The Stories of Ellis Island and the Hard Hat Tour

Artist installation by French artist JR at Ellis Island Quarantine Hospital/ Loscotoff 2022

We said goodbye to the Statue of Liberty, boarded the ferry on the south side of the island, and set sail for our next destination; Ellis Island. Ellis Island has always captivated my attention, has always drawn me into the stories of the lives that stepped foot there. This spot of history had become essential if I were ever to go to New York City. Finally, I would see this place that had only been pictures in my head.

None of my own family, that I know of, came through Ellis Island. Much of my family came to the United States in the years before Ellis Island, dating back to some of the earliest settlers. Others, my Russian Molokan family, came at the turn of the century, escaping political prosecution for their religious beliefs through Galveston, Texas.

Our boat docked between two sections of the island. To the north was the Registry Room which is open to the general public. To the south was the quarantine hospital, a building in decay and only open as an additional tour, the fee going to Save Ellis Island, a non-profit created to restore the 29 unused buildings on Ellis Island.

A photo of Ellis Island from the ferry/ Loscotoff 2022
Ellis Island with New Jersey skyline in the distance.

Hard Hat Tour

We donned our hardhats and traveled down the long brick hallways, moving from one island to the next. The red brick was stained white; damage from the waterline of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. This slowed and reversed some of the restorative work being done on this part of Ellis Island.

While the hospital on the main island could care for 275 in 1910, contagious diseases often needed to be cared for in specific quarantine hospitals on the mainland. This created a need for a quarantine hospital on Ellis Island itself.

Besides the main island with the registry room and standard hospital, two other islands were created with only a narrow strip of land connecting them. (Today, the two southernmost islands stand as one, the water between them now turned into an empty park using the dirt from the development of the New York Subway system. This area is off-limits to tourists.)

As we walked down the hallways, you could imagine what this space had once been, with doctors and nurses in their uniforms traveling back and forth. The quarantine took children from their families and loved ones from their partners. Children in the quarantine hospital were required to be cared for with money sent from families allowed to go ashore or through help from charity aid societies.

Doctors in the hospital, installation art by French artist, JR, at Quarantine Hospital, Ellis Island/ Loscotoff 2022
Installation by French artist JR, historic doctors in surgery.

I imagine my grief at being allowed passage after a long journey, escaping some horror in my homeland, only to have my child taken from me because of a suspected illness. My child feeling like she had been abandoned or forgotten in the twisting hallways. I imagine trying to start a new life and make enough money to pay for my child to stay at the hospital until she is better so that she will not be returned to our homeland.

Down the hallway, we come to a large room, the ceiling has fallen from time and weather. There are leaves piled on the floor. We turn to the right and find ourselves in an ancient laundry. The shadows of memories stand in the window, the installation of French artist, JR. These pieces will peak at us through our entire tour, designed to decay with the building.

Electric boxes for Ellis Island Quarantine Hospital/ Loscotoff 2022
Electricity

The electric box stands open on the wall, large switches in the position, their boxes filled with leaves. There is no power currently on this part of the island or none that I can see. Our tour walks in the sunlight which travels through broken windows.

The enormous industrial washing machines and dryers stand open in the middle of the room. The ground is dusty, the paint has peeled and been scraped. I imagine the workers and the constant washing of garments, especially the garments of those with contagious diseases. My mind sees orderlies rushing around, keeping constantly busy.

We step from the laundry, passing what was once the ward for those thought to be mentally unfit. We pass the outdoor recreation pavilion, a narrow covered brick space that would have once sat on the bay. In many illnesses of the time, it was believed that fresh air was one of the best medicines for a patient. This covered pavilion would have allowed patients to sit or lay and look at the water. Fresh air was also used in the hospital, even when snow fell and the wind was ice.

Moving past the outdoor recreation pavilion, we move to the southernmost island. The dormitory buildings here do not line up, they stretch off a central corridor and no doors are ever across from each other.

It was believed at the time that viruses in the air could not turn corners. Therefore, quarantine dormitories could not face other quarantine dormitories. The ceilings did not have sharp corners in these rooms because it was believed that viruses would fill those corners and get stuck there, never moving out through the open windows.

Illnesses of the same type were kept together. Children with measles were kept in a single room with other children with measles. Their windows were kept open, even at the coldest time of year, so that the virus would not be concentrated in the room. It was believed that viruses could not be blown overwater, this is why the island was separated by the bay with only a connecting pathway. Radiators sat against the wall to keep the rooms warm against the chill of the weather.

The children of the measles ward in art installation by French artist JR/ Loscotoff 2022
Children wait and hope to get well, they hope to not be sent back to their country of origin.

