Ellis Island lies close to the Statue of Liberty on Bedloe's Island, about a mile from Battery Park. It is the most commanding location in New York Harbor. It consists of one small natural island and two additional artificial ones, connected with the first by a covered passageway across the intervening strip of water. On the first island is the main immigration station. The other two are occupied by the hospital division of the medical service. On one of these is the general hospital and on the further one the contagious hospital, consisting of separate pavilions, connected with open covered passageways. Each hospital can accommodate close to 200 patients at once, and is usually fairly full. The service is limited strictly to aliens, and the expense of each immigrant receiving hospital care is charged to the steamship company which brought him. This hospital is excellently conducted and every method of most approved diagnostic, surgical and medical technique is practiced. A rare variety of diseases is seen. Patients literally from the farthest corners of the earth come together here. Rare tropical diseases, unusual internal disorders, strange skin lesions, as well as the more frequent cases of a busy general city hospital present themselves. The variety of contagious diseases is unusual and extreme diagnostic skill is required of the physicians in charge. In the fiscal year 1911, over 6,000 cases were treated in the hospital, exclusive of 720 cases transferred to the Quarantine Hospital at the Harbor entrance before the completion of the present contagious hospital on Ellis Island.
The third division of the medical inspection is "the line" or primary inspection. This is the part that the visitor to the island sees, and has been often described. Suffice it to say that as the immigrants leave the barges they pass in single file before the medical officers who pick out all who present evidence of any mental or physical defect. They are turned aside into the medical examining rooms for more careful observations. Each defect or disease receives a medical certificate signed by three physicians, which places the bearer in one of the three classes already mentioned. Those who require immediate medical or surgical care for any reason are transferred to the hospital, as are also certain cases in which longer observation and more detailed examination are necessary for diagnosis. Examples of this are tuberculosis, parasitic scalp diseases, mental disorders and trachoma.
Having been certified or passed clear in the medical division, the immigrant goes together with those from the barge who have not been turned aside, to the up or registry floor, for the inspection of the immigrant authorities. These inspectors ask the same questions that the immigrant was required to answer when the ship's manifest was filled out before embarkation. This covers such information as name, age, destination, race, nativity, last residence, occupation, condition of health, nearest relative or friend in the old country, who paid his passage, whether in United States before, whether ever in prison, whether a polygamist or anarchist, whether coming under any contract labor scheme, and personal marks of identification such as height, and color of eyes and hair. Any discrepancies in the answers are noted. The immigrant is also required to show what money he has. All who do not meet these questions satisfactorily or who hold medical certificates of classes A or B, are held for a rigid examination before a Board of Special Inquiry, which decides whether or not they shall be admitted. Each of these boards consists of three members, the decision of two members being final. The hearings of the boards are private, but a complete copy of the proceedings is made and filed in Washington.
Those who are to be deported are held on the island until the vessel on which they came is ready for its return voyage. In the event of deportation being ordered, the alien may appeal from the decision of the board to the commission of the port, from him to the commissioner-general of immigration, and they to the Secretary of Commerce and Labor.
Those immigrants who have passed satisfactorily and are bound for New York City are sent to the "New York room" to await friends or responsible parties who come for them. This is one of the most dramatic and thrilling spots on the island, for it is the reunion place of friends, relatives and lovers. The Irish girl who came two years ago meets the sister and the old mother. The one is pale, nervous, and clad in New York garb; the others have never seen the ocean until their good ship sailed, and their brilliant cheeks and country dress are in keeping with their dense ignorance and shyness. They know the price of shoes and what spuds are worth at market, but it is beyond them to recall the date of their birthday or what the present month may be.
Those immigrants who are destined for points other than New York City are sent to the railroad room. Here they change their money for United States coin, and buy their railroad tickets under careful supervision. Their baggage is checked; they have a telegraph, cable and post office of their own, and may buy lunches whose contents are exhibited to all in glass cases. Special agents see that each one buys a lunch proportioned to the size of his family and the length of his journey. Cigars, cakes and fruits are also to be had. One day a stolid and emotionless Slavish woman opened her cardboard lunch box at the bottom and extracted a piece of bologna cut on the bias, smelled it carefully from different sides, licked it, finally tasted it, and then broke into a flood of smiles as she pressed it forcibly into the mouth of her equally stolid two-year-old baby. And the baby sucked and munched on the new world dainty in undiscerning pleasure! But the greatest mystery in the lunch box is usually the small round fruit pie. Some carefully raise the crust and extract the contents with a much-used finger. Another whittles it off in slices with a murderous knife a foot in length, while another will carefully eat off all the crust and discard the interior. A bearded Cossack with great care and patience chewed a hole through one corner of a tin of sardines. Then with praiseworthy perseverance, he sucked out the oil! From the railroad room, the immigrants are taken in barges to the depot of the railroad on which their journey is to be made.