Wednesday Wander – Ellis Island, New York

There is something quite magical, even on a cold and snowy day, about sailing the narrow strip of water past the Statue of Liberty to Ellis Island, with Manhattan in all its glory to the right. It must have been an incredibly exciting, emotional sight for the more than twelve million immigrants who arrived in New York City between 1892 and 1954. However, their journey wasn’t quite over – they still had to pass through immigration which, in those days, meant stopping at nearby Ellis Island.

Ellis Island, named for its eighteenth century owner, Samuel Ellis, was for 62 years the entry point for migrants coming across the Atlantic to the United States. After voyages that could, in some cases, take months, each weary traveller had to carry their possessions through the echoing halls, be examined and questioned and sorted before being allowed access to the tantalisingly close mainland. It must have been heartbreaking for those who had travelled all that distance, leaving all they loved behind, to be turned away almost at the gates, so to speak, the glittering city so close by denying them entry for whatever reason they deemed fair. Yet for all that, Ellis Island was not the haunted place I imagined it to be before I visited – rather, the story there seems to be one of success, of the countless migrants who chose to chase the American dream, many of them finding success and prosperity enough to send for their extended families.

The current buildings on Ellis Island were opened in 1900, after a fire destroyed the original timber buildings in 1897, only five years after they’d been built. Immigration records dating back to 1855 were also lost in the fire, and for several years, while the new buildings were being constructed, the Barge Office at nearby Battery Park was used as the processing station for new arrivals. Once the new buildings were in place, immigrants once again had to stop at the island before being allowed entry to the United States. New arrivals were asked 29 questions by officials, including their name, occupation, and how much money they had, as they were expected to have enough to support themselves. Anyone with visible illnesses or poor health was sent home or held in the nearby hospital, even if the rest of their family had been approved to enter the United States.

In the vaulted Great Hall, migrants were checked for a variety of conditions (including one harrowing check which involved scraping the eyeball with a metal hook!), then sorted into sections to be sent their separate ways. On the day we visited, the hall was almost deserted – it was hard to imagine how noisy it must have been when full, or how many different languages once echoed beneath its lofty ceiling.

In some ways, the Hall itself was a symbol of the American dream. Our guide told us that the beautiful tiles lining the ceiling and floors were made by a family who had passed through the hall themselves only a few years earlier, bringing their expertise in tilemaking from the old world to the new, and finding such success that their products were soon in demand across the country, making them millionaires.

Across the water from the arrivals hall are the hospital and quarantine buildings, which have not yet been restored. It is possible to tour them, though, arranged through prior booking and while wearing a hard hat. We chose not to do so, instead following our guide out to where a curving wall of steel bore the names of all those recorded as having passed through the island to a new life in America.

The city gleamed in the distance, Liberty holding her torch to guide weary travellers with her promise of freedom and justice for all. It was an extraordinary place, with stories enough to fill several libraries, I would imagine. I’m glad I got to see it.

Thank you for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me! See you all next time…


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Thursday Doors – Statue of Liberty Pedestal

Following on from yesterday’s Wander to the Statue of Liberty, here is one of the pedestal doors. Each door is different, with relief panels depicting components of the statue.

They’re also huge! As you can see, I couldn’t get the whole thing in the shot. These doors (there are two of them) hang at the entrance to the Statue Of Liberty Museum, which is housed beneath the pedestal in what was once a military fort.

Oh, and this is what she looks like from below…

This is my response to the Thursday Doors Challenge, courtesy of Norm 2.0. For more doors, or to add one of your own, head over to Norm’s site and click the link.


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

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Wednesday Wander – Statue of Liberty, USA

I recently returned from the most wonderful trip. I summed it up on Instagram as follows: seven cities + six hotels + five states + four flights + three suitcases + two countries = one amazing trip! But it was so much more than that. Our whirlwind two weeks travelling from New York to Toronto to Boston and beyond took in some amazing sights – some expected, others less so. As you can imagine, I have loads of Wednesday Wanders to write. However, I thought I’d start at the beginning…

We arrived in New York to a sunny sixteen-degree day, warm enough to make the interminable queuing at JFK Customs an even less pleasant experience, heat radiating through the long glass windows. It was a pleasure to finally reach our midtown hotel and kick off boots and jumpers, putting long coats aside as we went out for a walk, eyes wide despite the jetlag kicking in.

However, we woke to quite a different city. Overnight the temperature had plunged to minus two degrees, thick snow falling. But we weren’t going to let the weather stop us – we had somewhere we needed to be. I’d purposely booked a Statue of Liberty tour for our first morning, both to get us all out of bed and to make the most of the short time we had in New York. It was high on our list as somewhere we wanted to see, so we were all excited.

