I remember reading or hearing that most New Yorkers never visit their biggest tourist attractions or pay much mind to their historic heritage, focussing more on the arts. I don’t know if that is actually true or not. I have been to the top of the Empire State Building and climbed the gazillion steps to the top of the Statue of Liberty, but that was after I’d moved away and was visiting the city with one of my Estonian relatives.
I’d certainly read a great deal about Ellis Island, and was very disappointed to learn that my mother did not enter the city there when she arrived by ship in 1950. She docked on the west side, I think I remember her telling me it was 23rd St, but I could be wrong about that. Immigration rules had changed significantly after the war, and she arrived as a displaced person, with a sponsor. According to my mother, it was a new form of indentured servitude and when she left their employ after six months, she gave them a lecture on how Lincoln had freed the slaves. She was 19. And feisty.
Ellis Island was closed for a long time, and while it has reopened, I have never had occasion to bring anyone there, and never wandered on my own. Which brings me to the subject of this photo. It is NOT Ellis Island. It doesn’t look a thing LIKE Ellis Island. But… you pass it on the Staten Island Ferry and for most of my life, I thought it was. So bleak, so sad, so lonely and desolate. All the hope those walls ever contained was hermetically sealed in the hearts of the new arrivals, clutching at their few mementos and praying they made it through the next few days… I know, I’ve been a new immigrant, too – and some things never really change.
But this is NOT Ellis Island. I have tried to find out what it is (not very hard, I admit) but have had no luck. I don’t know what this building was used for. Maybe a jail? It’s definitely a building full of sadness.
Perhaps next time I am in New York I will visit Ellis Island. I’ll pretend I’m just a tourist from out of town and ask a lot of questions.