New York City’s Ellis Island, located in New York Harbor near the Statue of Liberty, has stood as a symbol of welcome and a new start since 1892. Though it has been defunct as an immigration center since 1954, it remains open for touring as a historical location through the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, which opened in 1990.
In its 62 years of operation, Ellis Island processed over 12 million immigrants, primarily those migrating to the United States from Europe in a time of widespread political, social, and economic instability. Its busiest year was 1907, with about 1.25 million people passing through into the country. At the facility, doctors and legal inspectors ensured that potential new citizens were healthy and that their paperwork was in order, and officials would conduct additional interrogations about their financial situation and ability to work to determine whether to admit them. If they passed, they would be allowed entry into Manhattan.
(Of the many hopeful immigrants, two percent, or roughly 240,000 people, failed these inspections and were denied entry, earning the island the nickname “Island of Tears.”)
Ellis Island Day is observed annually on January 1, to mark the anniversary of the day the very first immigrant, an Irish girl named Annie Moore, entered the doors of the facility in 1892. The occasion was established in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush., to recognize the massive historical significance of the location.
It is not a federal holiday in and of itself, but because it takes place on New Year’s Day, expect businesses, transportation, and government buildings to be closed or operating on limited hours on this day. Interestingly, Ellis Island itself is not among them: according to the National Park Service, the only days the site is closed to tours are the fourth Thursday of November (Thanksgiving) and December 25 (Christmas Day)
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