This was a day we looked forward to very much. At first, understanding the plans made by our fearless leaders regarding how the day was to work was a bit difficult. It was what they called a “ride-share” day. What that meant was that folks who had a “toad” were to share rides with those who didn’t in order to get to the location of the ferry building where one could embark to both Ellis Island and Liberty Island.
Our park was on the east side of the canal, with the ferry building on the west side of the canal, but it required a bit of a drive of a couple of miles to get from one side to the other. Another option was to walk to the little Liberty Marina ferry to get across the canal, but that fare wasn’t included in the AVC trip. However, parking at Liberty State Park for the ferry was included, as was the fare for both ferries to the islands and back home. Owen distributed ferry tickets for all three ferry rides to each member of the group. Although, we had to present a parking ticket for reimbursement to Owen if we drove there in our own car. Clear as mud? Now, looking back, it makes perfect sense, but until we actually completed the day, it seemed very confusing.
We had no room in the back of the Tracker to take anyone anywhere, so embarked on our day on our own. It was a bit of a relief after so many days of riding the bus and doing things with a big bunch of people. With Mattie settled in after her mid-morning walk, and pleasant temperatures to look forward to, we began our private adventure.
One thing that surprised us a bit was the information Owen gave us about visiting Ellis Island. He said there wasn’t much to see there unless you cared to do some research about relatives that may have been processed through that entry to the United States for immigrants. In reality, we found so much more that was worth seeing.
The parking lot for the ferry was huge, with much walking required even from the handicapped zone. There was another huge lot much closer, but it was for 2-hour parking only. We definitely intended to stay more than two hours on the islands. In the photo above, you can see the main terminal for the Liberty Park ferries with the skyscrapers of Jersey City in the background.
Liberty State Park is the official jump-off point for both islands, which are all actually in the state of New Jersey. No matter, there is no doubt nothing more iconic of New York City than views of the Statue of Liberty. There is considerable security required for boarding the ferries, including valid identification and passing through the airport-style security gates.
Once on the small ferry, with a short climb to the top deck, the 15-minute ride offers gorgeous views of the Manhattan skyline. The approach to Ellis Island can bring a few goosebumps as you imagine immigrants seeing this view for the first time, apprehensive and possibly terrified of what lies ahead for them.
The main building on Ellis Island that housed the great hall where immigrants were processed is an impressive building from any angle. We entered the great hall, marveled at the vast ceilings and began to explore.
Funny side note: Mo and I searched our DNA and Ancestry records for possible immigrants in our family history that may have passed through Ellis Island, not understanding that the Island only operated for a short period of time. We learned that only one possible cousin of Mo’s may have come through this room, a Mary Oukrop in 1913. For both of us, as far back as we can go in our heritage, most everyone was born in the US long before Ellis Island was even a thought. Many of my ancestors were born in Virginia in the mid-1600s. That puts us on a par with those folks who came over on the Mayflower.
The first inspection station opened in 1892 and was destroyed by fire in 1897. The second station opened in 1900 and housed facilities for medical quarantines and processing immigrants. After 1924, however, Ellis Island was used primarily as a detention center for migrants. After the immigration station’s closure, the buildings languished for several years until they were partially reopened in 1976. The main building and adjacent structures were completely renovated in 1990.
We wandered through the many side galleries that flanked the main Registry room, reading the story of the thousands of immigrants who passed through these doors.
Without getting political here, I can only say that what impressed me more than anything else was how incredibly similar the issues we face as a country and the difficulties faced by immigrants were then as they are now.
The photo above made me laugh out loud. Is that woman checking her cell phone in 1901?
We walked room after room with magnificent wall-sized enlargements of life in the early 1900s in the various nooks and crannies of the big cities, especially New York City, where penniless immigrants attempted to create a life and a home.
We saw newspaper cartoons from that same era that could have easily come from a current newspaper in the United States.We saw huge ads, where the United States Government begged immigrants to come here to fill the huge gap in workers for the rapidly developing industrial revolution.
We saw more ads where the government touted the wonders of the Promised Lands of North Dakota and California for migrants in need of high-paying jobs.
We entered the theater to watch a wonderful movie about the creation of Ellis Island and the history of its evolution over the decades to what it has come to represent. The entire experience made me even more anxious to have the time to read my new book, Exodus, about the migration of humanity throughout the world and throughout history. What we are experiencing now is certainly nothing new.
To say both Mo and I were strongly impacted by the images and history at Ellis Island would be an understatement. It was a small delight to meet a young woman sitting on the bench waiting for the ferry with us. Her family was from Senegal, and she now lived in Paris and was traveling the US on her own for a few days. I wish I had taken her photo, but we both shook hands as we parted and wished each other well.
Once back on the ferry, it was only another short 15-minute ride to Liberty Island, where the Statue of Liberty resides. I was so thrilled to have such a gorgeous day with brilliant blue skies as a backdrop to the green copper plates that are the skin of Lady Liberty.
It isn’t possible to enter the stairways to the pedestal without an extra paid ticket, which was not part of our package and required registration in advance. Instead, we walked around the base of the statue, which we learned was once Fort Wood. I will not even begin to attempt to recreate so much that has been written about the history of how this great statue came to our country, but for an excellent (and long) detailed article with a ton of information, click here
The main thing I learned was that the statue was placed on a pedestal that stands on the star-shaped foundation of Fort Wood. Somehow I never knew a thing about that before this visit. We also learned that the skin of the statue is composed of hammered plates of copper that are the approximate thickness of two pennies overlapping to cover the wooden foundation. I also learned that she was not always green.
When first erected she was a brilliant copper, but over time the copper has oxidized to the beautiful green color that we associate with the statue today. It would be harmful to remove the oxidation to “clean” the statue as that would expose it to the harsh elements of wind and pollution that would cause it to deteriorate more quickly.
Much of the walking on this day wore me to a nubbin, and I asked Mo if we could forego visiting the interior of the museum. I decided that we could find out anything we needed to know by searching around on the internet without compromising my wobbly legs that were threatening to dump me unceremoniously into a bush somewhere.
We boarded the return ferry toward the ferry terminal at Liberty Park and made the long walk back to the parking spot. We just happened to run into Val, a fellow traveler with our group, from Florida, who had also come over to the island on her own. Owen had told her, “Just find a ride with someone to get back, or you can go to the Canal Ferry and I will reimburse you”. Val asked us for a ride, but when we explained how full our car was, I am sure she thought we were waffling. We had an idea, I would take Val back to the park and then come back for Mo. When Val saw how full our Tracker was, she laughed out loud. “I thought you were making excuses”, she said. It was a simple solution, with only a few minutes for each trip. Val invited us for margaritas, her favorite drink but Mo declined. I am a margarita lover, and of course, I wandered over to her rig after we got home for some fun conversation and a very tasty cocktail!
I think Lady Liberty was as tired of walking and standing as I was after this day.