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“There are some success stories of people cured or tragic stories of people who died there,” he explained.
Before Sandy hit, Save Ellis Island had been seeking to restore these abandoned buildings and use them for an envisioned Ellis Island Institute and Conference Center. Calella, the Save Ellis Island president, said the conference center would be used for lectures, exhibits and festivals on topics such as “human migration, tolerance, cultural diversity, and public health.”
Lorie Conway, author of the book “Forgotten Ellis Island,” and producer of an accompanying film, said restoring the south side buildings and creating the infrastructure to build such a center would have taken “hundreds of millions of dollars” even before the damage Sandy inflicted. She argued that the job was still worth doing, even with the additional damage.
“The medical side of [Ellis Island’s] history says so many great things about what we are as a country, how we respond to people who are sick and diseased, but also represents some darker history,” Conway said. “It became a place where doctors were really choosing who was able to come into America and who was turned away.”
Zitko, of the The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, was confident that the necessary repairs would ultimately be made throughout the island. “I think everyone involved, from the Park Service to the foundation to concessioners, is very eager to get the islands open as quickly as possible with full knowledge they have to be safe,” she said. “We kind of have to defer to the National Park Service. They know we’re standing ready to help any way we can.”
Luchsinger found comfort in the fact that the preeminent symbol of Ellis Island, the Great Hall, through which all of the millions of new immigrants, rich and poor, passed was unscathed.
“I was absolutely elated when I went inside the Statue and the monument, and the Statue had sustained no damage whatsoever,” he said. “All the work from the last year, and no damage. [At Ellis Island] it was so wonderful to go inside the main museum and see the first floor and artifacts and exhibits were not touched.”
Contact Seth Berkman at firstname.lastname@example.org