tv Ellis Island Immigration Museum CSPAN November 13, 2016 10:00pm-10:46pm EST
as we all know, that is not the case. >> >> with donald trump elected as the next u.s. president, melania trump becomes our second foreign-born first lady. learn more about the influence of america's presidential spouses from "first ladies." it is a look into the personal lives and influence of every presidential spouse and american history. it is a companion to the well-regarded tv series and features interviews with 54 of leading historians, biographies of 45 first ladies, and archival photos from each of their lives. "first ladies" is available wherever you buy books and now available in paperback. >> between 1892 and 1954, about
12 million immigrants seeking a new life in america were taken to ellis island for questioning and health screening. today, millions of americans take ferry boats to visit it. up next on american artifacts, we visit the ellis island immigration museum to learn about the immigration experience. peter urban: good morning, my name is peter urban, and i am a park ranger here at ellis island. this island for many americans is the place where their story began. 12 to 13 million americans came to this island and building in order to be given the ok to go out and start their lives in the 1800s and early 1900s. a lot of people don't know about ellis island, so let me talk briefly about the island itself. today, we are 27 acres in size.
but in the original form it was , three acres. a small island in the middle of the harbor barely above sea level at high tide. for most of its life, it was a military installation. it was used in the war of 1812 and was for storage. somewhere around 1890 it was decided by the federal government this would be the place they would institute the first building specifically for the processing of immigrants, and so they did construct that building between 1890 and 1892. the building you see here was not the first processing center, it is actually the second. the first was a large wooden structure that lasted five years and burned to the ground in about three hours. due to a furnace fire in 1897. the federal government decided at that point they needed to build something more permanent, something that would also reflect the grandeur of a government building. the structure you see here made of brick and limestone was built
between 1898 and 1900. of 1900. in december it is a beautiful building. and from the moment it opened it was already too small for what it was about to face. it was constructed to handle half a million people a year. it ended up handling in 1907 alone 1,002,000 people. if you look at the building, there was no third-floor of the original structure. it was two stories with four towers, but as we had more and more people come through and they realized they were really too small to handle the flow, they began to add structures. the building we saw here, the three-story structure was called the baggage and dormitory building. o the overflowse of people being detained here or waiting for detained members of their family was so enormous that the dormitories were too small.
we also found out two thirds of the people coming through here would end up going to other parts of america. only a third of them go to new york city. the building we have here was constructed and added on as a place for immigrants to buy their tickets in order to go and start their lives in other parts of the country. a large polish population to chicago, a large czech going to nebraska, germans and slovaks going to texas. so the railroad ticket terminal housed ticket counters for 12 railroads that would eventually sell the tickets the immigrant needed, and they would go up for here. they would go to the central new jersey terminal where they would eventually find the train to take them out to friends and relatives who were likely already settled in those areas. the rest would head to new york, and those people will find many
different ethnic neighborhoods that oftentimes would welcome them with open arms. we are now standing at the seawall of ellis island facing out at the new york harbor. this is the perfect place to begin the story of the immigrants that came here. 12 million to 13 million people would make their way through the building we have here, but their journey started back in europe when they made the brave and sometimes ambitious decision to leave sometimes everybody they knew behind to make the journey here to this country. for most of those immigrants who came to ellis island, this would have been a place they would have had to say for a long time to have the money just to be able to buy a ticket and make their way through this building. an immigrant had to pay $30 with the money of the time period which could be several hundred dollars in today's money just
for a ticket on an ocean liner never meant for any human being. the ocean liners had only taken care of people with money, first-class passengers would pay thousands of dollars in today's money to be able to wine and dine and be treated like royalty. even if you had a little bit less money, you could get a second-class ticket that would give you a modest but private room. shipping companies began to realize so many people who were poor wanted to come here in the 1800s and early 1900s, they had to accommodate that demand. they looked at their ship and figured they could sacrifice cargo holds below deck. cramped, dirty. usually places for crates and things of that nature. they now housed bunkbeds, three to four high, packed in tightly. the immigrants coming to ellis island would be a passenger in those lower decks. the lower decks were not pleasant, very little light, very little ventilation. about 1000 to 1500 of them packed down there.
