All photos courtesy of Jonathan Higbee

Every week, we invite Untapped Cities readers to join us on a tour of the off-limits hospital complex on Ellis Island, which includes access to places not normally offered on other public tours. Since its initial launch, the tour has been one of our most popular events — and due to public demand, we’ve added dates through to the next year. 
Photographer Jonathan Higbee joined us for a tour earlier in the year and put together a stunning photo gallery of the experience. Higbee, whose love for photograph evolved when he moved to New York, writes the following:

…Obviously this was a photography paradise, and the portable power and quality of the Hasselblad X1D rose to the challenge. Even with my eye and mind trained on capturing the story as I saw it, the ruinous halls and rooms and structure were potent reminders of the untold stories and dreams and nightmares this special place holds.

Although once the standard for United States medical care (and later transformed to the FBI headquarters when the island served as a detention center), the Ellis Island hospital has been left to decay for nearly 60 years. Looking at its desolate, skeletal frame now, it’s difficult to imagine the now-abandoned complex as one of the largest public health undertakings in American history. 

Today, Ellis Island has become one of New York City’s top tourist attractions, drawing over two million visitors per year. Still, the 22-building South Side hospital complex is hidden in plain sight, just to the left of disembarking passengers headed towards the Great Hall. Now, Untapped Cities is bringing visitors behind-the-scenes for an unique, hard hat tour of the abandoned facility, guided by a Save Ellis Island docent. On this experience, you’ll visit the contagious disease wards, the autopsy rooms and have exclusive access to places usually closed to the public — all while uncovering the complex’s many buried secrets.
Behind-the-Scenes Hard Hat Tour of the Abandoned Ellis Island Hospital

  • Discover buildings over 100-years-old, which have not been occupied since 1954
  • See an exhibition installed by the world-renowned artist JR, who has placed life-sized historic photographs of Ellis Island immigrants on interior walls of the hospital buildings
  • Visit the Laundry Building, where 3000+ pieces of laundry were washed and sanitized daily
  • Discover infectious and contagious disease wards, the kitchen, the autopsy room and other usually off-limits places

Price: $75 | Your ticket includes the price of the ferry to and from Ellis Island.
Getting to the ferry: After purchasing this experience, you will receive a separate email a week prior to your tour date, which will include your Ferry ticket. Print this ticket and show it to security to board the Ferry. To reach the site, visitors will have to board a Statue Cruises ferry, which takes off by Castle Clinton in Battery Park, lower Manhattan. Please REMAIN on the boat past the Statue of Liberty to get to Ellis Island.
In order to be on Ellis Island on time, we recommend heading to the ferry terminal 2.5 hours in advance of your scheduled tour time.
For a 2pm tour, the suggested schedule is as follows:
11:30am: Arrive to Castle Clinton ahead of time to allow time to clear the airport style security
Board the ferry at Castle Clinton (the ride is roughly 40-minutes)
1:50pm: Arrive at Ellis Island and head to meeting location
What to wear: Closed-toe-shoes are mandatory. Please dress appropriately for the weather, as the buildings are not climate controlled.
What to know: The tour is 1.5 hours long. It will make scheduled stops for quick photographs, but tripods and unipods are not allowed. Due to the nature of the buildings, all guests must stay with the tour guide at all times. The tour is inaccessible for people using wheelchairs or powered scooters, and kids must be 10+ years-old to join. Tickets cannot be transferred to another date a week prior to your tour event.
Here are some photos of places you’ll see on the tour, courtesy of Jonathan Higbee. You can also view more of his work here.

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

Check out all of our Behind the Scenes Tours.