A Pictorial HistoryBarbara Benton
(Facts on File)We always like to think of Ellis Island as the place where a new-found freedom was offered to the poor and the homeless from other lands, but if truth will have it, it was designed primarily to provide extra-cheap labor for the nascent factories and industries of turn-of-the-century America.
Millions of immigrants were "processed" here for entry into the United States --- but it was not a one-way street: during the mad fear of Bolsheviki in 1919, U. S. Attorney General Mitchell Palmer had 5,000 people rounded up and sent to Ellis Island so they could be deported to Russia (even if it was not their spiritual or political home).
Ms. Benton has assembled a fine and informative volume, with some of the best pictures being Before and After --- the lovely arched window of the registry room from eighty years ago, and as it appears (dilapidated) as the author was preparing this book.
Quotes are taken from the writings of those who passed through, giving moving counterpoint to the illustrations. Some images remain: the Italian woman, with her three children, carrying all her possessions in a bound cloth bag atop her head.
Twelve million people went through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954. The peak year was 1907 (1,200,000), but with the passing of various immigration quota laws after WWI, its usefulness disappeared. It was close to being sold out to the vulgar hoteliers, but the Reagan administration created a Centennial Commission, which refurbished the buildings and island as a proper honor to the gateway that changed the lives of so many.
--- M. J. Faber