ELLIS ISLAND, (The History Channel, $49.95).
This three-volume video program chronicles the history of Ellis Island, the processing station in the middle of New York harbor, through which 71 percent of all those seeking to immigrate to the United States between 1892 and 1924 had to pass. The film series documents the story of America’s peak immigration years through rare archival photographs and film footage, official records, dramatic recreations, interviews with historians, and the emotional reminiscences of the immigrants themselves. Among the topics explored are the sometimes insensitive government policies set up to protect the health of U.S. citizens and ensure an able-bodied work force; the often arbitrary literacy requirements that resulted in many would-be immigrants being returned to Europe; the means used to disqualify those who might constitute a financial drain on American society; the laws passed to ensure strict quotas based on an applicant’s national origin; and the eventual establishment of consulates abroad, where initial screening could be conducted and paperwork completed, thus making Ellis Island superfluous. Also discussed are the huge facility’s fall into disrepair after its 1954 closure, its subsequent restoration, and its 1990 opening as a museum dedicated to the millions of desperate people who traveled across the Atlantic Ocean in overcrowded ships, seeking a better life in America.
More reviews from the October 1997 issue of American History:
THEODORE ROOSEVELT: ROUGHRIDER TO RUSHMORE WINGS: LONDON BLITZ TO PEARL HARBOR PRESENTING MR. FREDERICK DOUGLASS: “THE LESSON OF THE HOUR”