tv American Artifacts Ellis Island Immigration Museum CSPAN August 1, 2020 10:00am-10:46am EDT
of the use of the press, not what we refer to in solution -- institutionally. lectures in history is available as announcer: between 1892 and 1954, about 12 million immigrants seeking a new life in america were taken to ellis island for questioning and processing. today, millions of americans take ferryboats each year to visit ellis island and the statue of liberty. up next on american history tv's artifacts," we visit the ellis island museum. we learn about the immigrant experience. peter: good morning. my name is peter urban. i am a park ranger for the national park service at ellis island.
this island, for many americans is the place where their , american story began. a lot of people do not know about ellis island before this time. i am going to talk about ellis island itself. size, we are 27 acres in but originally it was three acres. a small island in the middle of the harbor that barely came above sea level and highside. t high tide. for most of its life, it was a military installation, and the the world of 1812, and as a storage depot.
somewhere around 1890 it was decided it would be the place of the first building specifically constructed for the processing of emigrants. they did construct that between 1890 and 1892. this is not the first processing center. it is the second. the first one burned to the ground during a furnace fire. the federal government decided they needed to build something more permanent, something that would reflect the grandeur, so the structure you see here is andt between 1898 and 1900 it opened in december of 1900. it's a beautiful building and from the moment it opened, it's constructed to handle about half a million people a year. it ended up handling in 1900 200 million people. if you look at the building , there was no third-floor. it was two stories with four towers.
as we had more and more people come through, the building -- the structure was the baggage and dormitory building -- was added on because they were waiting for detained members of the family and were so in norma's that the doorman took -- enormous that the dormitories on the balconies were too small. we also found that two thirds of would end up going to other parts of america. about a third of them would go to new york city. this construction here was added on as a place for immigrants to buy their tickets to go and start their lives and other parts of the country. a large check population heading down to nebraska, a large group of germans heading to texas. so, the railroad ticket terminal held ticket terminals for railroads that would eventually tickets the
immigrants needed and they would go across the harbor to the central road of the jersey terminal and they would find a train to take them out to friends and relatives that had already settled in those areas. the other third will be heading to new york and those people will find many different ethnic neighborhoods that, often times, would welcome them with open arms. we are now standing at the seawall of ellis island. this faces out into new york harbor and this is a perfect place to begin the story of the immigrants who came here. 12 million to 13 million people would make their way through the building, but the journey started back in europe where they may that brave and ambitious decision to leave everyone they knew behind and make the journey to this country.
for most of those immigrants , this would be a place they would have to save money quite a long time to make their way through this building. an immigrant had to pay $30 at the time which could equal several hundred dollars in today's money for a spot on an ocean liner that was never meant for human beings. ocean liners had always taken people with money. classers had to pay thousands of dollars to be win ed and dined like royalty. even if you have a little bit less money, you could get a second-class ticket. shipping companies began to realize so many people who were poor wanted to come here. they had to accommodate that demand. they looked at their ships. they figured that they could sacrifice cargo holds below deck.
dirty, they now housed bunkbeds, sometimes three or four high, packed in tightly and the immigrants coming to ellis island would be a passenger in those lower decks. those lower decks were not pleasant. very little light, very little ventilation, 1500 of you packed down there in your ship ride could take anywhere from one week to one month. coming to america was a great challenge. they would be leaving port cities like liverpool or constantinople where the shipping companies had their offices. a very important part of the immigrant story is they had to answer questions about themselves to a shipping clerk. those answers are going to be important part of the immigrant story is that will be used in
the great hall to interrogate the immigrants to determine if they have the legal right to land here. we will return to that later, but i wanted to bring that in now. we are at the harbor for a reason. we are going to assume the immigrant ship made it across safely. the first place they will enter new york harbor is where you see the bridge. an area we call the narrows. there is the first place inspectors will board ships to check and see if this ship has a raging epidemic of disease. they do not want to let immigrants bringing diseases into this country which is one of the things they were checking in the great hall. they are not likely to find anybody with tremendous amounts of illness or even a ship full because shipping companies already done pre-processing. american law stated if a shipping company brought someone
here who was to be deported, they had to bring them back at the shipping company's cost. companies had their own processing. your ocean liners are going to move into this harbor. if you look at the harbor today, it is about the most peaceful site you are going to want to see. imagination,ur think about the fact that basically your international travel is on a ship. this harbor would be full of commercial vessels, private vessels, ocean liners especially at peak time in the 1900s and 1 910s. there would be noise, a dingy atmosphere, and a poor little going to bermer from a rural area.
