7. The Stairs of Separation Led to Freedom, Detainment, or Hospitalization

In its heyday, Ellis Island processed between 2500-10,000 people per day. Each new arrival had to pass a health inspection in order to be allowed entry in the United States. They were first screened while on their ship coming into Lower New York Bay. This is where those with “the plague” were weeded out and quarantined to stations on two islands: Hoffman and Swinburne Island. The rest of the passengers funneled through Ellis Island.

Upon arrival on Ellis Island, immigrants would shuffle to the Great Hall for further inspection. Using a quick “doctor’s gaze,” doctors would mark immigrants with a code chalked onto their clothing indicating the ailment (such as PG for pregnant or B for back). After a full assessment, immigrants were released from the processing center via the “stairs of separation.” If exiting through the left side staircase, immigrants were headed to the detention center. If they were sent through the middle staircase they were usually headed to the hospital for further inspection or long-term stay. Those who passed inspection would likely take the right side staircase out to ferries that would carry them into America.