The art of JR follows us and allows us to see the ghosts of this place as they dream of a new life. They are faded but still present. Beyond the images, you feel the presence of what was once here, the sadness and the hope.

A family of immigrants moves through the room in JR's installation at Ellis Island/ Loscotoff 2022
A family of immigrants moves through the hospital. Installation by French artist, JR.

A beautiful, sad, haunting look at the quarantine hospital is seen in a film also created by JR and stars Robert Deniro, called “Ellis”. You can watch it on YouTube here, or I have included the link below. It allows you to understand what it is to walk these halls, to feel the history of the hospital.

In the Tuberculosis ward, patients were not kept together as they were in other spaces. The rooms were not across from each other, but alternating down a hallway. Each patient had their own room with two sinks; the first to wash and the second to spit.

Tuberculosis spit is highly contagious and these sinks had their own plumbing which was flushed to the incinerator. Their windows were not left open the way other rooms were but rather vented in a way that the patient could not escape.

One of the saddest stories was in the room looking out over the Statue of Liberty. While some believed the statue gave them hope for a new life, others saw her standing with her back turned on them. It was a daily reminder that the United States had turned its back on them and their dreams of taking a step in their new land.

Through the quarantine windows stands the Statue of Liberty.  Does she remind the sick of why they came of that she has turned her back on them. / Loscotoff 2022
Our the windows of quarantine stood the Statue of Liberty. It is said that some believed that they were given this view to remind them of why they left their country, to give them hope of healing and a new life. Others say it symbolized Liberty turning her back on the sick and poor.

The installation in the director’s house at the far end of the island somehow touched me the most. “This Place Matters.”

The place matters, it truly does.

This is the foundation that our country was built upon. Immigrants placed all of their hope, all of their dreams within their chosen country. Many were turned away, families were broken, but more were allowed their new home.

This woman reminds me of my great-grandma when she came from Russia. They have a similar look to them, and the lines on their face tell a similar story.

The hospital was one of the best in the country and one of the best in the world. Patients were treated well as per the standards of the time and within the fight of anti-immigration sentiment and law.

No contagious spread of disease was ever traced back to a patient who left the hospital, and most patients did eventually leave the hospital and start the new life they dreamed of.

The Place Matters banner on a door in the Director's House at the Quarantine Hospital at Ellis Island/ Loscotoff 2022

The History of Ellis Island

Originally, Ellis island was called Kioshk, or Gull Island, by the Mohican Native American Tribe living along the shore of the Hudson River. The island itself was a small sandbank lined with waterbirds. In the 1630s, a Dutchman named Michael Paauw purchased the island from the native people and renamed it Oyster Island for the shellfish beds surrounding it.

Through the turmoil of history and as the settler’s claim to this land was questioned and fought over, the ownership of the island itself continued to change hands. At one point it was called Gibbet Island in reference to the public execution of pirates hung there. In the 1780s Samuel Ellis came to own the island giving it the name it carries today, using it for recreation. Ellis sold it once again in 1988 for $3,200 to John A. Berry, the last private owner.

In 1808, the United States War Department bought the island for $10,000. There was fear due to rising tensions of the Napoleonic War and so the government purchased the island to become a fort, Fort Gibson, and be used as a line of defense to protect what is now Lower Manhattan. During the War of 1812, the British blocked the harbor but never attacked any of New York’s fortifications. Fort Gibson itself was used to jail prisoners of war.

The War of 1812 did not officially end until February of 1815 and Ellis Island was left deserted. In the 1830s, the island was used for storage of gunpowder and became a munitions dump during the Civil War. Its close proximity to both New York and New Jersey created fear through the possibility of the munitions being attacked or hit by lightning and causing devastation to the communities around it. In 1890, Congress passed legislation to clear the island of munitions and passed a bill for $75,000 to improve the island for purposes of immigration.

In 1847, the Irish Potato Famine sent approximately one million Irishmen to look for new homes. (The famine itself is estimated to have killed another million, the population of Ireland declined by approximately 25%.) Ellis Island was suggested as a place for immigrants to recover from their journey across the Atlantic, but New York decided instead to renovate Castle Clinton on the southern tip of Manhattan.

Immigration sign of the times, Ellis Island/ Loscotoff 2022
Many wanted to restrict immigration and wanted to limit who was allowed into the country.

Immigration, as it seems is always the case, became a conflicting issue for the people of the United States. On one hand, immigrants brought skilled workers, strong bodies, and an economy that could help strengthen the country. On the other hand, some saw immigrants and the hungry poor with contagious diseases that would strain the government through social support.

