the Grundy County Museum in Morrison is pleased to welcome back Pippa White, who will present the program "Voices from Ellis Island." This will be Pippa's third visit to the museum, and she remains our biggest crowd-drawer! She's a delightful talent, who combines her love of history and hats to create marvelous stories of real peoples' lives.
Plan on coming to her presentation, March 11, at 2:00 p.m. at the Grundy County Museum in Morrison. You will be transferred to another time, another place, and be held transfixed throughout her entire show. Hope to see you there!