they are going to look at the skyline of new york and even some of the smaller buildings -- not the modern structures -- are going to look big compared to an immigrant who has never seen more than a couple of stories, it will look like something from outer space. the welcome to america is -- threefold actually -- and they are absolutely amazed at lady liberty. this absolutely gorgeous site opened in 1886. up the harbor the ship comes. a lot of people who come here think they let people out and that is not true. it is just too shallow for that. the ships are going to make and they up the harbor will stop up the river. there is where an immigrant
learns the first lesson. in america, money talks because our first and second class passengers are going to be given a quick inspection as the boat moves up the harbor and unless they have a glaring problem that needs attention, they are going to be let out to start their lives. the thinking was this -- if you have a slight illness, you've got the money to pay for a doctor. you are going to get the care you need and you are going to be able to afford a place to live. the third class passengers have the $30 ticket and in their pocket, hopefully, another couple hundred dollars they will have to prove they have when they get inside. still not enough to prove they are not good to be a problem to society. they are afraid of people bringing diseases. they are afraid of people being involved in crime. they are afraid of being overwhelmed by the population. that is what ellis island does. it's a way for steerage class passengers to come into the
country and start their lives. there is a clear delineation for the immigrants. if you have the money, you are in and if you do not, you get checked. when we had inside in a few minutes we will start the story of those immigrants who come off the ship and are going to enter the front door and come into the first floor of ellis island which looks dramatically different than today. we are about to enter the main entrance of ellis island, but across the way might be a point of note. these beautiful buildings that are now abandoned where the hospital complexes that were run by the united states public which was just a fantastic crew of doctors who cared for immigrants that were detained for medical reasons. about 10% were detained for medical reasons. the string of buildings we see
were for non-contagious diseases. behind it about 30 yards parallel a string of buildings for contagious diseases. there was the measles ward, a tuberculosis ward, and insane asylum, and this was a real operating island. the public health service was so good at their job that occasionally hospitals from new york would send cases out here to be taken care of. they did a great job of nursing people back to health who had diseases that were curable. that is a very big standard here. if you had a diseas that was incurable, and contagious, you are definitely going back. if you have an incurable disease, it is more likely you go back. it is a very big part of our complex. it is not open to the public yet. ellis island is a work in
progress and slowly but surely we will hopefully get that opened up and open for the public to see. we are walking up the ramp underneath the canopy at ellis island. this canopy would have been a place where immigrants who had just gotten off the boat would have lined up to go in the door and begin processing. the original canopy had a black slate roofs. people would line up here and what they had was only what was important to them. for many who are bringing their entire family at the same time, they had to sell everything they owned back in europe. the farmland, the cattle, all the supplies, the farm itself just to be able to afford all of irs for everybody coming here. there is a beautiful picture that shows you they have got a
trunk,satchel, a steamer and everything the family owns that is a value will come with them. let us take you inside. [door opening] the room we are entering now is the baggage room. here is the place where immigrants got their first set of ellis island. to be honest with you, this room looks very different depending on the moment you came. in 1907, according to some floor plans, immigrants who came in the store had to go immediately right,o our left, their where a medical examination would take place. they would end up in the staircase which was originally right in the middle of this ceiling and took you into the middle of the great hall. as i mentioned earlier this tolding was really planned handle less people than they thought.
over the years the process of having all these medical processing became highly impractical. they had to figure out a way to make more efficiently. around 1912, the stare was closed -- staircase was closed and a wooden staircase was built where we have the modern staircase today, taking you up to the second floor. it was not just to make the flow go faster it was a way to make , the medical processing more efficient. you give credit to the people who were here. they handled a highly chaotic situation in a really efficient and, in many cases, i think compassionate way. it did not mean it was not scary or terrifying for immigrants, but i think there was a lot of care forward to make things better. in the early 1900s, this could be a place that was very tricky for an immigrant to get through.