This became the foundation of immigration; who would be admitted and who would be denied.

Immigration Restrictions and when they were enacted/ Loscotoff 2022
Over the years, the rules became stricter and stricter.

In 1882, two laws were passed. The first banned all Chinese and denied citizenship to any Chinese already established in the country. The second law denied entry to “any convict, lunatic, idiot, or any person unable to care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge.”

In 1891, the law banned paupers, prostitutes, polygamists, or any person with a dangerous contagious disease.

In 1885, the Alien Contract Labor Law was passed. This law was meant to protect American workers from companies importing cheaper labor while protecting immigrants from manipulation. The law led to corruption within Castle Garden and embarrassment to the Federal government as stories of abuse were the headlines of the newspapers of the day.

Anti-immigration political cartoons, propaganda/ Loscotoff 2022
“The Fool Pied Piper”, Anti-immigration propaganda.
Anti-immigration politcal cartoons, propaganda/ Loscotoff 2022
“The High Tide of Immigration”, Anti-immigration propaganda

In 1890, the contract with the New York State immigration commissioners was terminated and immigration inspection was given to the federal government. An island was sought in an effort to keep separate anyone needing to be detained.

Governors island was chosen first, but the War Department refused. Chosen next was Bedloe Island where the Statue of Liberty stands. There was an ironic outcry; the public did not want “Europe’s garbage” to be put at Liberty’s feet.

Finally, Ellis Island was selected, despite the fact that the water was too shallow for boats to dock there.

Judge, a weekly satirical magazine published in the US from 1881-1947/ Loscotoff 2022
The building of a nation, made of immigrants. Judge, a weekly satirical magazine published 1881-1947

Ellis Island was doubled in size using ship ballast (heavy material placed low in a ship to maintain balance) as landfill; a deep ferry landing was built.

On January 1, 1892, Annie Moore, 15 years old from Ireland, was the first immigrant to enter Ellis Island. The building was designed to process 10,000 immigrants a day.

The depot quickly fell into disrepair and in 1897, a fire burned it to the ground.

Ellis Island Registry and main hospital/ Loscotoff 2022

In planning for a rebuild, a second island, attached by only a narrow connection, was planned. It would be built from landfill from the new subway system being developed in New York City. The main building was designed to process 500,000 immigrants a year, but immigration had slowed and only approximately 250,000 souls were arriving through New York annually.

The main (and current building) opened on December 17, 1900. In 1901, 389,000 immigrants came through the registration room. In 1907, immigration peaked when over one million came through. Between the 1840s and 1924 (when Congress instituted “ethnic quotas) approximately 34 million immigrants landed in the United States through Ellis Island.

Ships filled with immigrants sailed into the Upper Bay and were boarded around The Narrows. First-class (and sometimes second-class passengers) were inspected. It was generally assumed that if they could afford the ticket, they would not be a burden on society and were considered less likely to be carrying a dangerous and contagious disease.

These passengers did not have to go through Ellis Island immigration but disembarked before the rest of the passengers were taken via ferry to be inspected.

Third-class passengers were called “steerage”. The trip was often crowded and unsanitary in the bowels of the steamships; disease was common. These passengers were moved onto open-air ferries without toilets or medical care. Death by exposure was not uncommon. It is thought that of children arriving with measles, 30% died due to exposure on the ferries.

We like to think of a ferry as a quick trip across the bay, however, the bay was often filled with steamships, with thousands of passengers waiting to disembark. They were often left in steerage for days, waiting for their turn. The ferries then lined up, waiting to disembark at Ellis Island.

When the time came that an immigrant stepped foot on the island, carrying everything they owned, a number was pinned to their clothing identifying their position on the ship manifest. This allowed inspectors to know where they came from and whether they had a “right” to be there.

An average of 2% were denied entry. While that number may seem small, it is 2 of every 100 people, thousands over the course of a month.

The lines stretched from the docks and around the buildings, through baggage rooms, upstairs, and into the 2-story Registry Room. They were met by doctors who looked for any little sign of disability, even before the immigrant knew they were being watched. Children were taken from their mother’s arms and made to walk to be sure that they were able; they were asked their names to be sure that they could hear and speak.

Art Installation by French artist, JR. Immigrants climb the stairs at Ellis Island/ Loscotoff 2022
Installation of Immigrants ascending the stairs by French artist, JR.

Doctors checked for 60 different symptoms which would point to disease or disability. Two that I had never heard of, which were common at the time, were favus (a fungal infection of the scalp and nails) and trachoma (an eye infection from a strain of Chlamydia, which could lead to blindness and death in people living in the same home.)

