Revisiting Landmarks: Ellis Island Part I

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.

The absolutely gorgeous French Renaissance-style Main Building, which opened in 1900. Today it houses the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. My great-grandparents set foot there in 1906.

The beautiful tile ceiling--which I remember from my childhood visit--designed by 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.

My friends and I marveled at the beauty of century-old technology. What a brilliant way to open the windows!

Another mechanism, this time for the main hall's uppermost windows.

A bit of graffiti, lots of which the museum happily decided to keep.

A few of the old signs and cast-off items preserved as they were found in the 1980s, before renovation began.

Not long before he died, my Grandpa LaBella put the names of his parents, Alfonso and Emilia LaBella, on the Wall of Honor.

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