The 29-building hospital complex on the lesser-traveled south side of Ellis Island is a unique attraction in New York City. While most visitors head straight for the immigration museum, on the other side of the island there are so many more stories to be told. The hospital campus has been abandoned for over 50 years, but thanks to the preservation efforts of Save Ellis Island, many spaces are now open to the public on special hard hat tours led by the foundation’s docents.
These tours take visitors into places usually off-limits to the public, giving you exclusive access to the autopsy amphitheater, the laundry facilities, contagious disease wards, and more spaces. Check out photos of what you’ll see on the tour from our latest visit this summer!
Abandoned Hospital Tour on Ellis Island
You’ll start the journey to Ellis Island at the Castle Clinton ferry station in Lower Manhattan. Aboard the ferry, you’ll be treated to fantastic views of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty, where you’ll make a quick stop before heading toward Ellis Island.
Once you arrive at Ellis Island, you’ll head into the National Museum of Immigration which now occupies the former immigration station that opened on January 1, 1892. The very first immigrant processed at the station was a young Irish girl, Annie Moore. In total, more than 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island over the course of its 60 plus years in operation.
Inside the museum, you’ll meet up with your tour guide and start your journey toward the hospital complex.
Before heading into any abandoned areas, you’ll pick up and put on your hard hats inside a restored part of the Art Deco Ferry Building. The 1936 structure was designed by Charles Delano of Delano and Aldrich. It connects the main registry building to the hospital campus. Long left in ruin, the building was reopened in 2007 after a $6.4 million restoration.
One of the first stops on the tour is inside the laundry building, a space that has been restored to a state of “arrested decay.” This means it doesn’t look like it would have in the early 20th century, but rather it is stabilized and safe in its current condition. Inside the building, you’ll see original machinery like washers, dryers, and presses.
Another restored space on the campus that you’ll see on the tour is the recreation pavilion. Located between the general hospital building and the contagious disease wards, the pavilion was built atop new land in 1934. This addition to the hospital allowed patients to enjoy the outdoors and take shelter in inclement weather. The pavilion also served as a performance space used by famous entertainers who came to put on shows for the U.S. Coastguard troops stationed at Ellis Island during the 1930s.
Construction on the hospital buildings began in 1900. Rather than just one large building, the hospital occupies many structures arranged in different pavilions. These pavilions are connected by a large system of tunnels and hallways.
Walking through the hallways and between buildings, you’ll find yourself at one point in the autopsy amphitheater. This space became a renowned teaching hall where medical students and professional observers from other institutions like Bellevue Hospital would come to watch demonstrations.
As you walk around the campus, you’ll find yourself face-to-face with some of the immigrants who were treated there. As part of the art installation Unframed, renowned photo artist JR combed through the Ellis Island archive and selected images of hospital patients and locations. He then took those images, enlarged them, and pasted them on the walls, floors, windows, and furniture throughout the complex.
The installation is site-specific, taking cues from and incorporating elements of the buildings themselves. In the photo above, the hospital kitchen’s oven hood once stood in for the hull of the ship in the pasted photo. In the former laboratory building, a large image of what the interior once looked like is pasted on the walls.
Throughout the course of the tour, you’ll see views of the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan skyline that you can imagine must have invoked a wealth of emotion for those detained here. Check out the gallery for more photos from the tour, and join us to see these spaces for yourself by reserving a ticket here!
Abandoned Hospital Tour on Ellis Island
Next, check out 10 Secrets of Ellis Island’s Abandoned Hospital Complex