Doctors checked every immigrant for trachoma by using a buttonhook or hairpin to flip back the eyelid looking for inflammation of the inner lid. These doctors were called “buttonhook men” and immigrants describe it as the most painful part of their inspection.

Immigrants with signs of illness or disability were marked with chalk on their clothing. They were taken to the Ellis Island main hospital for observation and care. More complicated illnesses were taken to the quartine hospital. When they recovered, they could continue to their legal inspection.

If they were incurable or disabled, they were returned to their country of origin at the expense of the steamship that brought them over. This put the responsibility on the ships to filter out who they brought to New York.

Beyond the chalk mark, people were marked with specific letters for specific conditions. Pregnant women were not allowed to leave Ellis Island until they had given birth; they were marked with Pg. (Over 350 babies were born on Ellis Island and there was some debate if these children were born American citizens.)

If an immigrant was thought to be feeble-minded (and approximately 9 out of every 100 immigrants were pulled out and detained) they were marked with an X and were required to go through further testing. These tests varied and included things like putting together a puzzle or counting. The tests varied as different cultural backgrounds did not work for each test.

After the medical inspection, immigrants wound in lines through the main part of the registry room for legal inspection. It took, on average, 5 hours to pass through the inspection process.

Inspectors stood with translators who worked to figure out that immigrant’s language and dialect. They verified information from the ship manifest, names were recorded with an attempt at spelling it correctly. (However, countries that do not use the Latin lettering system of English took some interpretation. My Russian last name would be translated from the Cyrillic alphabet which is why any spelling of Loscotoff is most likely related to my family in some way; Loscutoff, Loskotoff, Luskatov.) Inspectors asked questions that would identify where they would fit into this new society.

In 1917, immigrants began to be required to pass a literacy test in their own language, with many being required to read the Bible in their own language.

If an immigrant could not prove their right to be here, they were forced to attend a hearing. They were not allowed a lawyer as they were not legally entitled to come to the United States. They were, however, allowed to have friends and family speak on their behalf. Most were approved, those who were not could appeal to Washing DC and could hire a lawyer at this point.

Shoes of immigrant children, Ellis Island/ Loscotoff 2022

Women and children without guardians were not allowed to leave Ellis Island until a letter or ticket from a relative assured the government that they had a place to go. Single women were not allowed to leave with a man who was unrelated.

Immigration brides were common, with letters and pictures being sent across the sea. Men would crowd barges to meet bride ships, with brides holding up pictures to match to their fiances. Many of these couple married on Ellis Island in order to be allowed to leave. Women unhappy or who felt fooled by their choice were required to stay on the island until they could find a new husband or a woman’s charity came to their aid.

Immigrants sewing the American Flag/ Loscotoff 2022
Immigrant Women sewing the American Flag

After passing the medical and legal inspection, immigrants moved down from the registry room to the “Stairs of Separation” which led to their new lives; railroad ticket offices, meeting points with waiting families, and ferries to take them off the island.

Registry Room from Upstairs at Ellis Island/ Loscotoff 2022
Registry Room from the second story.

Due to the increase in laws against immigration, Ellis island came to a rapid decline in the early 1920s. After World War I, embassies around the world were established which took care of immigration paperwork and medical inspections. After 1924, Ellis island was used for war refugees and those having trouble with immigration paperwork. During WWII, it became a detention center and was managed by the United States Coast Guard until 1954.

Unfortunately, all hospital records on the island were destroyed while under the care of the Coast Guard.

Leaving Ellis Island heading to Lower Manhattan

We returned to New York City, now imagining what it would be to have sat on a boat in the bay, seeing this new world for the first time and not knowing if you would ever step foot there; not knowing if your family would be torn apart. As we boarded the subway, I imagined all this earth forming the foundation of three small islands in the bay, and how this dirt supported the immigration of America.

Leaving the subway in New York/ Loscotoff 2022
Panel from “Alice: the Way Out” by Liliana Porter, 50th street subway station.