the people who were bringing their baggage -- and you can see the samples of the baggage we have here -- the baggage handlers could hold your luggage make sure it gets on the boat ferry oru catch your train. early on we had concessionaires. we had baggage handlers who were double or triple charged for their services. it was a small amount of what their money was worth. the food concession people dressed up somebody who looked like an inspector. he went into the crowd and told them if they did not buy lunch from the food stand, they would be deported. there was a commissioner, willie williams, who dressed up his best inspectors and immigrants and put them among the crowd. he was instrumental in getting rid of the corrupt concession firms and making things
more fair for the people coming through. youcome in and after 1912, are going to be directed up those stairs. we are going to head up to the second floor to talk about the medical and legal processing. you are going to see the room i think most of you have come to know as the symbol of ellis island. it is called the registry room, but we called it the great hall of ellis island. it is a majestic piece of architecture. we will take you first with the immigrants. follow me upstairs if you will. so, we are heading up the stairs to the second floor. as i said, this is a modern staircase. imagine there being a wooden staircase here where immigrants would walk up in large crowds. some would refuse to give their baggage to the baggage handler. they would give their suitcase or have a sheet over their
shoulders and they are coming up the stairs. the one thing they do not realize is they are already being inspected as they walk up the stairs. they might be limping because of a bad foot. toe. they stubbed their carrying that big bad and having trouble breathing. they may be very happy to be here, singing a song from the old country. all three of those conditions would be observed by inspectors who would be at the top of the stairs and they would be watching. so, as you got to the top of the stairs, those inspectors would come up to you with one of their tools of the trade, a piece of chalk. they are going to mark your coat up with initials that simplify feel may be they
the condition you have. gets l for toe lameness. the person holding their chest may have a heart problem so they get an h. downerson jumping up and x on their coat. i sometimes do this on my tour. i asked them to do something. it's not to make them feel bad about themselves. it's all about going through the inspection without understanding what is going on. doctors will also meet you here and give you an inspection that is just a fast and medical inspection you are going to get. i know they were sometimes called the six-second specialists for that reason. but anywhere from five to 10 seconds, maybe 15, there are a
they are highly skilled members of the public health service who can spot even the smallest sign of 50 to 60 ailments. again, any doubt that you have something means more initials are going on your coat. -- 170 shows you do not want the one set of initials you do ct. want on your coat is the one that you don't have represents an illness called trachoma. it was a widespread disease back in the past. it still exist today in some parts of the world. it eventually would rub away on your eyes and make you blind. they would use button hooks. these hooks that were used to pull up your eyelid.
so, if you are taken at this moment with initials on your coat it does not mean you'll automatically be sent back. it did need that, down these hallways, here and over here, they will take you to individual medical exam rooms. all of these initials were about making this process more efficient. they did not have the time to give you a thorough exam, but the doctors down the hall would look at you and check you out more specifically for just those two or three initials on your coat. the vast majority, it will be no problem. the man with the stubbed toe will be treated and come back out here. but for some it may mean and , internment in the hospitals of days, weeks, months and for some, it may mean the doctors report that they need to be sent back. this is step one of the process, ok? room, asalk into this
terrifying as this moment can be, they are also in a room which is the grandest room some of you have ever seen in your entire life. this is the great hall of ellis island. it has been restored to the way it looked around 1918. our american flags have 48 stars because we only had 48 states. we tried to be a little accurate, right to the point about 1918. the ceiling you see up here, those titles were put up -- ti les were put up by a family whose work is still famous in carnegie hall and grand central station and the cathedral of st. john the divine in new york. tiles were put on a vaulted ceiling. when restoration was done in the 1980's, they had to check every tile and they found only 13 had
to be replaced. the work is legendary and solid. on hisor we are standing over 100 years old. when they waxed this floor it looked new. tiles on the columns are part of 1900oom when it opened in as are the chandelier, the first gentle here and the other in the middle of the room. the third when you could never guess is a reproduction, but it was destroyed by a cable snapping when they did the restoration. anyway, these are the original chandeliers. to get a sense of what the room was like when people came here you have to use your imagination. today, we do not have much in here because we want people to and enjoy --y roam
roam and enjoy and look at the room. in 1912,e an immigrant that was full of benches. the darker ones are original. the lighter ones are reproductions done by a high school program in new york state and if we use imaginations, the benches would have been in rows would have come into the middle of the room. once you got past the medical inspection you are going to come here and wait. when you got off the boat in new york, a tag was put on you that corresponded to your ship's manifest. when the manifest book is brought to the desk they call your number, they send inspectors to get everybody with that number, they line you up, and you are about to be retested to see if you are who you say you are when you got on the boat. that is where we had next. we are going to head down to the
inspector's desk and talk about the questions that were asked and what happened to many people when they got there. our last stop in the great hall is going to be at a replica of the possibly 15 to 20 desks that line this end of the hall. here is the spot where you go through the last part of your processing. if you remember, we talk a manifests.that about they were answers to questions immigrants gave. 25 to 30 questions were asked. what is your name, what is your age, what is your nationality where is the last place you live , in europe and with whom what's destination, can you read and write, where are you going to live in america and with whom? how much money do you have? that is a tricky question.
