New York 2017 Stories

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Main entrance to the hospital

View of the grounds as we entered

Tour begins in one of the improved areas

“The Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital, also known as USPHS Hospital #43, was the United States’ first public health hospital, opened in 1902 and operating as a hospital until 1930. Constructed in phases, the facility encompassed both a general hospital and a separate pavilion style contagious disease hospital.

The hospital served as a detention facility for new immigrants who were deemed unfit to enter the United States after their arrival; immigrants would either be released from the hospital to go on to a new life in America or sent back to their home countries. The hospital was one of the largest public health hospitals in United States history and is still viewed today as an extraordinary endeavor in the public health field.

While the monument is managed by the National Park Service as part of the National Parks of New York Harbor office, the south side of Ellis Island has been off-limits to the general public since its closing. Efforts to restore the hospital buildings and others on the island are being made by government partner Save Ellis Island. In October 2014, the hospital opened to the public for small group hard hat tours.”

Wikipedia

The Wiki article linked above gives a good introduction to the history of the hospital. It has been closed to the public for many years. About four years ago a non-profit began giving “hardhat” tours to raise money for renovations which will cost 100s of millions we were told. The building is not only in great disrepair but was severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. 

There are still many areas we could not tour because of toxic substances or danger from areas needing reinforcement. Our tour guide was very knowledgable about the history of the hospital as well as great factoids about medical history at the turn of the century.

The hospital was a state of the art medical facility with 18 wards focused on different illnesses or injuries each having a unique staff. They developed many techniques for sterilization and infection prevention that were extraordinary for the time.

The additional wonderful surprise for me and my daughter (who was a photojournalist for many years and continues to work as a photo editor) were the extraordinary photos of the artist named JR. He created very large reproductions of photos of immigrants and has affixed them in various places throughout the hospital. They are applied with wheat paste, so eventually they will disintegrate or disappear.

Some of them are ghostly, some look like the people are there. For me, they are similar to the Tibetan Buddhist Sand Mandalas which are emblematic of the fragility and temporary nature of life.

You can see my captures of his work in the gallery below as well as images of the remaining artifacts in the hospital. I strongly encourage you to take this tour if you go to New York. Be advised that it will be very cold in winter and hot in summer since they have only a couple of rooms with HVAC. 

Note on images: best viewed on computer or tablet. Click an image to enlarge or view slideshow.

Click the images to enlarge or see full screen.

The hallway narrows from one end to the other to create a “wind tunnel” to draw out air for ventilation. This was one of their techniques for reducing infection.

This is  a fire hose reel. They sprayed the floors and walls with a Lysol solution every day to reduce infection.

JR photo of immigrants on wall near stairs.

JR photo of immigrants surrounding a window.

Hospital Tour Gallery

JR’s Photos

Tour Information and Tickets

Ticket price includes:

  • Ferry Ticket and Guided Tour.
  • 90 minute Guided tour of the unrestored Ellis Island immigrant hospital buildings.
  • “Unframed – Ellis Island,” Art Exhibit by renowned French artist JR on display throughout the hospital complex with installations on 16 interior walls.

Guided 90-minute tours will take you to select areas of the 750-bed Ellis Island Hospital, including infectious and contagious disease wards, kitchen and the mortuary and autopsy room. At its peak of operation in the early 20th century, this was the largest Public Health Service facility in the United States.

You’ll also visit the Laundry Building, with much of its original equipment still in place, where over 3000 pieces of laundry were washed and sanitized daily.

After the tour