YouTube Videos about Ellis Island

“Ellis” – a short film by French artist, JR

Forgotten Ellis Island – a short film by Laurie Conway, supported by Save Ellis Island

Our East Coast Journey

New Jersey – Day One

4th of July in Beach Haven, New Jersey

New Jersey Sunrise

Jaws and the New Jersey Maritime Museum

New York City and the 9/11 Memorial

The Statue of Liberty

Ellis Island Hard Hat Tour

A special thanks to the Ellis Island Official Tour book, “Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration” for much of the factual information about the island

Save Ellis Island

Save Ellis Island Current Exhibit – Unframed Ellis Island by JR

Jewish History Museum Acquires Sculpture Models of Ellis Island’s Powerful Monument to Immigrants

Wall of Honor – Celebrating Dreams of a New Life

Trachoma

Favus

Post-Peak Immigration Years at Ellis Island

Alice & Her Wonderful Pals Subway Art by Liliana Porter

The Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty viewed from a boat in the bay/ Loscotoff 2022

As we rode the escalator up from the depths of the 9/11 memorial, the crowds outside had dispersed and the guards were beginning to place the barriers around the fountains. Being such large landmarks, I assumed they were lit and available to anyone walking by all night. I suppose, for the same reasons, they also become targets of grief and damage, and so ropes go up and officers stand guard.

We decided to continue south, first to Trinity Church and the burial place of Alexander and Eliza Hamilton (surrounded by many of the important figures of American history) and then to Battery Park to see the Statue of Liberty.

Trinity Church stands amongst the towering modern city skyscrapers of Wallstreet. The first Trinity Church was built facing the Hudson River in 1698 but was destroyed in the Great New York Fire of 1776. The second Trinity Church was built in the same spot but facing Wall Street and was finished in 1790. Heavy snow showed the church to have structural problems and in 1839 was taken down on the recommendation of the architect, John Upjohn. Upjohn designed the third church in the same location in a Gothic Revival style. It was built between 1839 and 1846.

Trinity Church stood as the tallest building in the United States until 1869 and the tallest in New York until 1890.

Imagine that world; this church stood as a focus amongst the earthly challenges, the roads muddy with important figures walking to service, sitting amongst the pews. It rose up, giving early Americans hope for something greater. Now Wall Street looms and we continue to look up.

You can almost imagine Alexander Hamilton, in his grave, looking up at the monetary system he created.

Those buried in the churchyard here include early U.S. representatives, signers of the Constitution, Revolutionary War generals, senators, inventors, abolitionists, lawyers, as well as Alexander, Eliza, and Phillip Hamilton, Angelica Schuyler, and Hercules Mulligan.

Tombstones of Alexander Hamilton and Eliza
Alexander and Eliza Hamilton’s Tombstones

Leaving Trinity Church, we continued walking a few blocks down to Battery Park. Artillery batteries were built here in the late 17th century to protect the settlements that became lower Manhattan.

It is surprising when you walk into these green spaces after being in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world. Dogs play, people read in the grass, and birds drink from drinking fountains.

And there, in the distance, was the Statue of Liberty.

My first reaction was that she was much smaller than I expected her to be. Perhaps it was being surrounded by such tall buildings, but she looked petite and unassuming with monstrous cranes standing taller than she did on the horizon.

The ferries came in and out over the choppy waves and she stood, resolute. We would be taking Statue City Cruises out first thing in the morning to explore her island and then to explore the damaged quarantine hospital at Ellis Island.

From this point at the tip of Manhattan, you can see the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Governors Island, Brooklyn, the Hudson River, Staten Island, Jersey City, and Newark Airport.

The Statue of Liberty viewed from Battery Park/ Loscotoff 2022

We made our way north on the subway to our hotel which stood half a block from Times Square.

Getting off a subway in New York can be disorienting. Without a good sense of cardinal directions, you have to look for street numbers and whether you are on a street or an avenue. It takes trial and error, walking to the next corning and checking each sign.

Our hotel stood next to Times Square and at this time in the evening, it had become full of people jostling their way through crowded sidewalks. The smell of marijuana was often overwhelming as mobile pot trucks were parked along the streets. If you walk a block away from Times Square, the sidewalks sit empty.

We tried to find food beyond the food carts on every corner. Trying to eat without gluten makes it harder for me to eat easily. In our search, we realized our hotel was physically connected to the FOX news studios. You could see the sets and the lights inside.

Another unique aspect of NYC is how unhidden life is. You can watch a show through a window being filmed. Broadway theaters are smaller and more intimate. Actors walk the street to get to their broadway call times before a show.

Living in California, everything is spread out. There is more isolation in our way of living. The movie studios sit behind large gates and huge sets.

Our hotel, the Plaza Riu, stood off Times Square and Broadway. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so high within a hotel, where you can feel the sway when you arrive at your room. It was beautiful and intimidating.

New York at night from Hotel Riu/ Loscotoff 2022
A reflection on one of the buildings from Times Square from our hotel room.

In the morning, I almost forgot what city and country I was in. Our breakfast was provided by the hotel and our view was that of the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, built in 1868. You could almost imagine yourself in Europe, although my experience of Europe is less blending of old and new.

