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Ellis Island open for business!

It was exactly one year ago today that Superstorm Sandy — so-called because it wasn’t still technically a hurricane when it devastated the New York and New Jersey coastal areas — slammed into some of the most iconic symbols of our nation’s immigrant past.

Before and After Sandy: Main sign at Ellis Island

Before and After Sandy: Main sign at Ellis Island

Both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island survived the storm… but the damage… oh, the damage.

Just go to the National Park Service (NPS) website and take a look. There are photos of just what Sandy left in her wake at the Statue of Liberty and at Ellis Island. If you — like The Legal Genealogist — have immigrant ancestors, it’ll break your heart.

In June 2013, the NPS reported:

On October 29, 2012, flood waters from Hurricane Sandy covered 75% of Liberty Island and all of Ellis Island. While the Statue of Liberty and the pedestal escaped damage, winds and flooding from the storm destroyed most of the infrastructure on both islands. This included electrical, water, sewage and HVAC systems, phone systems, security systems and radio equipment. Both the main visitor dock and the service dock on Liberty Island were severely damaged. The perimeter walkway and railings around Liberty Island were also severely damaged. Visitor security screening facilities at Battery Park in lower Manhattan and Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey were destroyed. Damages were estimated by the Department of the Interior at $77 million for all of Statue of Liberty National Monument.1

It wasn’t until the Fourth of July that the Statue of Liberty could be reopened to the public.2 But open she is, and visitor numbers soared (at least until the government shutdown temporarily closed the island again3).

Ellis Island wasn’t so lucky. The entire island was submerged by the storm surge. The basements of buildings were flooded and electrical, water, sewer, telephone, heating and air conditioning systems were destroyed.

That meant no climate control for the thousands upon thousands of irreplaceable exhibit items in the museum collections — which were mercifully undamaged by the storm. So they were then moved, often by hand, from the museum spaces so they could be shipped to holding space in Maryland until the island’s facilities could be restored.

That complete restoration is a work in progress. As the NPS reports:

the Ellis Island Immigration 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.4

But today… today

Today Ellis Island is open.

It reopened yesterday to the public.

Oh, there’s plenty of evidence of Sandy still. There’s plywood still covering the holes where windows once were in the ferry slips. The only heat is from old steam radiators.

Only about half of what was open before is open now. The museum second floor is only partially open and the third floor still completely closed. The gift shop is open, the cafeteria isn’t. And you can’t access many of the immigration records from the island’s facilities yet.

But the ferries are running. The main hall, which greeted so many of our ancestors as they first came ashore in the United States, is open with many exhibits to see.

Today Ellis Island is open.

What a wonderful thing to be able to say.


Composite image:

top: Judy G. Russell
bottom: National Park Service

  1. Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island, Recovery After Hurricane Sandy: Fact Sheet,” National Park Service ( : accessed 28 Oct 2013).
  2. See, e.g. Mark Memmott, “Here She Is: Statue Of Liberty Reopens On Independence Day,” The Two-Way blog, posted 4 Jul 2013 ( : accessed 28 Oct 2013).
  3. Sigh… Don’t get me started again on those… those… those Congresscritters…
  4. Hurricane Sandy Recovery,” National Park Service ( : accessed 28 Oct 2013).
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