On this day in 1954, Ellis Island, the gateway to America, shut it doors after processing more than 12 million immigrants since opening in 1892. Try answering these trivia questions about a name and place whose memory remains a major player in the history of the nation...
Why Was the Center Closed? Ellis Island had to adjust to changing laws. In its first few decades, the center was the place where immigrants were questioned and inspected before being allowed to enter the country. After anti-immigration regulations took hold in 1924, reducing the numbers of people trying to enter and also shifting processing duties to embassies and consulates, the center morphed into a detention center for illegal immigrants or those immigrants who had caused problems. By 1954, the government shifted most of the remaining duties from Ellis Island to other immigration offices in other cities such as New York.
Who Did the Center Process? Contrary to the popular image of Ellis Island as the rite of passage for all immigrants, it was really meant for people who had traveled third-class. This was the era of ship travel, so rather than having people disembark at an airport and go through Customs, people would sail over and be divided by ticket class. The reasoning was that people who had the money to buy the more expensive first- and second-class tickets were more likely to be able to support themselves and not get into trouble. These passengers got a brief on-ship inspection of belongings and then went on their way. Third-class passengers, though, were the poorest, and they had to undergo several health screenings and questioning.
Is It True That Immigration Officials Changed People's Names? Yes and no. There was no widespread changing of names to make them simpler or more familiar because of the officials' preferences. There were certainly immigrants who wanted to change their names, but it was never done on purpose by the officials themselves. What did happen was confusion. A passenger's name could be misspelled by ship officers as the passenger came on board, and it could be misspelled again as the passenger tried to speak above the din in the immigration hall. There are apocryphal stories of people receiving different names because they yelled at someone who had just shoved them (thus getting a name that sounded similar to whatever they had yelled), but in reality, the big name changes were due mainly to mistakes, cultural misunderstandings, and people giving false names.
What Happened to Ellis Island After the Closure? The building slowly deteriorated over time; officials couldn't decide what to do with it at first. However, President Lyndon Johnson declared Ellis Island a national monument in 1965; after that, it was opened for public viewing for a few years. It later went through a huge restoration in the 1980s and is now a historical museum.