We made our way to Battery Park and the Statue City Cruises. We were on one of the first ferries of the day, with tickets to a hard hat tour on Ellis Island at noon. You are first required to move through security, similar to that of airlines with metal detectors and x-ray machines.

We made our way to the top of the ferry and looked out over Upper New York Bay. When the ferry was full, we set off across the water to the Statue of Liberty. The ferry moves to the east side of the small island and docks on the south side. There is also a ferry from New Jersey and they criss-cross paths as they lead to their destination.

Aboard the Statue City Cruises/Loscotoff 2022
Leaving Battery Park in Lower Manhattan aboard the Statue City Cruises

Due to Covid, walking into the body of the Statue is still closed, however, you can purchase tickets to the base that she stands on. While certainly she stands tall, seeing people at her feet, you gain a perspective of her size. She is not as large as the image I see in my head.

Image of the Statue of Liberty from the front/ Loscotoff 2022
People just below the Statue of Liberty’s green base give a perspective of size.

Behind the Statue of Liberty is a small park and further back on the island is a 26,000-square-foot museum dedicated to her, how she was built, and her relationship with France. When we walk in, there is a movie running in three parts: The Immersive Theater-The Story of an Icon. You walk through a circular theater, stopping and sitting for each part.

Leaving the theater, you enter a replica of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s studio, where he built the Statue of Liberty through forms and models. You get an idea of the work that went into such a large undertaking as well as being able to see the original copper color of the design.

A model of the inside space of the Statue of Liberty/ Loscotoff 2022
A model showing the human walking spaces within Liberty. Currently open is only the base and not the spiral staircase that moves up through her body and into her head.

From the museum itself, you look out over the Statue of Liberty as she faced the ships of immigrants on their journey to the United States. It’s hard to imagine the number of ships she saw only a bit more than 100 years ago.

That story is actually much more complex than we are often taught, with views towards immigration at the time very similar to views of immigration now. I’m going to talk more about this next week as we make our way to Ellis Island.

Photo of the space behind the Statue of Liberty/ Loscotoff 2022
The area behind the Statue of Liberty, what we don’t see.

After walking around the island, amazed by the views of New York and New Jersey, exploring the Statue of Liberty Museum, and appreciating Liberty’s story, we indulged in ice cream and boarded the ferry for the short trip to Ellis Island.

The ferry again traveled around the east side of the island, giving us a beautiful view of what many of our immigrant family members saw as they made their way to a new home.

The next stop was, for me, essential to our trip to New York; Ellis Island.

Statue of Liberty viewed from a boat in the bay/ Loscotoff 2022
A comparison of size, people at Liberty’s base.

Thank you, dear readers, for sticking with me this long. I’ll be writing about my favorite part of our New York trip this next week. I hope you’ll join me in seeing the hidden parts of Ellis Island.

Our Journeys

New Jersey Day One

4th of July in Beach Haven, New Jersey

New Jersey Sunrise

Jaws and the New Jersey Maritime Museum

New York City and the 9/11 Museum

Links

Captain James Lawrence

The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin

Manhattan’s Art of the Dead (Trinity Church Gravestones)

Great Fire of New York (1776)

Trinity Church Wall Street

Trinity Church Cemetery

Hotel Riu Plaza Manhatten

The Statue of Liberty Museum

Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation

360 degree virtual visit to the Statue of Liberty Museum

New York City and the 9/11 Memorial

A flower for your birthday, 9/11 memorial / Loscotoff 2022

One last night in New Jersey as the sun set and the moon appeared through a rainbow of clouds. In the morning we were headed to New York City, two days and a single night, and two very important places that I have always felt drawn to visit; the 9/11 Memorial Museum and Ellis Island.

There is an ease to traveling on the East Coast. We left Beach Haven and made our way to the mainland, driving north to Toms River. You can catch a bus into New York City for approximately $25 each way. We headed up the Garden State Parkway, past the Newark Airport, through the deep Holland Tunnel (your ears adjusting to the sudden change in pressure) and suddenly you find yourself surrounded by enormous buildings and no sense of direction.

Stepping off the bus at Port Authority and seeing Saks Fifth Ave/ Loscotoff 2022
Saks Fifth Ave

We were dropped off at Port Authority. Stepping out, I found myself overwhelmed by the immensity of it all. New York feels big, it feels alive and ever-moving. There is a feeling of old and new as skyscrapers stretch tall next to historic cathedrals. There is also a sense of how small we are.