it was not always known by immigrants that inspectors, at most points, were looking for you to have $25 at the time. a couple hundred dollars in today's money. you might have that when you board the ship. it may be stolen. you might have lost it. if you do not have anywhere near that amount, that could be a reason to detain you. they do not want to let people out of america with no money to start their lives. there is another tricky question people would not take as a trick question. by whom was your passage paid? most are going to say, i paid for it myself, my mother paid, my father paid. the answer you do not want to give, even if you are nervous, even if you think it will impress the inspector, is my new boss in america paid for me to come here. i start work tomorrow. it may seem like an impressive answer because the inspector
would let you in because you already have a job, but you just admitted to being a contract laborer. that was illegal. to admit that would be a certain trip back to europe and a hefty fine for your american employer. every one of these questions would be asked. some of them are physical descriptions. i can answer them by looking at the immigrant. so, i can see that the young woman is 5'2" and she has gray eyes and blond hair. for the vast majority of people, this is going to be a pretty easy process. they will answer all the questions, they will remember all the answers. they will not look too suspicious and answering because that alone could be a reason for detention. but about 80% of the people who
come through this building will eventually leave here to go start their lives after an experience of three or four hours. 20% are detained. 10% for legal processing and another 10% for some discrepancies in their interrogation. we are going to take you to the room where they had their chance or their day in court. it's a scary experience. i will talk about that in a minute for many of them. we are going to head down the hall to the board of special inquiry room which is located on the very spot where it existed and has been restored to look pretty much the way it did in the early 1900s. if you follow me, we will head down there. this wing you are heading into is actually the legal wing of ellis island at the time. there were four operating courtrooms in this area at one time.
offices were here for lawyers. there were detention rooms for those who would be detained in some way. many of the items on this desk are authentic and from our collections and what they have tried to do is re-create what an inspector's desk would look like. there are three inspectors seated here and they are your judges. each of them will hear your case and ask you an important questions. stenographer would be here to keep record of the case and an interpreter would be here to help the inspectors understand the words of the immigrants as they pleaded their cases. immigrants were not allowed to have a lawyer in this first hearing. they had to plead their own case. oftentimes there would the groups that have been set up by
specific ethnic groups to help people of their background get through this process and ellis island and they could serve as interpreter for the immigrant themselves. now in immigrant could also call witnesses to come and testify on their behalf. so, in person, the young woman who lost her money on the boat, befriended by a very nice man, she would send a telegram to her brother and ask him to testify on her behalf. they would never allow the two people, the brother and the sister, in the same courtroom at the same time. they would interrogate them separately so there would not be any story between the two of them. if the brother came in here and said, she is my sister, i will take her in, here is my name and address, she will stay under my wing until she has enough money of her own to get a job.
for the 20% of people who came through here, it was a terrifying moment. -- they will get a wonderful introduction to an american justice system that gives them a really good shape. only 22% would be sent back. that means 18% had enough of an explanation for their detention that it would be enough for two or three inspectors to allow them to come in and stay. -- this is where the story would end for the rest of the 20%. the 80% in the great hall will start their lives. a third will head to new york.
for me, i have three grandparents who came through here in 1909 in 1912. it's a very special experience to work here because i know i am telling their story and i can only imagine what they would think if they knew hundred years later, their grandson would be here giving tours and telling their story.
the items we have in this exhibit area were donated to us right people whose ancestors it come here. and the items are organized by theme. so here we have a case of clothing that was worn by many people who came here -- a beautiful, rich, texture and the craftsmanship is just gorgeous. these are the cases that are worn here when the immigrants get off the boat. as we walked down we have a case of personal papers that were parts of many immigrants' process.
