|Statue of Liberty with Ellis Island in the background|
Liberty raised her arm, held aloft a flame
for dreams, for welcoming first class
who quickly disembarked, walked beneath her crown.
Others, tired, poor, and tempest-tost,
alighted upon isle Ellis, poked, prodded, questioned;
breasts full of trepidation of a letter chalked
upon one's chest.
Land of opportunity for those with strong backs,
for those who weren't hunchbacked, diseased,
feeble minded, Jews, Slavs, Italians, or Chinese:
first to confront "closing of the open door".
Most marked "desirable", no steamship return;
a few detained for Dr. Kimmel and staff -
wards now emptied and windblown once teamed
with immigrants tired; some tempted
to believe in God for the first time.
by Margaret Bednar, January 12, 2017
I've visited NYC quite a few times over the last couple of years, but this was my first visit to Ellis Island. I took the "Behind the Scenes Hospital" tour - not pictured here. I was left with quite a few impressions and will hopefully be writing a few more poems on this topic.
I do believe our government's first responsibility is to keep our nation safe from disease and those who would/will hurt our society and way of governing - but my heart went out to so many of the people's stories that didn't make it through (it is recorded that only 2% did NOT make it through) ... 9 of every 10 hospital patients were cured and became citizens. There was corruption going on and of course, at the same time, many heroic, selfless people working to help the immigrants. It seems the same narrative continues today...
Here is a short video "Inside Ellis Island's Abandoned Hospitals (CNN)" you might find interesting. I walked through these rooms, took photos, and will have a poetry prompt featuring Ellis Island on February 16 at "Imaginary Garden of Real Toad's" website.
|Ellis Island - Main Immigration Station|
The Public Health Service defined its mission rather narrowly—preventing the entrance of disease to the nation—but PHS officers interpreted their job more broadly. In their eyes, the goal was to prevent the entrance of undesirable people—those "who would not make good citizens" . In the context of industrial-era America, immigrants who would wear out prematurely, requiring care and maintenance rather than supplying manpower, would not make "good" citizens. By 1903 the PHS had elaborated two major categories: "Class A" loathsome or dangerous contagious diseases and "Class B" diseases and conditions that would render an immigrant "likely to become a public charge." A subset of Class A conditions included mental conditions such as insanity and epilepsy.
an excerpt from "Medical Examination of Immigrants at Ellis Island"