I recently spoke to a friend and she described her first visit to New York City filling her with possibility; everything she could be. This, my first visit to New York City, made me feel lost.

I generally have a wonderful sense of direction; perhaps it is in my connection to the moonrise and the sunset. I know where I stand based on the turning of the earth. In New York, I felt like an ant among these giants with no connection to the earth. The buildings blocked my view of the horizon.

Given time, I imagine I would learn landmarks and discover where I fit on this island, but these days, I felt confused and overwhelmed. So many moments of certainty that I was heading in the right direction, only to discover I was going the wrong way.

We dropped our bags off at our hotel (more on that next week) and Pat, our New Jersey hostess began to show us around. She would be sending us on our way in a few hours, but for the time being, she gave us a grasp on the city.

So many landmarks are pressed together on this small strip of land; Times Square is around the corner from Rockefeller Center which is across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral which is around the corner from the Rockettes and a few streets from Broadway and all of this is down the street from Central Park.

Before this trip, I didn’t understand that it was all so close.

Outside of St. Patrick's Cathedral/ Loscotoff 2022
St. Andrew’s Cathedral

We found our way to St. Andrew’s Cathedral, bordered by 5th and Madison Ave. The cathedral began being built in 1858 and construction stopped during the Civil War, finally being completed in 1879. It is the largest Gothic Revival Catholic Cathedral in North America.

When you see architecture like this amongst the modern buildings, you are reminded of the antiquity of New York’s history. Having had the opportunity to travel through parts of Europe, New York is unique in its blend of old and new, neighbors within history.

Europe has a tendency to keep the old with the old. New York seems to keep a bit of the old and then grow bigger on what no longer serves them.

St. Andrew’s is beautiful with its sculpture and mosaic and stained glass windows. Walking inside, you could imagine that you are no longer within the United States, but rather wandering through a European city. It is a surprise to your senses when you step outside into the shadows of glass and steel.

Pat needed a quick visit to the Apple Store before her own journey to Scotland (which you can read about through her journals here). Never before have I seen such a beautiful Apple Store. Having left the Gothic history of St. Andrew’s, here we enter the modern world of technology today.

You enter through a large glass facade that reflects the buildings around it. You are met by security before spiraling down two stories through a twisting staircase lined with plants and mirrors. The large underground room spreads out, decorated with living trees and open space and a multitude of tables and products and assistants.

It feels futuristic while familiar.

After Apple, we walked across the street with Pat and into Central Park. Central Park deserves more than the tiny bit of time we were able to give it. We boarded a horse-drawn carriage and took a short 20-min ride through the southern tip of the park.

Central Park is lined by the silhouette of the city but allows the world to stretch out, allowing you a moment of grounding. Couples cuddle at the base of trees, children run on the paths, there are bicyclists, and there is music from street performers all as background to the clomping feet of the carriage horse.

We made our way from Central Park and said our goodbyes as Pat headed back to New Jersey and we made our way via New York Subway to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

I remember not understanding the underground in Paris as a high school student on a choir trip. I sat and cried in confusion. Thankfully, New York subways are fairly clear. Technology has made it easier, plugging your destination in through your map, your phone will walk you to the nearest entrance and tell you your approximate wait time. Not only that, your phone will pay the entrance fee. You no longer need to buy tickets unless you prefer the way the paper feels between your fingers.

We exited the Subway and turned to see the enormous fountain memorials dedicated to those lost on 9/11, a memorial to the world that changed on that day.

I think we all remember where we were when the Twin Towers fell. It has been said that 9/11 was our generation’s Pearl Harbor.

I woke up that morning; my alarm was a morning comedy talk show. The first tower had been hit 14 minutes earlier. Coming from sleep, I was trying to understand if this was a story they were telling. I couldn’t make clear sense of what they were doing. And then, 3 minutes after I awoke, the second airplane hit. Suddenly, everything within me sunk.

Memorial at the South Tower

I had been staying at my parent’s at the time and I ran in to turn on their TV. They could see that something terrible had happened by the look on my face.

We stood, watching the screen, paralyzed, as Flight 77 hit the pentagon.

And then, an hour later, the South Tower fell.

My heart felt like it shattered as I understood all the lives that were lost at that moment. All the families torn apart at that moment. The weight of our world changed in a few short hours on the morning of September 11th.

Three minutes later, Flight 93 crashed into a Pennsylvania field.

How many more planes were in the air? How many more people had to die on this day? How many more families would be ravaged in these moments?

26 minutes later, the North Tower collapsed.

I was a second-grade teacher. Our school district did not shut down. How do you continue to act like this is just another day when you are so overcome with grief for what has just happened? How do you continue to teach when your students are afraid to be away from their parents?

