In 2012, my wife and I spent our 20th wedding anniversary in New York. It was our first visit to New York and we walked for miles on end around Manhattan, seeing all the typical tourist attractions. When we travel or take vacations, we make the most of our time, from morning until late at night, we try not to miss anything. Two attractions we planned to visit were Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. We visited the Ellis Island Museum and walked around Liberty Island, but one thing struck me as odd. Why was the hospital on the south side of Ellis Island left abandoned? The hospital must have equal historic significance as The U.S. Immigration Station, right? When we returned from our trip, I did some research online and found that several organizations offer guided hardhat tours of the hospital for small groups.Upon learning this, we had something new to add to our bucket list for a return trip to New York.In August of 2018 we made our return, but this time we took our two teenage sons. With everything we had planned for the week, I wasn’t sure what kind of feedback, or misery, I’d get from the family about taking them on a hardhat tour of an old hospital. I expected to get some groans, or at least are we done yet? comments from our boys. And I was completely wrong!Talking around the dinner table the following week, my two sons said that the hardhat tour was a highlight of our trip.
Curious about their belief in the hospital being haunted, I asked my family what they thought. There was no consensus. None of us saw or felt anything, and we weren’t particularly frightened.However, the thought of what might have occurred in specific places in the hospital stuck out in our minds. For example, my youngest son, Connor (15 years old) says the psychiatric ward in the General Hospital was disturbing to him. At this end of the hospital, patients could exit the main building and go outside in a confined caged area. He also made the comment that this end of the building was large. Connor said, “They must have had a lot of patients with mental diseases.”Recently, I received this email from Save Ellis Island. It’s promoting the hardhat tour of the hospital complex for Halloween. The email subject was: Ghosts of the Abandoned Ellis Island Hospital. When Isaw the four images displayed in this email, I immediately contacted Save Ellis Island to inquire about them. I had an email exchange with Janis Calella, President of the Save Ellis Island Foundation.Unfortunately, I was not given permission to share these photos, but you can see them here. According to Janis, While the photos are pretty interesting and if you saw the rest (not included in the article) I’m sure you would be convinced there was something unexplainable happening at the hospitals.”
Final ThoughtsDuring the renovation of the Immigration Station, there were two differing opinions. One, don’t rehabilitate every blemish of the structure, let the building speak for itself. Two, renovate the building and make it a pristine museum for visitors.With the Immigration Station, I believe they’ve achieved a balance between the two. What can be done with the hospital complex that also has historic significance, but is slowing being demolished by the elements? Abandoned or restored, the Ellis Island Hospital is something we shouldn’t dismiss. It provided care for people in need. It prevented disease from entering the country. Immigrants were born there, and they died there.The hospital represented American health care, sending 90% of patients on to New York City to become productive citizens in the melting pot of America. Ellis Island was an island of hopes and dreams for 12 million immigrants. And an island of sadness and misery for 3,500.Shaun Nelson is a photographer from South Ogden, Utah. You can see his portrait work at www.ShaunNelsonPhotography.com. He also writes about vintage cameras and using film on his website www.UtahFilmPhotography.com.Follow Shaun on Instagram @shaunnelson