Ellis Island brought back to life
For more than six decades, New York’s Ellis Island stood as the primary clearing house for immigrants, marking their gateway to a new life in the United States. More than 12 million immigrants made their way through the complex, but not all were able to reach the other side.
For some, dreams of starting afresh in the land of opportunity hit a roadblock at the Ellis Island Hospital. There, a chalk mark on the lapel of an immigrant’s jacket – signifying sickness or disease – determined whether a person would be welcomed to their new home with open arms or turned away to the land where they came from.
It’s been more than 60 years since the public roamed the halls of the Ellis Island Hospital. The dilapidated walls surrounding the 22 buildings of the facility are overgrown with vines and grass. While its neighboring facilities soon opened to the public, a vital testament of the nation’s history, the hospital has been largely untouched, kept almost as when its last occupants had left things.
Now, the abandoned structures are being brought back to life.
In taking archival photographs and super-imposing them into life-sized images, artist JR is launching the Ellis Island Hospital into a haunting future. In the installation – called “Unframed” – doctors await their next patient in the surgical theater. A woman sits next to a wire-frame bed where a fellow immigrant is stretched out. The faces of young children, some with downcast, sullen eyes, peer through the panes of the window glass.
The installation, filled with blown-up photographs, some more than a century old, marks when the hospital was shuttered to its final patient on Nov. 12, 1954. Immigration restrictions made it more and more difficult for foreigners to enter the U.S. until eventually all facilities were shuttered.
In the United States, millions of Americans can trace their roots back to when their ancestors entered at Ellis Island.
Yet despite the historic roots, newcomers hoping for a shot at their own American Dream face a familiar set of roadblocks. By the latest estimates, more than 11.3 million undocumented immigrants currently live in the U.S. – coming up close to the number of people who pass through Ellis Island in all of its more than 60 years in operation.