We kept the television off in the classroom, but internally, all I wanted to do was watch and understand and be updated. I wanted to cry and scream and grieve for the people killed on that day.

And so, if we did anything in New York, the 9/11 Memorial was a place I needed to visit.

In the footprints of both buildings are fountains lined with the names of those who died. The water tumbles and sparkles like the lives that were lost. The water comes together and then falls again into a dark shadow that we can’t see.

As you move into the museum, you move down, deeper and deeper, below the heavy fortress of the water memorials. Underneath these huge fountain footprints are the stories of the people who lived and died on 9/11.

Something we often don’t hear about at the site of the World Trade Center is “The Bathtub”. The Bathtub is a 7-story dam that covers 9 blocks and was built down to bedrock to allow the Twin Towers to be built, protecting them from the Hudson River. The earth removed from this space was used to build Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhatten.

When the Twin Towers were hit and then collapsed, there was a chance that these slurry walls would break and flood Lower Manhatten, filling the Path Tunnels which carry trains under the Hudson river between New York and New Jersey. Thousands more would have died.

Engineers and firefighters worked tirelessly, pumping water and securing these walls after the Twin Towers fell and during rescue operations. The original walls stood.

The Survivor’s Staircase was the last visual structure above ground after the Twin Towers fell. It served as an evacuation point for hundreds of evacuees from 5 World Trade Center.

Ladder 3 at the 9/11 Memorial / Loscotoff 2022
Ladder Company 3

Ladder Company 3 was in the middle of a shift change when the first tower was struck. Both tours of men went together to the North Tower and made their way up, helping as many as possible. They were on the 35th floor when the North Tower Collapsed, leaving Ladder Company 3 with some of the most losses of any New York Fire department. Their firetruck was crushed as the tower fell.

On May 30th, 2002, the last column was removed from the site of the World Trade Centers. It was anchored in bedrock and supported the South Tower’s inner core. It was located near the south tower lobby, where first responders had been last reported. It was physically marked through recovery efforts as a landmark in searching for survivors and became a landmark of loss after the remains of FDNY Squad 41 were found there.

The Twin Towers and the Bathtub were built deep into the bedrock. The museum allows you to see these structures as you make your way into the far corners of the memorial.

Two twisted beams of steel hang in the 9/11 Memorial Museum and they are identified in the photo after the plane hit the North Tower. The destruction becomes tangible when you see and understand the power that can dissolve steel into dust.

Image of where the metal came from 9/11 memorial / Loscotoff 2022
The Angel of Peace at the 9/11 memorial, the base is made of melted weapons/ Loscotoff 2022
The Angle of Peace by Lin Evola – the base is made from melted weapons.
A mosaic wall in the 9/11 memorial, a quote by Virgil/ Loscotoff 2022
A flower for your birthday, 9/11 memorial / Loscotoff 2022
A rose for your birthday. Every morning, 9/11 memorial staff put out white roses to honor the birthdays of those killed in the attacks on the twin towers.

Standing to the south of the 9/11 memorial is the One World Trade Center, the main building within the rebuilt complexes around the 9/11 museum. It stands as the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the seventh tallest building in the world. It stands at 1,776 feet tall, which was deliberate in connecting to when the Declaration of Independence was signed.

What captivated me about the One World Trade Center is how it was created to reflect the sky around it. While ever present in its height, it also disappears into the blue, allowing the clouds to echo on its surface.

The new World Trade Center - One World Trade Center/ Loscotoff 2022
The new world trade center – One World Trade Center – mimics the sky around it.

I leave you here today, dear readers. Thank you for coming on this journey with me. We stayed in the museum until it closed and then continued our walk south. That will be a story for next week.

Links

9/11 Memorial and Museum Exhibitions

“The Bathtub” – Foundation of the World Trade Centers

Story Behind the Last Column’s First Markings

Interpreting the Last Column: The Stories Behind the Markings

The Angel of Peace

Timeline of the 9/11 Attacks – The Miller Center

Survivor’s Staircase, 9/11

The Bathtub. Lower Manhattan’s Wall Against Water – Forbes

White Rose Signifies Remembrance of 9/11 Victim’s Birthdays

Pilgrimage: Inside New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral

St Patrick’s Cathedral, NY, NY – official site

Pat Trotter Photography – Scottish Journals

Our East Coast Journey 2022

How this trip began – New Jersey Day One

4th of July in Beach Haven, New Jersey

New Jersey Sunrise

Jaws and the New Jersey Maritime Museum

Sign up for my weekly newsletter here