Between 1892 and 1924, approximately 12 million of men, women, and children first set foot on U.S. soil at Ellis Island - federal immigration facility. In all, by the time Ellis Island closed for good in 1954, it had processed the ancestors of more than 40% of Americans living today. The island's main building, now a national monument, reopened in 1990 as the Ellis Island Immigration Museum.
Today there are more than 30 galleries here with artifacts, photographs, and taped oral histories chronicling the immigrant experience. In the main Registry Room, inspectors once attempted to screen out "undesirables": polygamists, criminals, destitute people, and people suffering from contagious diseases. The cavernous Great Hall, where immigrants awaited processing, has gorgeous tile arches by Rafael Guastavino; white-tile dormitory rooms overlook this grand space. The Railroad Ticket Office at the back of the main building houses exhibits on the Peopling of America, recounting 400 years of immigration history, and Forced Migration, focusing on the slave trade. The old kitchen and laundry building has been stabilized rather than restored so you can see what the island's buildings looked like prior to the restoration.
There is also a children's visitor center and the Immigrants' Living Theatre, where immigrant stories are dramatically presented. Perhaps the most moving exhibit is the American Immigrant Wall of Honor, where the names of more than 500,000 immigrant Americans are inscribed along an outdoor promenade overlooking the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. The names include Miles Standish, Priscilla Alden, George Washington's grandfather, Irving Berlin - and possibly an ancestor of yours. In 1998 the Supreme Court ruled that about 90% of Ellis Island is in New Jersey.