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June 30, 2010 / howardmestas


July 4, 1776 In Roman Numerals


Ellis and Liberty Islands


Wow!  If buildings could talk we would have heard some incredible stories today as     



we made our hard hat tour through Ellis Island.  This will be the easiest lesson I will prepare for my classes and not only because we got an awesome thumb drive from our instructor, but because the vast majority of Americans have some connection to the buildings on the island.  For decades there were at least 5,000 people processed daily so it is highly unlikely that any family in America today didn’t have some     



"From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome"


distant ancestor pass through those halls.  Most students already have some background on their ancestry so the motivation for wanting to learn more is already there.  Some of the hard facts we learned today were that the biggest wings of the complex were for immigrants with contagious or infectious diseases where they would remain until they were healthy enough to be admitted into the country.  One of the most touching moments of our tour was when we reached the building for people whose illness had reached the point where they became terminal cases.  They were given a room with good ventilation and nice views; unfortunately it was in a section where people were sent to die.  How sad for     

Window view of Statue of Liberty from room of terminal patients


them to plan so long, selling their property back home and leaving all they had known behind; only to come so far and be so close that they could see the Statue of Liberty through the window.     

Walls from outside infectious and contageous disease ward


With so many people entering daily, examinations were not a lengthy process.  In fact doctors on average would only take about six seconds to check eyes, ears, and breathing     

Window view from contageous and infectious disease ward


before deciding on the status of an individual.  This was a surprising fact for me considering how difficult it is to attain citizenship today.  Another surprising fact we learned was that most of the photographs we have come to cherish about Ellis Island were actually fakes and not real life shots.  Our tutor said that after examining so many pictures they began to notice that recognizable faces could be a nurse or doctor in one photo, an immigrant with baggage in another and a patient in a sick ward in yet another.  The explanation was that people were so stressed out and fearful upon arrival that they could never have posed for such examinations.  At the completion of tour we were free to walk about the visitor center were there was a plethora of incredible tools to learn about the immigrant story.  There were many children there, some with family and others with educational groups.  How awesome it must be for teachers in the east coast to be able to take their classes on field trips to places like this.     

View of Manhattan from Liberty Island


Next it was off to Liberty Island and my chance to ride the ferry again.  I know this shouldn’t have made me excited, but I have never been on the ocean before.  Liberty Island was one of those “pinch yourself” moments where I continually had to reassure myself that I was actually there.  I don’t care how many times you see it in pictures or on a screen it is a moment of exhilaration to actually see the Statue of Liberty in person.  If you are not proud to be an American after visiting this tiny island then you should feel shameful.  How incredibly symbolic this monument is to what we stand for and believe in, and just another thing to add to the greatness of New York City.  I kept looking back at Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge and imagined how this place developed over time.  I felt sadness when I saw where the World Trade Center towers stood and thought of how the view might have been from the island on that terrible day in 2001.  I also thought about how fickle we could sometimes be with our attitudes about the French.  Lady Liberty after all was a gift from the French people and really we never would have become the USA without the Franco American Alliance in the Revolution.  I also kept glancing at the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and remembered that it played prominently in one of my favorite movies “Saturday Night Fever” with John Travolta.  This was such a great day that I wasn’t even bothered by the rainfall that had my clothing all wet.  Unfortunately the trip ended in a bad note after I volunteered to snap a photo for a Nigerian woman and her young son.  Since her camera required that I look through the eyepiece, I had to remove my glasses to take the picture.  Of course that was the last time I saw my glasses since someone took them away for who knows what reason.  I spent the rest of the trip wearing a different pair with a prescription that was over ten years old.  If I had a chance to do it all over again, I would have still done the same thing.  She was so proud to have her image of herself and her son with Lady Liberty in the background.  Welcome to America. 



Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,  

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;  

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand  

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame  

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name  

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand  

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command  

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.  

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she  

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,  

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,  

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,  

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”   




Leave a Comment
  1. Brett Bridgman / Jul 5 2010 11:40 pm

    Howard, I agree with you. Just standing on Liberty Island looking at the Statue of Liberty brought chills down my spine! That is a great story about the Nigerian woman Howard. It makes me wonder how many immigrants visit that place on a daily basis. Sorry about your glasses situation, but at least you were doing a good deed.

    • howardmestas / Jul 5 2010 11:52 pm

      Yes Brett, good deeds are what guys like me are all about…most of the time! What was amazing about the day was that it was raining and foggy all day, but it was like who cares, we are on some of the coolest real estate in the world. Did your ancestors come through Ellis Island? Have you done any research on that?

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