Ellis Island is the practical manifestation of the symbolic promise of nearby Liberty Island. The Statue of Liberty is iconic but is Ellis Island that provides the more thorough museum experience--educational, entertaining and inspiring. At its core, it is merely a place of bureaucracy: registration and processing of newly arrived immigrants. But for the twelve million people who spent their first few hours there, the stamps and signatures represented far more government record keeping--it was the first experience with the revolutionary idea of a government of the people, by the people and for the people and a life-changing moment with generational impact. America's welcome mat is well worth a half-day's visit.

Damned be the day that I left my homeland and country.
- Graffito by an Italian Immigrant

What You Will See

The main building of Ellis Island is filled with exhibits and artifacts from its time as the primary immigration processing center for the United States at the turn of the century. Twelve million men, women, and children began their American journey with a long day on the island and left fascinating relics, now lovingly preserved and displayed throughout the center. At the heart of the building, and wisely devoid of major exhibitions, is the Great Hall, where immigrants waited for initial processing. View the films, wander through the exhibits, take the fascinating audio tour and explore the grounds. A visit can easily fill half a day.

Why You Should Go

A surprising number of visitors who take the ferry to Liberty Island unwisely skip disembarking on Ellis Island. This is backward. If constrained by time or energy to only a single island, it is Ellis that should be explored and Liberty appreciated from the deck. Liberty Island is an obvious pilgrimage, but, if constrained by time or energy, it can be absorbed as immigrants did--aboard ship. Ellis Island is where the history actually happened, with buildings to explore, artifacts to see and grounds to wander. Immigration may not sound like a fascinating topic, but it is a manifestation of historical currents on individuals, resulting in countless stories of tragedy and triumph. America is a nation of immigrants and Ellis Island was the best welcome ever offered.

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