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Maritime Image of the Day: Christmas at Ellis Island

PortandTerminal.com, December 18, 2019

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA – Today’s Maritime Image of the Day is titled “Christmas at Ellis Island“. The original caption of the photograph featured above, which was taken in the early 1900s, read “Emigrant children at Ellis Island, Menicolic and tense, displaying their Christmas gifts”. The photographer is unknown.

More than 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954—with an incredible 1,004,756 entering the United States in 1907 alone.  To put that number into perspective, the Port of Tampa Bay this year celebrated the fact that it had about the same number of cruise passengers. It is only the second time in Tampa Bay’s history that is has achieved that milestone.

Black and white photo of a large number of immigrants standing on board the deck of a ship called the S.S. Patricia on its way to Ellis Island
Immigrants on their way to Ellis Island, on the deck of the S.S. Patricia, 1906. (Credit: Library of Congress/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

For most passengers hoping to establish new lives in the United States, the process of entering the country was over and done relatively quickly—typically in a matter of a few hours.

Others though were kept at Ellis Island for much longer for various reasons. Illness was a common reason to be denied immediate entry. For those unlucky souls, the process of clearing Ellis Island could take days, weeks, months or in a few cases, even a couple of years. Christmas for some was spent at Ellis Island waiting to see if they would be granted access to the United States. It was a nervous time and many children were caught up in the process.

During Ellis Island’s peak years from 1900 to 1914, the Christmas season scene inside the immigration station was, by all accounts, spectacular. The Great Hall, with its soaring vaulted ceilings and glossy tiled halls, featured nine Christmas trees, each decked with colored lights. Christmas celebrations were carried out each year right up until the closing of Ellis Island in 1954.

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