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The Silk Route - World Travel: Liberty Island, New York, USA
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USA: New York City - Ellis Island, Liberty Island & Staten Island
September 2015

Liberty Island Ellis Island Staten Island
USA New York Statue of Liberty

 

Three islands close to Manhattan with very different attractions: Statue of Liberty is a must, Ellis Island tells the fascinating story of immigration and quiet Staten Island seems a world away from Manhattan, not just a short, free ferry ride!

 

 

Liberty Island

Statue of Liberty, New York

 

The iconic Statue of Liberty was erected on what was then called Bedloe's Island in 1886. Designed by Auguste Bartholdi, the superstructure by Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame, it was a gift from the people of France: "Liberty Enlightening the World".

Since that time the statue has been the first sight of the New World for millions of immigrants, especially when the Ellis Island immigration centre opened in 1892.

The evocative lines "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses .." are part of an 1883 poem written by Emma Lazarus as a fundraiser for the pedestal on which the statue stands.

Statue of Liberty, New York
Statue of Liberty, New York
View of Ellis Island, New Jersey, left, and Manhattan from Liberty Island.

 

Statue of Liberty, New York
Statue of Liberty, New York
1984: Liberty shrouded in scaffolding for renovation.

The statue itself stands 46m high, from ground level to the tip of the torch it is 93m. The torch used to be open to visitors but was permanently closed in 1916 after a munitions depot explosion damaged the statue's raised arm.1 The torch was replaced in 1984 during renovations for the centennial.

Statue of Liberty, New York
The original torch.
Statue of Liberty, New York

The statue holds a tablet in her left hand on which is inscribed, in Roman numerals, the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence: July 4, 1776.

Statue of Liberty, New York
Statue of Liberty, New York
Scaffolding and tools of the trade on the entrance doors.
Statue of Liberty, New York
Inside the crown: the very top with wavy lines for the hair and a temperature gauge.
Statue of Liberty, New York

The first structure to be be built on the island was, in fact, the star-shaped Fort Wood at the centre of which Liberty now stands. The island was renamed Liberty Island in 1956.

Between 1984 and 1986 the statue was renovated for the centennial celebrations. This included replacement of the torch - the original can still be seen in the musuem. The statue was completely covered in scaffolding for the renovation - nicely timed for one of my visits!

In 2015 we both finally made a visit to the statue - we'd passed it many times before on various boat trips but never actually been inside.

Statue of Liberty, New York

We had bought tickets in advance to make sure we got to go up into the crown as there is limited access. It's quite a climb up, with a stop at an observation level at the top of the pedestal for views of Manhattan. Then on up the spiral staircase - there are two, one for going up and the other for descending - into the crown. It's rather a cramped space but you do get close-up views of the inside of the copper shell and, through the windows, the arm holding aloft the torch.

Statue of Liberty, New York

There are 25 windows in the crown but only a few are very slightly open so photography is a little tricky, especially on a bright day. It was actually quite dull when we went up but on our last morning it was glorious so we took the ferry again, though of course we couldn't get up into the crown!

Statue of Liberty, New York

 

 

 

Ellis Island

Ellis Island
Ellis Island: on the left are hospital buildings, at the far end of the dock the original 1930's Ferry Building, and on the right the Immigration Centre, now the Ellis Island Immigration Museum.

 

Before 1885 there were few restrictions on immigration to the US. As long as the incoming ship had been declared free of all "loathsome and contagious diseases" the passengers were free to disembark and begin their new lives. From 1855 immigration formalities were completed by individual states, the immigration station for New York being Castle Garden (now Castle Clinton National Monument)1 - around 8 million immigrants were processed in the following five years.2

Ellis Island
Classic Art Deco styling on the 1930's Ferry Building.
Ellis Island
California
The Cornucopia of the World
Room for Millions of Immigrants

In 1890 immigration was transferred to federal jurisdiction and the New York station was at the Barge Office in Battery Park until a new station was opened on Ellis Island in 1892.

The original wooden buildings on Ellis Island had burned down in 1897 to be replaced by the current buildings - many records were lost in the fire.

Ellis Island
Beautiful and impressive - the Registry Room restored to its 1918-24 appearance.
At various times during its use immigrants were guided through in railed-off queues, or sat on ranks of benches waiting their turn.
Ellis Island
On 1st January 1892 15 year old Annie Moore from Ireland became the first immigrant to enter the USA through the new Ellis Island Immigration Station. She was presented with a ten dollar gold coin to commemorate the occasion.
Sculptor: Jeanne Rynhart.