your ship ride could take anywhere from a week to one month. coming to america was a great challenge, but they would be leaving cities like hamburg or constantinople where the shipping companies had their offices. very important part of the immigrant story is when they boarded a ship, they had to answer 25 to 30 questions about themselves to a shipping clerk from the company on whose boat they were about to board. those answers are going to be a very important part of the immigrant story. that is the information that will be used in the great hall to interrogate the immigrants to determine if they have the right to land here. we will return to that story later. i wanted to bring that in now. we are at the harbor for a reason. we are going to assume the immigrant ship has made it across safely. the first place they enter new york harbor is in an area that
we call the narrows here. they will board the ship to check and see if this ship has a raging epidemic of a disease. they don't want to let immigrants bringing diseases into the country. that is one of the things we are checking inside of the great hall. inspectors are not likely to tremendousy with amounts of illness because shipping companies have already done preprocessing. they know american law stated that if a shipping company run brought somebody here that would be deported, they have to bring them back at the shipping companies lost. so they do a lot of processing already. it did not mean people would not get sick on the ship. so they got taken off the ship, and you are ocean liners move into this harbor. if you look at it now, it is about the most peaceful site you would ever want to see. but if you use your imagination,
think about the fact that basically your international travel was all on ship at this time. this harbor would be full of commercial vessels, private vessels, ocean liners, especially at peak times of the year in the 1900s and 1910s time . period, you had ocean liners anchored out here waiting for a dock to open. it would be dingy, no environmental laws back then. and the poor little immigrant farmer, and many of them are going to be from rural areas, they are going to be absolutely amazed at the site. they will look at the skyline of new york and even some of the smaller buildings that are brick may have been built here. they will look very big compared to one world trade. they will not look very big compared to one world trade. but for an immigrant who has never seen more than a couple of stories of the building, it would be like something from outer space.
the welcome to america is this gorgeous site, this harbor, and they are amazed at lady liberty. this is the first thing that welcomes them, this absolutely gorgeous site which opened in 1886. up the harbor the ship comes. a lot of people think the ships docked here and let people out, but that is not true. our inlet is too shallow. the ships make their way up the harbor, and they go dock up the river here. that is where the uss intrepid is now as a museum. there is where an immigrant learns their first lesson in america. in america, money talks. first and second class passengers are going to be given a very quick inspection as the boat moves its way up the harbor, and unless they have a glaring problem that needs attention, they are going to be let out to start their lives. the thinking was this. if you have a slight illness, you have the money to pay for a
doctor. you're going to be able to go and get the care you need and afford a place you live. passengerse class have got the $30 ticket, and in their pocket hopefully another , couple hundred dollars that they will prove they have inside. still not enough to prove they will not be a problem to society. they are afraid of people bringing disease and getting involved in crime, of being overwhelmed by the population. that is what ellis island does. it serves as a way to clear steerage class passengers to come into this country and start their lives. there is a clear delineation for the immigrants. if you have the money, you are in. if you don't have the money, you are going to get checked. when we had inside in a couple of minutes, we will start the story of those immigrants who come off the ship and are brought down here by a ferry and
are going to enter the front door and come into the first floor of ellis island. it would have looked dramatically different than it does today. ok, we are about to enter the main entrance of ellis island. across the way a point of note. , these beautiful buildings that are now abandoned were the hospital complexes that were run by the united states public health service which was a fantastic crew of doctors who cared for immigrants who were detained for medical reasons. about 10% of the people who came through here were detained for medical reasons. the string of buildings you see here were for non-contagious diseases. 30 yards parallel is a string of buildings for contagious diseases, the measles word, tuberculosis, and insane asylum. there is a morgue which is one of the most scariest places i have been in my life. this was a real operating island.
