Passageway around an open air circular courtyard as seen on the Untapped Cities Hard Hat Tour of the Abandoned Ellis Island Hospital. Photo by James and Karla Photography.

Every week, Untapped Cities readers have the chance to explore the off-limits hospital complex on Ellis Island in an exclusive tour, which includes access to places not normally offered on other public tours. As a result, James and Karla Murray of James and Karla Murray Photography put together a wonderful photo essay of the experience. Read about their experience and view their extensive gallery below.

Join us for an upcoming tour of the abandoned hospitals on Ellis Island:

Behind-the-Scenes Hard Hat Tour of the Abandoned Ellis Island Hospital

Ellis Island viewed from ferry.

This past July, we were invited to be the Untapped Cities Brand Ambassadors for the “Save Ellis Island” tour docent Barbara, who led us on a hard hat tour of the off-limits abandoned buildings of the Ellis Island Hospital complex, including the 1930s Ferry House building, the Laundry building, as well as the Contagious Disease Hospital buildings including the wards, morgue and maintenance facilities.

To reach the island you must book passage on the Statue Cruises ferry, which leaves from Castle Clinton at Battery Park at the very southern tip of Manhattan. If you are not attending the Untapped Cities hard hat tour, tickets for the ferry are $18.50 for adults, which will give you access to the grounds of the Statue of Liberty National Monument as well as the Ellis Island. Lines for the ferry can be long as passengers must go through an airport style screening process (remove belt, shoes and any metal items). We were lucky to breeze through the entire pre-boarding routine in under 10 minutes, but were told not to count on it always being that quick. Lines can stretch to well over an hour according to accounts. The ferry trip, which first stops at the Statue of Liberty for disembarkation/embarkation takes around 40 minutes. The ferry has plenty of seating, both indoor and out, as well as many spots to stand along the decks and take photos of the views of Manhattan and the Statue and Ellis Island.

Nearing Ellis Island. The size of the island complex stretches over 27 acres and is divided into two parts, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum side and the Abandoned Ellis Island Hospital complex, which can only be viewed on a guided tour.

The main Hospital Building viewed when first arriving on the island from the ferry docking area.

Rear of the Hospital Building. 

Our “Save Ellis Island” tour docent Barbara led us on the Untapped Cities hard hat tour of the off-limits buildings of Ellis Island, including the 1930s Ferry House building, the Laundry building, as well as the Contagious Disease Hospital buildings including the wards, morgue and maintenance facilities. Barbara was an amazing guide and we left the tour with such a deeper appreciation and understanding of the history of the island. Being in those buildings we could really get a sense of how it must have been for our relatives who passed through Ellis Island.

Autopsy Theater.

Morgue Doors.

Autopsy Theater.

Morgue. A few people attending the tour declined to enter the old morgue room.


Our guide Barbara explained that this autoclave, used to disinfect mattresses, is often mistaken by people attending the tour, for a crematorium. However, there is no crematorium on the island.

Linen & Cloth Room. 

Laundry Room. 

Passageway. These airy passageways connected different contagious disease wards.


Between 1901 and 1910, 8.8 million immigrants arrived in the United States, with 6 million processed at Ellis Island. Ferries and barges brought steerage passengers from steamships and by the early 1900s, around 5,000 people arrived at Ellis Island each day, with a record of 11,747 on April 17, 1907.

Installation by French artist JR.


The French artist JR has an installation of life size historic photographs of Ellis Island immigrants pasted on the interior and exterior walls of the abandoned hospital complex.


Dresser. Throughout the abandoned hospital wards relics of furniture can be found.

Windows at the rear of the complex.


Between two buildings. 


Installation by JR. 

As the new immigrants entered the main building, doctors watched for a limp, labored breathing, or other suspected troubles including a highly contagious eye disease called trachoma, which caused blindness and favus, a severe scalp infection. According to our guide Barbara, around 20% of the immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island were held back for further medical or legal examination.


Superstorm Sandy caused water damage in many of the abandoned hospital buildings.


Bathtub, sink.




Statue of Liberty as seen from one of the contagious disease wards. We can only imagine how thrilling it must have been to know that you were on your way to becoming an American.

Laundry Room.

Laundry Room.

After our last stop on the tour at the laundry room, we turned in our hard hats and still had plenty of time to explore the Ellis Island Immigration Museum on the other half of the island. We particularly enjoyed the exhibition “Through America’s Gate”, which follows the immigration process: initial questioning in the Registry Room, medical inspections, and for some, temporary detention.

Freight Elevator near the Registry Room.


Original graffiti left by immigrants outside the Board of Inquiry Hearing Room. Detained immigrants could plead their case to the Board and most were allowed through.

Medical relics. 

A restored Dormitory Room shows accommodations for detainees ca. 1908.

Guastavino tiled ceiling installed in 1918 in the Registry room Great Hall.

Registry Room Great Hall.

We highly recommend this excellent and exclusive access tour of all the best off-limits area of Ellis Island’s Abandoned Hospital Complex via Untapped Cities. Our highly knowledgeable and engaging “Save Ellis Island” tour docent, Barbara and the wonderful ferry ride to Liberty and Ellis Island helped make it even more special. In addition to taking the guided tour, we would also highly recommend visiting the Ellis Island Immigration Museum which is free to visit either before or after the hard hat tour. We also want to note that we were given ample time during the hard hat tour, to take photos (handheld only, no tripods).

Join us for an upcoming tour of the abandoned hospitals on Ellis Island:

Behind-the-Scenes Hard Hat Tour of the Abandoned Ellis Island Hospital

Follow James and Karla Murray on Instagram @jamesandakarla and on Facebook @jamesandkarlamurrayphotography.

 Check out our other tours, including a Tour of the Remnants of Penn Station and an Underground Tour of the NYC Subway!

 Behind the Scenes NYC Tour Series, Ellis Island, Ellis Island Hospital, Save Ellis Island, Untapped Cities Tours

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