LIFE

The History Of Ellis Island Lives On 100 Years Later In These Haunting Photos

by Laura Caseley
Laura is a writer, illustrator, and artist living in New York City.

Over a century ago, between 1902 and 1914, millions of immigrants left everything they knew behind in Europe and parts of Asia and Africa — their homes, their friends and families, and their cultures — to come the United States in the hopes of a better life.

Many faced poverty and political strife back home, and coming to the so-called “land of milk and honey” seemed like the only option — like this immigrant couple who happily fled to America after WWII.

After a trip across the Atlantic, most of them poured into the immigration offices on Ellis Island, right next to New York City’s Statue of Liberty. There, they got their first taste of America — the good and the bad.

Now, 100 years later, the New York Public Library has released some amazing photographs from this period.

They show Ellis Island as the new arrivals would have seen it, as well as some striking portraits of the immigrants, many of them in traditional dress.

What do you think of these amazing vintage photos? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

(h/t: Ufunk)

This was the first place the immigrants went to upon arriving in America. Between 1902 and 1914, millions of people from all over Europe and beyond came through the immigration center.

This was the first place the immigrants went to upon arriving in America. Between 1902 and 1914, millions of people from all over Europe and beyond came through the immigration center.

For many, the first American meal eaten would be in a mess hall like this at Ellis Island.

For many, the first American meal eaten would be in a mess hall like this at Ellis Island.

They would wait for hours, sometimes days, to undergo inspections and documentation in "the pens," as these rooms were called. These people have passed the first round of mental inspections.

They would wait for hours, sometimes days, to undergo inspections and documentation in "the pens," as these rooms were called. These people have passed the first round of mental inspections.

Immigrants has to pass mental and physical inspections, none of which were particularly pleasant.

Immigrants has to pass mental and physical inspections, none of which were particularly pleasant.

When they'd passed, those who were not staying in New York City made arrangements to travel to other areas of the U.S., usually to meet family and friends who were already there.

When they'd passed, those who were not staying in New York City made arrangements to travel to other areas of the U.S., usually to meet family and friends who were already there.

Sometimes people came alone. Other times, whole families made the move, like this Roma family from either Hungary or Serbia.

Sometimes people came alone. Other times, whole families made the move, like this Roma family from either Hungary or Serbia.

Many children were brought over by their parents, who hoped they would have better lives in the U.S. This little girl likely came with her family from Sweden.

Many children were brought over by their parents, who hoped they would have better lives in the U.S. This little girl likely came with her family from Sweden.

These two Sami children also made the trek.

These two Sami children also made the trek.

Though many people came from Europe, there were immigrants from other areas of the world, too. This man came from Algeria.

Though many people came from Europe, there were immigrants from other areas of the world, too. This man came from Algeria.

This woman is from Guadeloupe, a French island in the Caribbean.

This woman is from Guadeloupe, a French island in the Caribbean.

People from all backgrounds came through Ellis Island, representing different ethnicities, cultures, and religions. This family, likely from Turkey, brought over a vase or vessel representing their heritage.

People from all backgrounds came through Ellis Island, representing different ethnicities, cultures, and religions. This family, likely from Turkey, brought over a vase or vessel representing their heritage.

Many immigrants moved to areas where people from their own regions were already living, as it eased the transition. This woman from Norway may have done the same thing.

Many immigrants moved to areas where people from their own regions were already living, as it eased the transition. This woman from Norway may have done the same thing.

For many immigrants like these Slovakian women, there was a desire to assimilate into American culture, but also a desire to hold onto their own.

For many immigrants like these Slovakian women, there was a desire to assimilate into American culture, but also a desire to hold onto their own.

This woman arrived from Italy in 1906.

This woman arrived from Italy in 1906.

And these Russian Cossacks arrived in the same year.

And these Russian Cossacks arrived in the same year.

This man's outfit means that he served in the Greek military.

This man's outfit means that he served in the Greek military.

When arriving in the U.S., many people came in the traditional clothing of their homelands, like this Bavarian man.

When arriving in the U.S., many people came in the traditional clothing of their homelands, like this Bavarian man.

It's pretty amazing to see each person's heritage reflected so clearly in their dress, like this girl from the Alsace region.

It's pretty amazing to see each person's heritage reflected so clearly in their dress, like this girl from the Alsace region.

And this woman from the Netherlands.

And this woman from the Netherlands.

Even while they tried to fit in, many people would remain proud of their heritages, like these young boys from Scotland.

Even while they tried to fit in, many people would remain proud of their heritages, like these young boys from Scotland.

While these families faced many hardships due to prejudice and xenophobia in the U.S., they were also able, eventually, to make lives for themselves and their children.

Some moved to other areas of the country, mainly large cities, and some stayed in New York.

They brought their cultures with them and enriched the “melting pot” of the U.S., and they might just be why you live there today!

You can see more photos on the NYPL’s Flickr album.

And to commemorate the contributions of these folks, be sure to SHARE this slice of history!