7. Ellis Island
Autopsy Theater, Photo by James and Karla Murray
Ellis Island was the gateway to the United States for millions of immigrants from 1892 to 1954. Hiding in plain sight, just to the left of disembarking passengers headed towards the Great Hall, is the 22-building South Side hospital complex, once the standard for United States medical care, and one of the largest public health undertakings in American history. Of the more than 12 million immigrants who traveled through Ellis island before it shut its doors in 1954, an incredible 10% (or 1.2 million) were given further examinations for concerns related to their physical or mental health.
In New York City, nearly all the places that were once facilities for contagious disease were repurposed for other uses. The Ellis Island hospital immigration hall is now the famous museum. Hoffman, Swinburne and North Brother Islands are now bird sanctuaries. Roosevelt Island got an entirely new life as a residential and institutional island. The repercussions of this history of isolation continue today, with Rikers Island continuing to serve as New York City’s largest jail complex.
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