a lot of these will be documents they took from the old country that have been put in here. and just representative of the type of things you would find if you start to do family research and look for documents. the case next to us is, i believe religious items. these religious items are, again, the type of things that immigrants would not dare leave behind. so for many, the rosary beads are here in so many of the other items. if they had a steamer trunk, this is something that would definitely be there. they would send pictures back to the old country of your life in
america. there are so many pictures. i think every family who had an ancestor come through ellis island had this. i have a shoebox i am still sorting through. so many different images. so many different backgrounds. so many people, so many dreams. when you look at all of these pictures you can really absorb and appreciate. the last case here brings in what they call family life items, things they would bring they use in everyday life. cutlery, the sewing machine, camera, just a sampling of the remendous amount of items that are donated to us. just one quick look from the
back here. some families gave us so much that there were cases dedicated to those families specifically. we have six or seven of these of these photographs that are dedicated to specific families that literally gave us the steamer trunk full of items. he processing center opened in 1892, and for the next 30 years or so operated at full tilt as a ass processing center. there was the beginning of the process of restrict wing immigration through very restrict to order loss that brought the flow of people lmost to a halt.
a very restrictive quota law in conjunction with the consulate system we have today really brought ellis island to a close. it remained open for another 30 years. it would be a place where more would be brought out and held until their case was adjudicated. by 1954, we in the middle of a strong anti-communist surge, a ear of foreign elements. so in november of 1954, the building closed and it would be really empty for the next 11 years. president johnson issued the order for the national
monument. for the next 15 years, it's not open to the general public, but restored. you had to arrange for what they all be a hardhat tour. but i guess in conjunction with the centennial of the statue of liberty, money was raised. this building will open in october of 1990. and we have been open ever cents. -- ever since.
90% of the people who came through this building -- that will translate into about 45% of the american population today who can tell you, honestly one of their ancestors came through this building, went through this process, and began their families -- their family's american story. for so many people it is the reason why they come here, because they have heard so much. it is in their family folklore. it is where grandma or grandpa came to america. has to be medical processing and began their family's story. i think there needs to be context.
that this story of people coming here, being from a different lace, becoming successes, that is the great american story. that will continue. it will not be one that ever ends. we lose track of -- those of us who are the descendents of those immigrants have forgotten about grandma and grandpa's journey. and maybe this will reawaken this in people's -- peoples eyes. that's what ellis island is about. it's americans looking for something better, really the american dream. thank you for coming along. we will see you personally -- i hope you get to visit ellis island and we will see you ersonally.
>> japanese emperor announced the surrender in 1945 after the august 1k36 9 bombings of hiroshima and nagasaki respectively on the surrender ceremony took place september 2 in tokyo bay ending world war ii. american history tv and c-span's "washington journal" will be live to look at the strategic situation in world war ii's specific theater leading occupy the bombings. true man's decision to use the new bombings and the impact of these atom bombs. on august 6, we will be live from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. eastern. guests include ian toll and president truman's grandson,
clifton truman daniel and on august 9, we will be live on c-span and c-span3 from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. easternful all guests will respond to viewer calls and tweets. this sunday, in recorded history, army veteran talks about his assignment to the manhattan project. here's a preview. >> we we want the bombs in the middle building and at night, we were ready to fly with them. we take them out there, put them in the pit, run the plane over them, load them up and then pulled up. those pictures show the drawings of the pits. and that was in a remote part of the island all the way down the end of the islands. so everybody else on the island had no idea what we were doing down there. but that's how we loaded them.
and to the best of my knowledge as i said, i was on the last -- the last guy that had his hands on the bomb that blew up nagasaki. so, because we were all signing the bomb and on i'm the last guy that saw -- well, i signed it but since then, the last guy dropped in. jepson, he's gone. next day early, plane takes off. oes to -- well, we had to pick a target at the last minute. but it's interesting. .e blew nagasaki to smithereens nagasaki is built back completely by the japanese.
it's a beautiful city. detroit got ruined a little later than that and it's still ruined. so, it was something. when those people, went the japanese -- when the japanese knew what happened to them, all they wanted to do was put things back together. and that surrender was by the emperor. it wasn't by anybody else. he just made up his mind when-saw what those two bombs did and, of course, they thought we had more. we didn't have more. we had one more. but it wasn't ready. he wasn't going to see another bomb land on his country. so that's when he quit. >> watch the full program at 4:55 eastern this sunday on american history tv. >> this is american history tv.