We wrapped up warm and, after getting directions from the hotel staff, headed for the subway. That in itself was kind of exciting – the New York subway system is famous, so it was kind of cool that we were riding it. (and yes, I can appreciate that, if you have to do it regularly, it’s not quite the same thrill). We emerged at Battery Park to a winter wonderland, snow still falling.

Battery Park, at the southernmost tip of Manhattan, is named for the artillery batteries that have lined the shore since the eighteenth century. Four of the five original battery buildings still remain, including one in the park itself, and we were to meet our guide there. She was a wonderfully warm Puerto Rican lady, who immediately made our small group feel at ease before herding us all onto the ferry which would take us out to the statue.

We were still starry-eyed about being in New York, and, despite the weather, stayed outside to watch one of the most famous skylines in the world as we pulled away from the dock. I can’t think of another city (Paris, maybe?) that has so permeated human consciousness, featuring in books and films and music, on television and across popular culture; there is something quite magical about being there and seeing it for yourself.

As we neared the Statue of Liberty, we crossed the state line from New York into New Jersey. The statue loomed closer, holding her torch high, her oxidised copper robes green against the pale sky. The statue is so familiar as a symbol of liberty and freedom, that once again it’s quite something to see it in person. Gifted to the US by the French as a monument to US independence, the statue was dedicated in 1886, after years of fundraising by both countries to bring her to what was then called Bedloe’s Island. Made of copper and supported by an iron frame, the statue was designed by French sculptor Frederic August Bartholdi, and constructed by Gustave Eiffel. The figure of Liberty represents Libertas, a Roman goddess, with a broken chain at her feet. She holds the torch above her head with her right hand, and in her left hand she holds a tabula ansata inscribed with Roman numerals, JULY IV MDCCLXXVI, the date of the US Declaration of Independence.

When the statue was first constructed she gleamed, her copper bright. However, it only took a few years for it to oxidise to the familiar green we know today. The cost to restore the copper finish would be astronomical and, due to the statue’s exposed position, would only last a few years, so it has been left as is. Over the years the elements have played havoc with the fabric of the statue and, in 1984, it was closed to visitors for major repair and restoration works, opening again in 1986. The original torch was also replaced, due to corrosion, and is now displayed inside the museum entrance, giving visitors an idea of the extraordinary scale of the statue. The new torch, rather than containing a light, has been gilded with 24 carat gold and is lit by floodlights at night.

The Statue of Liberty museum, housed beneath the statue pedestal, is interesting and well-presented. It houses exhibits including a lifesize replica of the statue’s face and foot, shaped metal pieces from the original Eiffel frame, and a plaque commemorating Emma Lazarus’s famous sonnet, The New Colossus, which contains the oft-quoted line ‘Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free .‘

The pedestal itself was closed to visitors after the September 11 attacks, and only re-opened in 2004. It was once possible to ascend to the crown but, since 2001, this access has also been limited or closed off, due to safety concerns. On the day we visited the pedestal had been closed early on, due to the weather, but it re-opened in time for us to go inside. There are a LOT of stairs and catching the single lift, as you can imagine, involves a bit of waiting. However, it’s worth it to take in the fantastic 360-degree views. You can also view the statue interior through the glass ceiling, which was fascinating and kind of terrifying. To be honest, even if it was still possible to go up in the crown, I don’t think I could have done it!

I realise I’ve only scratched the surface of the history of this fascinating place, rightly designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 1984. However, this is a blog, not a novel, and so I’ll end this Wednesday Wander here. Next stop, Ellis Island…


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

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An Adventure…

Hello, everyone!

I know, I know – it’s been a little while between posts. I’ve been focusing on a massive editing job, a final push to get The Last Raven out to my editor by the end of this month… and I managed to finish yesterday!

Just in time, too, as tomorrow I’m heading off on an adventure – a trip to New York, then Toronto, then Boston, with a side trip to Salem and a drive along the New England coast. Oh, and I’m doing it all in two weeks.

Mad, right?

I’m really looking forward to it, though. Not just because I’ll get some more material for my Wednesday Wanders, but also because I’ve never been to New York, Boston, Salem or any of New England, and I love seeing new places. I plan on seeking out the partner to Cleopatra’s needle in Central Park, and have a tour of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island booked, just for starters. I’m also looking forward to finding out more about the sad story of the Salem ‘witches’, as well as seeing the New England coast.

I can’t wait to see Toronto again – I went to high school and university in that part of the world, and will be catching up with family and old friends, as well as being a bit of a tourist – well, it’s been a few years (decades) since I’ve been there.

And when I return, I’ll be back to it. There are more books to write and blog posts to share, plus the Bash will be less than a month away…

See you soon!

xx