the public health service was so good at the job will that occasionally hospitals in new york would send cases out here to be taken care of. willdid a great job of nursing people back to health who had diseases that were curable. a very big standard. if you had a disease that was incurable and contagious, you are definitely going back. if you had an incurable disease, it is more likely you are going back. so it is a very big part of the complex not open to the public yet. it is being worked on. definitely ellis island is a work in progress. slowly but surely we will get that complex opened up and opened for the public to see. we are walking up the ramp. underneath the canopy here at ellis island, this was the spot where immigrants who had just
gotten off lined up to go in the door and begin that process. the original canopy had black slate roof. people lined up here, and what they had with them was virtually only what was important to them. for many who are bringing their entire families at the same time, i had to sell everything they owned back in europe. the farmland, the cattle, all of the supplies. the farm itself just to be able to afford all of the fares for everybody coming here. you will see inside there is a beautiful picture that shows you this. they have got a bag or a satchel or a steamer trunk. everything the family owns that is of value to them will come with them. no let's take you inside. now let's take you inside. the room we are entering is the baggage room. here is the place where immigrants got their first sight of ellis island.
to be honest, the room looks very different depending on the moment you came. in 1907, according to some floor plans i have seen, immigrants had to go immediately over to our left, their right, for the medical examination. eventually they would end up in the staircase, which was really right up in the middle of this ceiling that took you right up to the middle of the great hall. as i mentioned to you earlier, this building was really meant to handle a lot less people than they got. over the years, the process of having all the medical processing here, immigrants going up the stairs, became highly impractical. they had to figure out a way to make it work more efficiently. around 1912, this stairwell in the middle of the room was closed up, and a wooden
staircase was built where we have the modern staircase today, taking you upstairs to the second floor. it wasn't just to make the flow go faster, it was a way to make the medical process more efficient as well. you give credit to the people who were here, they handled a highly chaotic situation. they were really efficient and in many cases compassionate. it does not mean it was not scary or terrifying to immigrants, but a lot of care was put forward to make things better. ,arly on in the early 1900's this could be a place that was very tricky for an immigrant to get through. people who were bringing their baggage in, as you can see, samples of the baggage here that we have, baggage handlers could hold your luggage, make sure it gets on the boat when you had over to catch your fairy or -- catch the ferry or train. but early on we had concessions , who took advantage of
immigrants, baggage handlers would double or triple charge them for services. money exchange people were given giving them back small amounts of what their money was worth and pocket the rest. the food concession people dressed up as someone looking like an inspector, going into crowds and they if you did not buy a lunch from the food stand, you would get deported. william williams dressed up some and putest inspectors them among the crowd to document corruption. he was good in getting rid of the corruption and make it easier for people coming through. after 1912, you will be directed to go up the stairs. you will go up to talk about the medical and legal process. you are also going to see the room most of you have come to know as the symbol of ellis island. it is officially called the
registry room, but we call it and most people call it the great hall of ellis island. it is a majestic piece of architecture. we take you first with the immigrants, so follow me up the stairs if you will. we are heading up the stairs to the second floor. as i said this is a modern , staircase. imagine there being a wooden staircase here. immigrants would walk up in large crowds. some refused to give their baggage to the baggage handlers, so they have still got either their suitcase or a sheet with stuff in it over their shoulder, their belongings. they are all coming up these stairs. one thing they don't realize yet is that they are already being inspected as they walk up the stairs. they might be limping because of a bad foot, maybe they stubbed their toe. they might be carrying big baggage, holding their chest and having trouble breathing.
they may be very happy to be here and looking wonderfully ecstatic. all three of those conditions would be observed by inspectors, who would be at the top of the stairs, they would be watching. as you got to the top of the stairs here, those inspectors would come up to you with one of their tools of the trade, a piece of chalk. they will mark your coat with initials that signify exactly what they feel may be the condition you have. stubbed toe get l for lameness. the person holding their chest, might have a heart problem. h. the person who is so ecstatic to be here they are singing and dancing, we feel they may have a condition that needs to be checked mentally, so they have an x put on their coat. immigrants did not expect it.
