Immigration

Island of Hope Island of Tears – A Documentary About Immigration & Ellis Island

Enjoy this free National Park Service film directed by Charles Guggenheim, starring Gene Hackman, and produced by the National Park Service in 1989.

Island of Hope – Island of Tears is a short film, which is about 29 minutes in length. This film is in the public domain:

Ellis Island was the port of entry for millions of European immigrants from 1892-1954, . This interesting documentary weaves a narration and archival footage to tell a moving story of families with dreams of opportunity who left their homes with only what they could carry.

Ellis Island, located in New York Harbor, served as a port of entry, between 1892-1954, for millions of European immigrants hoping for a new life in America.

Government records reveal that nearly 15 million people, principally from Southern and Eastern Europe, passed through Ellis Island.

The gateway of Ellis Island originally covered about 3 acres.  Over the years, however, it expanded to about 28 acres with the help of excess dirt from the construction of New York City’s subway system.  The first immigration station was built of wood and opened in 1892 and was destroyed by fire in 1897.  The second immigration station opened three years later.

Before it became an immigration-processing facility, Ellis Island was known for its large amount of oyster beds.  During the time that Dutch and English colonials occupied nearby territory, the place was known as “Oyster Island.”  Local Native-Americans called it “Kioshk” or Gull Island.

A man named Samuel Ellis purchased the island in the 1770s.  Over the years, it would change from a sandy island, to a place frequented by pirates, to a harbor fort, known as Gibson, to an immigration portal.

First opened to the public on a limited basis, in 1976, it has since undergone a major restoration which began in 1984.  The main building, now known as the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, was open to the public in September of 1990.  It is estimated that about 2 million people visit Ellis Island every year.

On May 20, 2015 the Ellis Island Immigration Museum was renamed the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration which coincided with the opening of the new Peopling of America galleries, which tells the entire story of American immigration including before and after the Ellis Island era.

The Wall of Honor outside of the main building contains a partial list of immigrants processed on the island. Inclusion on the list is made possible by a donation to support the facility. In 2008 the museum’s library was officially named Bob Hope Memorial Library in honor of one the station’s most famous immigrants.

Interesting Facts About Ellis Island:

  • Since the passage of the “Steerage Act of 1819”, passenger manifests have been required for all arriving vessels to be delivered to the U.S. Government and reported to Congress. This document, used for inspection at Ellis Island, has become an important starting point in researching family history.
  • Ellis Island’s south side contains 25 buildings that are mostly unrestored. These structures included general hospitals, isolation and psychiatric facilities for immigrants needing treatment or isolation. The U.S. Public Health Service staffed these facilities during the station’s operation.
  • Many government agencies have administered the Ellis Island immigration depot. The Bureau of Immigration, later called the Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS), inspected immigrants. The agency was restructured in 2003 under the new Department of Homeland Security and is now 3 entities : U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Citizenship and Immigration Services.
  • Most Americans remember Bob Hope for his work in the entertainment business as a comedian, actor, dancer and singer, as well as his work with the American troops abroad. Few people know that Bob Hope was an immigrant from England who came here with his family and passed inspection at Ellis Island on March 30, 1908, at the age of 5.
  • Ellis Island was added as part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument in 1965 by Presidential Proclamation. The main building was re-opened in September 1990 as the national museum of immigration after what was considered at the time, the largest restoration project in American history.
  • During the island’s 62 years of operation, over 12 million immigrants were processed at Ellis Island, including quite a few who went on to become famous such as: Frank Capra, Bela Lugosi, Baron Von Trapp, Irving Berlin, Max Factor, Claudette Colbert, Rudolph Valentino, Igor Sikorsky and Bob Hope.
  • Annie Moore was the first immigrant processed at Ellis Island on January 1, 1892, after she arrived from Ireland on the SS Nevada. Charles Hendley of the Secretary of the Treasury’s office inspected Annie, she was then given a $10 gold coin by Immigration Superintendent Colonel John Weber.
  • From 1910 to 1940, the Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco Bay processed approximately 1 million Asian immigrants entering into the US, leading to it sometimes being referred to as “The Ellis Island of the West”. Due to the restrictions of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, many immigrants spent years on the island, waiting for entry. Access to the island is by private boat or public ferry from San Francisco, Tiburon or Vallejo. Ferry services are reduced during the winter.
  • In its time, Ellis Island was the busiest federal immigration station in America. In 1907, Ellis Island processed 1,004,756 immigrants, a record number for the Immigration stations. April 17, 1907 was the Island’s busiest day, when 11,747 immigrants were processed. Today, the US Customs and Border Protection processes over 700,000 visitors daily through 326 official Ports of Entry.

Important Dates:

  • 1890, Congress appropriates $75,000 to build an immigration station at Ellis Island.
  • January 1, 1892, The immigration station at Ellis Island officially opens.
  • June 15, 1897, Fire destroys station and records of immigrants back to 1840.
  • December 1900, The new and currently standing main building opens at a cost of $1.5 million.
  • 1907, Ellis Island has peak number of immigrants arrive.

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