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Ellis Island–Fear and Freedom

5 Nov

Fear gripped me stepping off the boat…

Fear and freedom at that moment were the same.


Several weeks ago, I was culling through some old National Geographic magazines looking for pictures that might spur a story idea for my fiction writing class. I found one in the September 2007 issue when I came across some compelling photos of the ruins of Ellis Island taken over a five year period by Stephen Wilkes.

My favorite photo is one of two sinks in a hospital room. Above one of the sinks, a mirror reflects the image of the Statue of Liberty. The article explains: “As he stood up from studying dead leaves on the floor of this hospital room, Wilkes remembers that his head reached a point about five feet, two inches off the floor–and he saw the Statue of LIberty reflected in the mirror over the sink. ‘I suddenly imagined a petite eastern European woman rising out of her bed every morning,’ the photographer says. ‘That reflection would have been the closest she would ever come to freedom.'” Sounds like the beginning of an interesting story to me…

I wanted to know more about Wilkes’ photographs and learned that they have been published in a gorgeous coffee-table-sized book entitled Ellis Island: Ghosts of Freedom (published by W.W. Norton) and can also be viewed on his website

Although I am not aware of any of my direct line immigrant ancestors passing through Ellis Island, I found The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation website fascinating, too. Anyone can register for free and search original ship manifest documents and passenger lists.