I'm the Co-founder and CEO of The Grommet. We launch undiscovered consumer products. It's also the birthplace of Citizen Commerce. I write about design, cultural anthropology, and start-ups, mostly.

Real Deal Road Trip No. 21 : Hard Hat Tour of Ellis Island

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On a quick reunion trip to New York, a subset of my high school besties took advantage of a new Hard Hat Tour of Ellis Island.  If you like a rare opportunity to see a historical treasure in its “before” state, I highly recommend it. The walking tour focusses on the abandoned hospital buildings, including wards, staff residences, the autopsy and laundry facilities, and the grounds. The complex is extensive and at the peak of its operation in the early 20th century, this 750 bed hospital was considered state of the art.

I was surprised to learn of the quality of care and that only about 2% of entering immigrants were detained for medical reasons. 60% of those detainees were released to their new country and the unfortunate 40% with diseases like tuberculosis were deported. The shipping companies paid for their return passage–because they had contracted to screen the immigrants back in their home country. The vast majority of entrants were only on the island for an average of five hours.

The hospital pictures can tell the rest, here.

A typical hospital corridor, with great emphasis on natural light and airflow.

A typical hospital corridor, with great emphasis on natural light and airflow.

 

Bee, Donna, and Raquel looking game at the start of the 90 minute adventure.

Bee, Donna, and Raquel looking game, at the start of the 90 minute adventure.

 

The autopsy theater

The autopsy theater

 

Cold storage for cadavers.

Cold storage for cadavers.

 

The French artist JR has masterfully applied actual photos of Ellis Island immigrants onto the decaying surfaces. I loved the story about this woman. When she met a US official he asked her a standard question to test her mental acuity. "If you are hired to clean stairs, is it correct to start cleaning at the top or the bottom." This feisty person answered, "Sir, I did not come to America to clean stairs." She passed the test with flying colors.

The French artist JR has masterfully applied actual photos of Ellis Island immigrants onto the decaying surfaces. I loved the story about this woman. When she met a US official he asked her a standard question to test her mental acuity. “If you are hired to clean stairs, is it correct to start cleaning at the top or the bottom?” This feisty person answered, “Sir, I did not come to America to clean stairs.” She passed the test with flying colors.

 

Much of the original equipment is still intact, including this laundry room installation. More than 3,000 pieces of laundry were cleaned daily.

Much of the original equipment is still intact, including this laundry room installation. More than 3,000 pieces of laundry were cleaned daily.

The autoclave for mattresses. Seriously.

The autoclave for mattresses. Seriously.

 

Always, lots of natural light.

Always, lots of natural light.

 

Another JR photo application. These were kids with infectious diseases like ringworm, getting a pretty brutal treatment involving covering their heads with paste and scraping it off, removing all their hair along with the offending tissue/invasive parasites.

Another JR photo application. These were kids with infectious diseases like ringworm. They are unhappily getting a pretty brutal treatment involving covering their heads with paste and scraping it off, removing all their hair along with the offending tissue/invasive parasites.

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Another piece of JR art

Another piece of JR art

Me, Raquel, Donna and Bee, grateful to this immigrant woman and the Irish, Mexican, West African and British immigrants who brought the future "us" to these shores.

Me, Raquel, Donna and Bee, grateful to this immigrant woman and the Irish, Mexican, West African and British immigrants–respectively– who brought the future “us” to these shores.

One can only imagine what our family members felt when they saw this statue from Ellis Island.

One can only imagine what our family members felt when they saw Lady Liberty from Ellis Island.

6 Responses to “Real Deal Road Trip No. 21 : Hard Hat Tour of Ellis Island”

  1. Pedasi Pundit

    As an Immigrant, but to the port of Long Beach in 1947 at age 5, all I remember was coming through the Panama Canal and giving one of the workers a piece of fruit. Now I live in Pedasi, Panama (5 hours from PC and the canal) and have followed the construction and dedication of the “New” canal.

    Reply
  2. Kathleen

    Thanks, Julie, I’ll add the “Hard Hat Tour” to my NYC wishlist. My g-grandmother immigrated from Ireland around 1868 and I’d love to view the new world as she did.

    Reply
  3. Claudia

    Fascinating! I did a similar tour in Sydney, Australia after dark by lantern…adding to the effect!

    Reply
    • julespieri

      This was slightly spooky in midday. I can’t imagine doing it by lantern. In fact the Parks Service prohibits any visits after the last tour at, I believe, 2:30. They want to discourage ghost tourists or some such thing our guide mentioned.

      Reply

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