i sometimes do this on my tours. i ask everybody to do something, and when they don't do it, we have to check your hearing because they were not listening. it was not to make them feel bad about themselves, but it was all of inspection without understanding what was going on. doctors will also meet you here and give you an inspection that is just about as fast of a medical inspection as you will ever get. they were sometimes called the six second specialist. anywhere from five to 10 seconds, maybe 15. they are highly skilled members of the united states public health service who can spot even small sign up 50 to 60 ailments that normally afflict an immigrant. any doubt that you have something means more initials are going on your coat. the one set you don't want on your coat is ct. that represented an illness
called trachoma. inwas a widespread disease the past. it still exists today in some parts of the world. it made the underside of your eyelid as rough as simply per -- sandpaper. it would eventually make you blind. highly contagious and incurable. they had to check the eyes. they would use button hooks to check the eyes. they would catch your eye lid and pull it up to look underneath to see if it had telltale signs of trachoma. if you are taken at this moment with initials on your coat, it did not mean you would automatically be sent back. it did mean down the hallways here and over here, they will take you to individual medical exam rooms. all of these initials were about making this process more efficient. they did not have the time to give you a thorough exam, but the doctors down the hall could
look at you and check you out more specifically for those two or three initials on your coat. four the vast majority, no problem. the man with the stubbed toe will be treated and come back out. for some, it may mean internment in the hospital of days, weeks, maybe even months. and for some as i said, it may mean the doctors rule that you need to be sent back. this is step one of the process. as they walk into this room, as terrifying as this moment can be, they are also in a room which is the grandest room which some of you ever seen in your entire life. this is the room of ellis island. it has been restored to the way it looked around roughly 1918. our american flag had 48 stars. in the early 1900s, we only had 48 states, so we try to be
accurate and right to the point about 1918 in what would they have. the ceiling tiles were put up here by a family company whose work is still famous in places like carnegie hall, grand central station, and the cathedral of saint john in new york. 29,000 tiles placed on a vaulted ceiling in a patented styling that was all their own. when the restoration was done here in the 1980's, they had to check every tile for their integrity, and they found only 13 has that had to be replaced. their work was legendary and solid. the floor where standing on is over 100 years old. when they wax the floor, it looks brand-new. the tiles around here are part of the room as it opened in 1900.
the chandelier, the first chandelier and the other one in the middle of the room, the third one you could never guess is a reproduction. it was destroyed by a cable snapping when they did the restoration. i guess they figured you could not go up and check. these are are some of the original chandeliers. to get a sense of the room what it was like when people came here, you have to use your imagination. today we don't have much in here because we want people to be able to enjoy the room. but if you were here as an immigrant, you would've entered a room after 1912 that was absolutely full of rows of benches. we had benches in the front. the darker ones are original, the lighter ones were reproductions done by a high school program in new york state. if we use our imaginations, the benches would have been rows reming all the way down to hea
ws would have come into this room. once you got past the medical inspection, you are going to sit and wait. when you got off the boat in new york, a tag was put on your coat with a number that corresponded to your ship manifest. when your ship's manifest was brought to the desk, they called your number and sent inspectors out to get everyone with that number to line you up. you are about to be retested to see if you were the person you say you are you got on the boat. that is where we will head next down to the inspection desk. we will talk about the questions that were asked and what happened to many people when they got there. the last stop in the great hall is going to be at a replica of possibly about 15 to 20 inspectors desks that lined the
hall. there is the spot where you go through the last part of your processing. if you remember, we talked a little bit about the ship manifest outside. the manifests were a list of questions to answers immigrants gave. 25 to 30 questions were asked. what is your name? what is your age? what is your nationality? where is the last place you live in europe and with whom? what is your final destination? can you read and write? where will you go to live in america and with whom? how much money do you have? that was a tricky question. it was not always known by immigrants that inspectors were looking for you to have about $25 in money of the time period, a couple hundred dollars of today's money. you might have that when you board the ship. it may be stolen. you might have lost it. if you don't have anywhere near that amount, that could be a
