Friday, November 7, 2014

"Voices of Millions" at Ellis Island

It's been a week since my friend, Marian, and I visited Ellis Island, and I am still haunted by it. Haunted in the same way that images of Titanic's vacant decks and abandoned staterooms beg that their stories  be told. In the same way that the stillness of a Civil War battlefield, now peaceful, holds thousands of stories within its silence.

There are 12 million stories in the halls of Ellis Island, 12 million! Immigrants - some alone, others with friends or family - who passed through the Great Hall from 1892-1954.  Each with a story.

Perhaps it was the artifacts on the 3rd floor of the Immigration Museum that triggered my  imagination. Encased in glass, preserved exactly as they were found before restoration began in 1999.


Who lay in the hospital bed?
 Was she frightened, separated from her family,
 suffering from tuberculosis?

Who sat in the chair - stamping papers, asking questions?
Did the faces across the desk follow him home at night, or blur into oneness?
Perhaps it was the windows, now smartly shaded, where views of Manhattan meant a new home to one, a dream denied to another.

Or perhaps it was the faces.

Eleni Mylonas, photographer/artist roamed the abandoned remains of Ellis Island for three months in 1983.  "I wandered around in silence, letting myself be guided by unknown forces compelling me to explore unlikely desolate corners of the endless mass," she wrote. One of her photographs hangs on the 3rd floor of the Immigration Museum.

Ellis Island, now empty of the immigrants who came and went,  continues to be alive with their dreams. Our country is alive with their ancestors, approximately 100 million of them.

As Eleni Mylonas described it, "….the voices of the millions of people who came through here, building a temple with their highest joys and deepest sorrows."  


  1. I love how you make the visit feel so personal. We visited and photographed but somehow missed the human aspect. Thanks for always choosing just the right words.

    1. Thank you, Vanda! It helped my perspective that one of the park rangers suggested we start on the 3rd floor, which presents photos and artifacts that have been untouched. The place seems more personal and real there.


Web Analytics