Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

Nibbling the Big Apple IV

The Statue of Liberty, New York, May 2008. An appropriate and symbolic view. This is the view you will have at the exact moment you are told that your ticket does not include a visit to the monument itself, i.e. this is as close as you’ll get. Tickets for checking out if the X-men actually could have had that final fight inside the monument needs to be booked at least two days in advance.

A stay in New York is not complete without a visit to the Statue of Liberty, with a visit to the former immigrant facility office at Ellis Island included. Tickets can be bought at Clinton Fort, Battery Park, at the south western part of the Manhattan Island, just a few blocks away from “ground zero” where the WTC Twin Towers once stood.

Ferries departed every 25 minutes and after a languid stroll towards the boats, I found the queue to the boats, along the dockside.

The queue to board the ferry. Top right in the picture, the queue begins waaaay beyond arrow 1; visitors can buy their first survival kit of ice cream here. The queue continues behind the trees, at arrow 2. At arrow 3 the queue turns and here, a view of the sea comes into sight. The queue meanderered to avoid contact with a number of American Idol rejects that one would pay to stop busking. At arrow 4, roasted almonds at USD $3 per bag were sold. Skip that. There are no excuses for those almonds that turned out to be slightly more than a handful of burnt nuts. A half day event by itself, comfy shoes and bagged lunches are recommended.

After finally making it to the quayside, I found out there was security control to clear. Not surprising, but hardly something that lifts your mood. With paranoia in over-drive this security check out-rivalled the Schengen immigration control at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam in thoroughness.

Many travellers today have literally started to travel lighter in order to clear security control more efficiently at the airports, avoiding the need to re-clothe themselves in public. Loafers instead of boots, fitting pants without a belt and no jackets or coats unless absolutely in the dead of winter. At this particular security control to Liberty and Ellis Islands, it would be more efficient if one skipped denim jeans altogether as the outfit of the day, since that will give you less problems with explaining metal rivets and zippers.

All pockets were emptied. Mobile phones, iPods, wallets, watches, earrings, necklaces etc. down to hair clips, were to be placed in boxes and x-rayed. Next to me I heard the exchange – Excuse me Sir, what is that flat object in your back pocket? – Eh? Oh, its my guidebook. – Into the box please!

I suppose the heavy security checks could be understood in the context of the Twin Towers, where they stood no more than a few blocks away from the quayside. But terrorism has its nuances. To live in a constant fear that something else might happen; to be unable to enjoy a visit to the islands on a weekend, unperturbed and feeling inviolated seem to be bygone living. In part, the local mass media and institutions of power never seem let up on letting go of the fear. Which lends the ironic situation that those who seemingly protect, are also those that perpetuate this fear, infusing it constantly into our daily activities.

On board the ferry, a few Kodak moments:

The Manhattan skyline when the ferry was leaving the mainland

A view of the Statue of Liberty, when the ferry was approaching Liberty Island.

Me, trying to keep warm.

Between the two entities, it was Ellis Island, less of a national monument than Lady Liberty, that made the greater impact during my visit. It showcased the history of the immigrants coming into the USA during its operating years as its main immigration facility, between 1892 – 1954.

Walking through the corridors and halls of the building, one can almost feel the heavy presence of people gone past; the numerous visitors of today do little to drown out the voices and ghosts of those before.

12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island during its operating years but not all stories were happy. A small 2% of the immigrants were not permitted through, but due to the sheer numbers of migrants coming into the USA, as many as 1,000 persons a month could be deported. It took an average of 5 hours for an individual to clear the immigration quarters, where immigrants had to undergo medical checks, interviews and psychology tests.

An emotional place to be in, Ellis island harbours both joys and sorrows of those immigrants. And this you can distinctly feel, if you took the quieter staircases between floors.

Ellis Island was a humbling experience, for it called to mind the feeling of having to leave family, home and country, to risk all, in order to gain the chance to become what you want, where you want it. Whatever the reason for leaving, it is never easy.

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