reason to detain you, because they don't want to let people out in america with no money to start their lives. this is another tricky question people would not think is a tricky question, by whom was your passage paid? most people would say i paid for it myself. my husband paid, my mother paid. the answer you don't want to give even if you are nervous or you think it will impress the inspector is my new boss in america paid for me to come here. i start working for him tomorrow. it may seem impressive because the inspector would let you in because you already have a job, but you just admitted to being a contract laborer. the active 1885 made that illegal. to admit that would be a certain trip back to europe and a hefty fine if you are an american employer. every one of these questions
would be asked. some of them are physical descriptions, and i can answer them by looking at the immigrant. i can see that person is the young woman who is 5'2", has got gray eyes and blond hair. for the vast majority of people that came up to this desk, this is going to be a pretty easy process. they will answer all the questions, remember all the answers, they won't look too suspicious in answering, because if you look too suspicious in answering, that alone can be reason for detention. about 80% will eventually leave here to go start their lives after an experience of about three or four hours. 20% are detained, 10% for legal processing, another 10% are some discrepancies in their interrogation here. we will take you to the room where they had their chance or their day in court.
it is a scary experience. i will talk about that. we will head down the hall to the board of special inquiry room which is located in the spot where it existed and was restored to look the way it did in the early 1900s. follow me, we will head down there. this wing that you are heading into was the legal wing of ellis island at the time period. there were four operating courtrooms in this area at one time. offices were here for the lawyers. there were detention rooms for those who would be detained in some way. many of the items on this desk are frantic and from our collections. what they have tried to do here is re-create what an inspectors desk would look like. there are three inspectors
seated here, and they are your judges. each of them will hear your case and will ask you some important questions. a stenographer would be here for a record of the case, and in the -- and an interpreter would be seated at the end to help the inspectors understand the words of the immigrant as they pleaded their cases. immigrants were not allowed to have a lawyer in this first hearing. they had to plead their own cases. oftentimes, they were aid societies who would be set up by specific ethnic groups to help people of their background get through this process in ellis island. they could serve as the interpreter for the immigrants. an immigrant could also call witnesses to testify on their behalf. let's say a young woman who lost her money on the boat befriended
by a nice man who eventually ended up stealing her money, she would send a telegram to her brother in new york who she is going to live with and ask him to testify. they would never allow the brother and sister in the same courtroom at the same time. they would interrogate them separately so that there would not be a story created between them. if the brother said, she is my in, here will take her is my address, she will stay up under my wing until she has enough money to get a place of her own and has a job that would , oftentimes be more than enough to assuage the fears of the inspectors. all they need to do is to convince two of the three inspectors that the reason they
were detained is not enough of a reason to send them back to europe. for the 20% of people who came through here, it is a terrifying moment. , many of not seen them, just as in their own country. many of them have come from brutal regimes. they have never seen a man in uniform do anything fair or compassionate. they are given a wonderful introduction to the american justice system which gives them a real good shake. of the 20% in this room, only 2% of the people here would eventually be sent back. that means 18% had enough reason for their detention that it would be enough for two of the three inspectors to allow them to stay. roomoard a special inquiry is one that created a sense of terror but for most, it is a room that causes celebration and joy as they are told they can go
out and start their lives here. this would be where the story would end for the rest of the 20%. 80% will start their lives, one third heading to new york. two thirds heading to other places. 20% could be here a day, month, or more. but for them, the story would eventually start. i have three grandparents that came through here. it is a very special experience working here because i am telling their story. i can only imagine what they would think if a new 100 years later that their grandson would be here giving tours and telling their story. the items in this exhibit were donated to us by people whose ancestors had come here and the
items are actually organized by theme. here we have a case of clothing that was worn by many people who came here. beautiful texture and craftsmanship. these are items that in many when thee worn here immigrants came off the boat and came into ellis island. as we walked down, we have a case of personal papers that were part of many immigrants ' process. a lot of these are going to be documents that they took from their old country that have been put in here and just representative of the type of things that you will find doing family research and looking for documents overseas. the case next to us here is religious items.
