Ellis Island Immigration Museum Reopens A Year After Major Damage From Hurricane Sandy

Ellis Island's vulnerability to Hurricane Sandy's storm surge is clearly seen in this aerial view. Liberty State Park and Jersey City, New Jersey, are in the background. NPS photo.

Millions of Americans can trace their roots to ancestors who first entered this country through Ellis Island, and a year after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the island, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum is reopening to visitors.

The museum, part of Statue of Liberty National Monument, reopens to the public on Monday, October 28th, for the first time since Sandy hit New York Harbor on October 29, 2012. Ellis Island was completely covered by water, and the storm surge destroyed electrical, communications, heating and cooling systems in the park.

“We are delighted to be able to share Ellis Island’s uniquely American story with the world once more,” said Superintendent David Luchsinger. “I can think of no better way to celebrate Lady Liberty’s 127th birthday than to welcome visitors back to the place where those ‘huddled masses yearning to breathe free’ first came to our shores.”

Twelve Million Americans Entered Our Nation Through Ellis Island

A park spokesperson says visitors will once again be able to walk the halls of the immigration station where 12 million people began life in America. Open areas on the first and second floors include the Great Hall, where immigrants were inspected, and Journeys: The Peopling of America 1550-1890. This first-floor exhibit, developed with the support of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, tells the story of American immigration prior to Ellis Island’s years of operation.

Visitors to the island can pick up a free audio tour, join a ranger program and watch an introductory film. Outside, visitors can stroll to the popular American Immigrant Wall of Honor and take in fabulous views of Manhattan.

Repairs Will Continue Into 2014

Even though the site will be once again be open to the public, the museum will remain a work in progress at least through the spring of 2014. Elevator access to the Great Hall on the second floor is not yet available, but should be restored by early next year. Because of the storm, most of the museum collection is currently stored in a climate-controlled facility in Maryland. A temporary ventilation system will be replaced by permanent equipment later this year.

An entirely new electrical system will be installed along with a new air conditioning system for climate control of the park’s million documents and artifacts. Repairs to the water and sewage systems have already taken place, making it possible to reopen the island to the public.

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Exhibit in the Ferry Building damaged by Hurricane Sandy. NPS photo.

After the Statue of Liberty reopened on July 4, the park shifted its efforts from repairs at Liberty Island to planning the more complex task of reopening an historic structure that preserves a delicate museum collection.

Ellis Island was the former federal immigration processing station which processed over 12 million immigrants between 1892 and 1954. A 1965 presidential proclamation added the island to the National Park Service as part of Statue of Liberty National Monument. After years of neglect, major restoration work on the Main Building took place in the 1980s, opening as the Ellis Island Immigration Museum in 1990.

The National Park Service works with its partner organizations, The Statue of Liberty—Ellis Island Foundation and Save Ellis Island, to improve and enhance operations at the park.