The Journal News from White Plains, New York on May 25, 1986 · Page 99
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The Journal News from White Plains, New York · Page 99

White Plains, New York
Issue Date:
Sunday, May 25, 1986
Page 99
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F5 KB THE JOURNAL-NEWS, SUNDAY, MAY 25, 1986 It J Dm cut. i " an ' hni 'JC:' tX9 :t' ? 3,1' I'll REFURBISHING THE AMERICAN DREAM ON ELLIS ISLAND V IN .V : V!! Mi t "i r .- iwfc . y . i ..r -J" , j - f 1 1 I ' I ; w i I ' -' ' - i There has been no restoration work on this long central hallway, which led to the contagious disease wards. " i i a w j- . f r. " T " : " '"" "r ' """""IJ 1 - "' '- 1 9rwJ-it ' t .;. f '' ... ..... ' - . If"5'r' " , ; . . ...... - i 1 - : , 1 - , - - - '- - - - - - -'- " - - - - - " Vv K " iV"-" '"V" '' Immigrants who failed their medical tests were sent to a hospital on the south end of the island. Scaffolding on tower of the main building. ELLIS Continued from F1 not lead a panel that decides how the funds are spent. But Iacocca's supporters said there was more to the squabble than that. They maintained that Iacocca favored renovating the buildings and turning them into tourist attractions, while the Reagan administration wanted the land used for a hotel and conference center that would be closed to the public parts of the year. Federal officials are considering several proposals and should announce plans for the southern end of the island by mid-1987, Adlerstein said. He said work on the southern section will be completed in time for a centennial celebration in 1992. Whatever the future holds for the island, it is now dwarfed by its neighbor a quarter-mile away, the Statue of Liberty. Both are being restored, but Ellis Island has been nearly forgotten as workers rush to complete the $66 million renovation of Miss Liberty in time for a grandiose 100th birthday celebration July 4. The island will be the setting of a swearing-in ceremony for 2,000 new citizens. Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, though never formally linked, had a bond for many immigrants. Liberty was the symbol of a land that offered hope and opportunity, and Ellis Island was the tough reality of what a newcomer would have to endure to get to that land. The first immigrant to face Ellis Island the island was named after Samuel Ellis, a New York merchant who owned a small tavern on the island was Annie Moore, a 15-year-old from County Cork, Ireland. She arrived Jan. 1, 1892. As the island became the nation's busiest immigration processing center, 5,000 to 11,000 people arrived a day. Today, almost half of all Americans can trace their heritage to one or more family members who passed through Ellis. Not all immigrants, however, had to go through the island's medical and legal screening before they were permitted to move on to an American city. U.S. inspectors met the hundreds of steamships heading to New York and waved aside first- and second-class passengers on the assumption that they were healthy and of decent character since they could pay the $70 Europe-to-New York fare. Steerage passengers, who had paid $35 for bunks in the bowels of the ships, were taken to Ellis Island. They were discharged on the docks and then walked 20 paces under a large, wrought-iron canopy to the biggest building many of them had ever seen, the fortresslike main building. On more than 3 acres of land, the red French Renaissance structure included four towers that rose 120 feet above the ground, ornate belfries and 17-foot spires. The main building, along with the adjacent power house, the kitchen and laundry and the dormitory, provided a small world of its own. There was a dining room serving 1,000, a library with 4,400 books in dozens of languages, a laundry that cleaned 3,000 pieces of clothing a day and a kosher kitchen. After registering in the baggage room on the first floor, the immigrants climbed a flight of 37 steps for the all-important medical and legal tests in the Great Hall, a room as imposing as the task before them. With a 65-foot-high barrel-vaulted ceiling, nearly 200 feet long and more than 100 feet wide, the room was packed with immigrants, doctors and officials. At the top of the flight of steps, teams of physicians immediately inspected them to see if they exhibited fatigue. Other doctors examined their eyes, hair, ears and heart for signs of disease or illnesses. Most of the exams took about 15 minutes. If an illness was suspected, the lapels of the immigrants were marked with white chalk for example, "E" for eye problems and "H" for heart disease and they were told to wait for more tests in the more than 50 rooms off the Great Hall. Those who passed medical tests headed for legal inquiries. They were asked 30 questions, including whether they were anarchists or polygamists, and if they had criminal records. For 80 percent of them, the average stay on Ellis Island was three to five hours before they boarded the Ellis Island Ferry to New York. Twenty percent were detained for medical or legal reasons, and 2 percent were not admitted. After decades of neglect and exposure, much of the northern end of Ellis Island and its four buildings consists of collapsed seawalls, rotted roofs, broken windows and crumbling walls. Restoration work began more than a year ago with the addition of two huge furnaces in the main building. To dry out walls as soaked as sponges, miles of conduits to carry and release hot air were stretched from the furnaces. The furnaces are still going full blast as the drying process draws to an end. After the thousands of red Spanish tiles covering the main building's roof were repaired several months ago, workers turned their attention to the beige glazed tiles on the inside ceiling. With small hammers, craftsmen gingerly banged every one of the thousands of tiles to determine which were loose. To the credit of the Italian artisans who installed them, fewer than 40 needed repair. When the work is complete, the buildings will serve as a museum of immigration. Immigrants' artifacts photographs, diaries, shoes, bedding, luggage, candlesticks and combs will dot walls, rooms and corridors. Two 132-seat theaters adjacent to the Great Hall will tell the story of Ellis Island, and a computer data center will help visitors trace long-lost relatives who may have been processed at the island. New landscaping, at a cost of $1.6 million, will cover the northern part of the island. As they labor on the restoration, many of the workers muse about relatives who passed through the same rooms and corridors decades before. Michael Bielawa of Mount Vernon said his father's mother and father were among the arrivals from Poland. "I still can't believe that I'm working in this place," he said. "Working on the place your grandparents passed on the way to a new life has to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience." The southern end of the island is a place where the past is still untouched by modern-day hands. The 29 buildings here include three hospitals, 22 wards for major diseases and dorms for doctors and nurses. Immigrants who failed medical tests were sent to the wards until they recovered sufficiently to be released to New York. A serious disease, including tuberculosis and diphtheria, landed them in a ward until a steamship could take them home. A wooden bench for exhausted doctors stands near a closed door to one ward. Inside, a mattress still rests on a wrought-iron bedframe. Down the corridor is a laundry room that cleaned the clothing and bedding of the sick and dying. A large washing machine stands along one wall, a drier along the other. On a distant corner of the mazelike corridor, the morgue includes a waist-high slab table for autopsies. At another end of the corridor well away from the morgue stands the house of the one-time head commissioner of Ellis Island. Time has eaten away much of the plaster and the foundation, but a torn curtain still hangs from a window and rotted wood still fills the fireplace. And, as further proof that the past still rules here, the steps to the bedroom are covered with bits of red carpeting.

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