these religious items, it is the type of things that immigrants would bring here that they would not dare leave behind. for many, you can see rosary beads. many of the other items, the clothing that is religiously based, these are things that they would not leave behind. if they had one steamer trump, this is definitely something that would be in their. here are so many pictures of so many people either in the old country or perhaps in america when they finally came, would definitely be something that you would do to send countries back to the old country. there are so many pictures like this. i think every family who had a relative come through ellis island has them at home.
i have a shoebox at home i'm still sorting through. so many different images, backgrounds, people with dreams. of something better. pictureslook at these you can really absorb and , appreciate it. the last case brings in family life items, things that people would bring that they used in everyday life. cutlery, sewing machines, cameras. just a sampling of the tremendous amount of items that were actually donated to us. just one quick look in the back. some families gave us so much, some families gave us so much that cases were dedicated to those families specifically. we have about six or seven of these here and behind the photographs that are dedicated to specific families who
literally gave us a trunk full of items and ask us to tell their story. and the importance to their family, culture, and backgrounds. the processing center opened in 1892. for the next 30 years or so, operated at full tilt as a mass processing center. somewhere in the 1920's at the beginning of the process of restricting immigration through very restrictive laws that brought the flow of people through here almost to a halt. world war i helped to do that, too. by 1924, a very restrictive quota law in conjunction with the creation of the consulate system we have today, brought an -- brought ellis island to a
close as a processing center. it would be open for another 20 years. it would be a place where those detained in new york would be held until their case was adjudicated. by 1954, we are in the middle of a strong anti-communist surge of fear of foreign elements and by that time, the building had really lost its total purpose and use. in november 1954, the building closed and it would be empty for the next 11 years until 1965 when president johnson issued the order to add ellis island as part of the statue of liberty national monument. for the next 15 years, the building would be administered by the park service but not restored or open to the general public. you had to arrange for what they called a hard hat tour.
they would bring people here and walk them through the abandoned structures. in conjunction with the centennial and restoration of the statue of liberty, money was raised to restore the statue as well as to restore the building. the statue will be rededicated in 1986 and this building will open in october of 1990. i believe vice president quayle came out to officiate at the opening of the museum. we have been open ever since. told, 98% of the people who came through this building were able to start their lives in america. 98% of 12 to 13 million people translates into about 45% of the american population today who
can tell you that one of their ancestors came through this building, went through this process, and began their family's american story. for so many people, it is the reason why they come here to visit ellis island. they have heard so much about it. it has been in their family folklore. they come back to see the place where grandparents came to america, answered the questions, sed the medical processing, and began their american story. in all the discussions of immigration we have going on today, i think there needs to be the context that this story of people coming here, being from a different cultural background, starting their lives and in many cases becoming successful, that is a great american story and he
it will continue. sometimes, we lose track of that. sometimes the descendents of those immigrants have forgotten about grandma and grandpa's journey. i hope that a visit here will reawaken that in many people's minds. that is what ellis island is all about. it is the story of americans looking for the american dream. thank you for coming along. we are glad you did and we hope that you will visit ellis island we get to see you personally. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2016] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> we are asking students to compete in the documentary competition by telling us the thet urgent issue for
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that comes to matters such as this, i think it is a little disingenuous because words are flippantly thrown around. when someone says autonomous, autopilot, self-driving, a consumer thinks i come out of my home, i hit a button, and that car will take me anywhere in america at any time under any conditions. i think as we all know, that is not the case. >> watch monday night at 8:00 eastern on c-span2. >> with donald trump elected as the next u.s. president, melania trump becomes our nation's second foreign-born first lady. learn more about the influence of america's presidential spouses from "first ladies." the book is a look into the personal lives and influence of every presidential spouse in american history. it is a companion to c-span's well-regarded biography tv series and features interviews
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