The ‘Hot, Foul, Sultry Air’ of Ellis Island

What It Was Like at the Main Gateway to the U.S. in the Early 20th Century


Immigrants arrive in the U.S. today at thousands of entry points, by plane, boat, car, and foot. But for decades at the turn of the 20th century, the harbor at Ellis Island was the main gateway to America. The recently erected Statue of Liberty welcomed these huddled masses, and the hive of activity that was New York City buzzed just beyond. In the Great Hall, as immigrants awaited processing with their life’s belongings in their hands, anxious and excited voices in Italian, Polish, Ukrainian, Slovak, German, Yiddish, French, Greek, Swedish, …

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