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Visitors will now be able to take a

Visitors will now be able to take a look inside the Ellis Island Hospital Complex. (Credit: Nina Ruggiero)

landmarks

Secrets of the Ellis Island Hospital Complex

Jersey City, NY 07305

The pure, untouched memories of immigrant life are still very much alive on the south side of Ellis Island, sitting quietly inside the decaying walls of the Ellis Island Hospital Complex.

Vines peek through broken windows, and original floorboards peel from their foundation. Doors hang from their hinges and old paint fades into cracks in the walls. It's a ghost hunter's paradise and a photographer's dream. But for Save Ellis Island President Janis Calella, it's about preserving history. "Once buildings like this are gone, you can never get them back again," she says, standing in the shadows of boarded windows in the same infectious disease ward hallway she's visited hundreds of times since beginning her work with the foundation in 1999.

"When I first saw the buildings, they had trees growing through them and weeds growing in the hallways," she said. "It was confusing to me to think about why something as important as Ellis Island was left to decay the way it did." And that's why Calella and her team, along with the National Park Service, have worked tirelessly ever since to help bring the forgotten treasure back into the public eye.

Starting Oct. 1, the complex, a state of the art hospital for its time where 1.2 million immigrants were treated for illnesses ranging from scarlet fever to measles, where about 350 babies were born and about 3,500 people died, will be made accessible to the public for the first time, starting with four tours a day on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, by appointment. "It's a very exciting time for us," Calella said. "...You get the feeling that you're going back in history."

Should you feel inclined to take a trip through time yourself, you'll find plenty to explore, and get an up-close look at artist JR's "Unframed - Ellis Island," a series of historic photographs placed organically throughout the building, perhaps in some of the same spots they were taken long ago, raising the volume on the story the walls were already whispering on their own.

Each tour accommodates 10 people and runs for 90 minutes. Tickets can be purchased through State Cruises for $25. But first, here's a peek inside.

The tour begins in one emotion-filled hallway, where

Credit: Nina Ruggiero

Path to the unknown

The tour begins in one emotion-filled hallway, where cleared immigrants were brought to wait for a ferry to the "New World," and sick ones to the hospital complex, their fates unknown.

Once visitors enter the hospital, they'll find long corridors strategically built to prevent germ flow.

It's difficult to picture these dark, forgotten walkways filled with busy doctors and nurses caring for patients from all over the world, but the feeling that these halls have stories to tell is undeniably in the air.

French artist JR's century-old photographs inconspicuously blend into

Credit: Nina Ruggiero

Art comes alive

French artist JR's century-old photographs inconspicuously blend into their surroundings, yet bring the history of Ellis Island to life. Visitors will spot the faces of surgeons, nurses and patients peeking out from the walls, doors, stairways and windows of the building.

Scarlet fever was a killer of children during

Credit: Nina Ruggiero

Misery without company

Scarlet fever was a killer of children during the infectious disease hospital's operation, and measles ran rampant. Tuberculosis and trachoma were also major threats.

Have no fear, the pathogens are long gone, but visitors will still feel for patients with rare diseases, who were quarantined in lonely isolation rooms, some never knowing if they'd recover or find the money to pay for treatment. If they failed to do either, they'd be sent on the next ship back home.

When Save Ellis Island president Janis Calella first

Credit: Nina Ruggiero

Outside looks in

When Save Ellis Island president Janis Calella first observed the hospital complex in 1999, it was in the process of being swallowed by nature. Weeds were growing in the floors, and poison ivy and other aggressive plants were making their way through the windows.

After some clean-up, the place is in much better shape, but you'll still catch plenty of greenery peeking in through broken windows and open doors.

It is recorded that 3,500 people died on

Credit: Nina Ruggiero

Ghosts of immigrants past

It is recorded that 3,500 people died on Ellis Island. No bodies were buried there, but visitors will still get a creepy feeling when they enter the hospital morgue, which is build with an elevated platform so other doctors could watch and learn from each autopsy performed.

Laundry was a job reserved for the men,

Credit: Nina Ruggiero

The dirty work

Laundry was a job reserved for the men, with heavy loads for both the general hospital and the infectious disease hospital being washed and starched by hand. Of the two machines used at Ellis Island, one still remains.

Down every hall, you'll find old doors, many

Credit: Nina Ruggiero

Secrets to discover

Down every hall, you'll find old doors, many off their hinges, beckoning you to explore the rooms they've been guarding for generations.

Immigrants were treated for psychiatric issues at Ellis

Credit: Nina Ruggiero

Doctor's orders

Immigrants were treated for psychiatric issues at Ellis Island, as well. While they weren't left free to roam the hospital grounds, they were permitted on this enclosed porch-like structure to get some fresh air during their stay.

Is there anything with as high a creepy-cool

Credit: Nina Ruggiero

Stairways to history

Is there anything with as high a creepy-cool factor as old, creaky, abandoned staircases? Stay off them, unless following your tour guide, of course, but be sure to take a closer look (and listen for any other-worldly footsteps, if you believe in that sort of thing).

Pillars and more elegant fixtures lead to

Credit: Nina Ruggiero

Luxe living

Pillars and more elegant fixtures lead to the once stand-alone staff house, where some of the hospital's top surgeons and doctors lived with their families.

While their relatively luxurious living quarters included two floors and fireplaces, the nurses lived dormitory-style on the island.

The view of lower Manhattan from the staff

Credit: Nina Ruggiero

Views of the 'New World'

The view of lower Manhattan from the staff house kitchen window, left, would have looked very different the last time someone cooked there. The view from the living room, right, however, remains a constant reminder of the promise of freedom the city holds.

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