More than 100 million Americans have at least one ancestor who immigrated through Ellis Island. Now the “island of hope, island of tears” prepares to give up its secrets
Annie Moore was lucky. Because the 15-year-old Irish girl was the first immigrant to pass through Ellis Island, on Jan. 1, 1892, she was treated more like a celebrity than one of the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” described on the nearby Statue of Liberty. Fresh off the boat from County Cork, Annie entered America bearing a $10 gold coin from the commissioner of immigration.
The 12 million immigrants who came after her in the next 32 years enjoyed a less red-carpet introduction to America. Herded like animals, probed by doctors, interrogated, tested, sometimes separated from their families and even sent back where they'd come from, the “wretched refuse” of Europe's teeming shores came to think of Ellis Island as the “island of hope, island of tears.”