For me, the thought of heading back to Ellis Island for the first time since about 1980 was a huge, huge thing. For years I'd resisted going, because I had such vivid childhood memories of that initial visit.
Back then, Ellis Island was a complete mess. When the island was abandoned in the 1950s, it was left as it was, so by the time I made it there, dishes, chairs, signs, etc. were just strewn about. Paint was peeling, pipes were exposed, and absolutely everything was overgrown. I was about 6 or 7, and the experience of seeing a place that I knew was such a vital part of American history (and my own family's saga) just left to wither and rot just blew my young mind. That visit was ultimately imprinted in my mind as a ghost-like, mind-altering memory--one of those moments that fundamentally changed the way I looked at the world, its history, and its reality.
When the Main Building was restored in 1990, I knew I had to revisit the island. But I was afraid, somehow, that if I went back I'd lose that extraordinary childhood memory. I avoided it for years, but when some dear friends recently asked me to go with them, I relented.
Last week, I finally returned to Ellis Island.
The museum is, as I'd heard, absolutely fabulous. The restoration of the Main Building is remarkable, though the Ellis Island Foundation still has a lot of work to do on the island's other buildings (more on that in Part II).
Happily, those initial mind-blowing childhood memories remain intact, and here, for now, are the first few photos from my return.
Rafael Guastavino, also known for his work in Grand Central Terminal, the now-closed City Hall subway stop, and many other architectural marvels throughout NYC.
Wall of Honor.