In the Shadow of Liberty: The Chronicle of Ellis Island

By Edward Corsi | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
LISTENING TO REMINISCENCES

TALKING with members of the executive staff after lunch in the Commissioner's dining room, or riding to and from the day's work on the little ferry boat that plied between lower Manhattan and Ellis Island, I heard many interesting tales from men who had spent most of their lives in the Immigration Service.

Hundreds of stories might be told here, for every outstanding case left behind its memories for those who handled it; but perhaps the three outstanding episodes, which remain in the minds of all who were in the service when they occurred, dealt with neither individual cases nor immigrant groups. Instead, they arose from circumstances and conditions beyond the control of immigration officials. They occurred in the following order:

The Fire of 1897 The Communipaw Explosion of 1911 The Black Tom Explosion of 1916

The fire of June 15, 1897, from Uncle Sam's standpoint, was the most destructive of all the calamities which have befallen Ellis Island. The property loss resulting from the burning of the original buildings amounted to approximately $750,000. Fortunately no lives were lost.

The fire was discovered at 12:30 A.M. There were two hundred

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