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New York City Ellis Island

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free," was the message described on Lady Liberty when on Friday, Jan. 1, 1892, the Ellis Island Immigrant Station opened its doors to the world. As Americans we, who were born in this country, have all read and studied the history of the beginnings of our Statue of Liberty, a gift from France, and Ellis Island, site of the immigration process for new arrivals to the U.S. from 1892 to 1954. Both historical monuments are now under the management of the National Park Service, the Statue in 1933 and Ellis Island in 1965.

Ellis Island 8 Year $170 Million Renovation

After an eight-year, $170 million renovation overseen by the National Park Service and funded by the combined Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Foundation, Ellis Island reopened to the public as a museum in 1990, according to Diana Pardue, Chief of Museum Services Division. 

The historical highlights of the journey involving Ellis Island are included in an excellent guide furnished by the Museum. Perhaps you were not aware that the first person to be questioned in 1892 was a 15-year-old girl named Annie Moore from Ireland, in the station's second-floor Registry Room. It is thought to be fitting because like this young girl, America was in its adolescence.

Why the name Ellis Island? It was known by the Native Americans living in the area as "Kioshk," which meant Gull Island, naturally for the birds as the island's only inhabitants. It was purchased from the Native Americans on July 12, 1630, by the colonist governors of Nieuw Amsterdam, now known as New York. It became known as "Little Oyster Island" by the Dutch residents of the area due to the abundance of oysters found there.

In the 1700s the island was used for executions of state criminals. For unknown reasons the island became the property of Samuel Ellis about the time of the American Revolution; he unsuccessfully tried to sell it.

Ellis owned the site until his death in 1794, and it was bequeathed to his unborn grandchild of his daughter, Catherine Westervelt, on the condition that the baby would be a boy and be named after him. The baby, a boy, died in infancy, and the title became a dispute in the Ellis family. After years of difficulty in obtaining full transfer of the title, the state of New York finally purchased Ellis Island and was subsequently reimbursed by the federal government.

Ellis Island is Open 364 Days a Year

The museum is open daily, year-round except Christmas Day from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours in the summer months. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.

For transportation, the Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty Ferry departs Battery Park in Manhattan and from Liberty State Park in New Jersey, running approximately every 30-45 minutes beginning at 9:15 a.m., subject to changes and varying hours. The trip costs $7 for adults, $5 for senior citizens, and $3 for children ages 3-17; there are group rates as well. Ticket and schedule information may be obtained by calling 212/269-5755.

You can even take an audio tour with television newscaster Tom Brokaw. It retraces those first steps taken through the gateway to the New World. The recording also is available in French, German, Italian and Spanish. Tours also are available through rangers.

Diners will enjoy a delightful lunch or snack at the Ellis Island Cafe, which serves American and ethnic foods, complete with indoor and outdoor seating. The outdoor deck overlooks the American Immigrant Wall of Honor and lower Manhattan. There also is a gift shop that includes books and international gifts and souvenirs.

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