Between 1892 and 1954 when the station was closed 12 million immigrants passed through the station. Their medical condition was checked and they were asked a number of questions including their occupation and how much money they had with them. Only 2 per cent were refused entry and returned to their embarkation point at the steamship company's expense. A record 11,747 arrived on April 17, 1907.

For 50 years from 1904 the ferryboat Ellis Island transported immigrants and employees between Ellis Island and Manhattan.3 It could carry up to 1,000 passengers who were separated on two decks: upper deck for staff and lower deck for immigrants.

Today there are audio tours to be taken, films to watch and many exhibits. We chose just to wander the halls starting in the Baggage Room on the first (ground) floor where immigrants left their belongings while undergoing the immigration process.

Ellis Island
Restored 1900-1908 dormitory: the triple-layer bunks could be raised so that the space could be used as a waiting room during the day.

The imposing Registry Room was where immigrants were questioned and underwent medical examination. The central hall extends through two levels on the second and third floors - surrounding the space on the third floor there are two long dormitories for temporary detainees, one on each side. In 1908 they were refurbished and divided into fourteen rooms - one has been restored.

Ellis Island

There are many evocative photographs of hopeful or worried-looking immigrants, ships with crowded decks, contemporary posters extolling the virtues and higher wages in the USA, but also others which advertise anti-immigration meetings.

 

Ellis Island
At the near end of Ellis Island are the contagious disease wards, well away from the other immigration buildings.

 

 

Staten Island

Staten Island Ferry
View of Lower Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry.

 

The Staten Island Ferry has got to be one of the best deals on the planet - it's free, you get great views of the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan, and you get to visit Staten Island!

Staten Island Ferry
A great view of the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry.

 

Staten Island
Boardwalk to the Staten Island 9/11 Memorial.

Many people just go straight back to Manhattan but they miss something very special. Walk along the coast a short way and you come to the Staten Island 9/11 Memorial commemorating all Staten Islanders who died as a result of the terrorist attacks.

Staten Island
Staten Island
Staten Island

It is exceptionally atmospheric, composed of two wings which frame the Freedom Tower across the water.

Staten Island
The two wings of the memorial are aligned with the Freedom Tower in Lower Manhattan.

On both sides of each wing are silhouette profiles of all the dead with names, occupations and dates of birth.

Staten Island
Staten Island

Staten Island
Staten Island
Ambassador Building
Staten Island
Ambassador Building

 

 

We had great difficulty finding any information such as how to get around the island - we couldn't find any tourist office either inside the ferry terminal or outside. We eventually got a map from a public library.

Staten Island

Staten Island is quiet and residential, down-at-heel in places but in others spacious green and pleasant..We sought out the beautiful Art Deco Ambassador apartment building - also famous as the home of Paul Newman before he moved to Manhattan.

 


Staten Island
Staten Island
Staten Island
Staten Island Snug Harbor
Snug Harbor

 

We caught a bus to Snug Harbor Gardens4 - free with our seven day NYC travel pass but we waited an age for one to turn up!

Staten Island Snug Harbor
Snug Harbor - the bamboo walk.
Staten Island Snug Harbor
Snug Harbor - the white garden.

A number of themed gardens are set in a green landscape of grass and trees.

Staten Island Snug Harbor

 

Staten Island Snug Harbor
Chinese Scholar's Garden

Easily the most impressive is the Chinese Scholar's Garden based on Ming Dynasty Gardens (1368-1644) with extensive use of rockery and water and typical architectural features such as circular gateways.

Staten Island Snug Harbor
Staten Island Snug Harbor
Staten Island Snug Harbor
Staten Island Snug Harbor
Staten Island Snug Harbor
Staten Island Snug Harbor
Staten Island Snug Harbor
Staten Island Snug Harbor

 

We exited at the south side of the gardens on Henderson Avenue and caught a bus to Denino's Pizzeria and Tavern - none of the buses we took were on time and all were driven jerkily!

Staten Island Denino's Pizzeria and Tavern
Denino's Pizzeria and Tavern

We sat in the bar at one of the tables along the wall (there is extensive seating in two large rooms but we much preferred to be in the bar) and had our first Staten Island Pale Ale which went down very quickly! The second with an excellent Margherita pizza.

Staten Island Denino's Pizzeria and Tavern
Denino's Pizzeria and Tavern

We really liked this place, it is a proper neighbourhood bar, people coming and going, sitting at the bar, all seemed to know each other and the barman who was very genial. It has a great atmosphere, great food and great beer - what more could you ask for!

 

References

  1. Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island information leaflet, National Park Service, USA, 2015.
  2. On site information board, Liberty Island.
  3. On site information board, Ellis Island.
  4. Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden