A Visit to Ellis Island

A few weeks ago, Jürgen, a cousin from Germany, visited the U.S. with his wife, Annette. They were making their second extended visit to various Goebelbecker families around the country, that Jürgen found while he was researching his family tree. Jürgen is a research librarian at the University of Karlsruhe, a few kilometers from Liedolsheim.

While he stayed with us we made a visit to Ellis Island. This was my first ever visit to the island. It was compelling enough that my wife and I returned there this weekend. Actually, I am sitting on the island right now writing this.

This should always be my view when I am writing.
This should always be my view when I am writing.

Like many Americans, I first learned of Ellis Island in school. I remember asking my grandmother if she had gone through Ellis Island when she arrived her. She grew very indignant.

“That was for people that didn’t have anywhere to go.”

And then I learned a little about how my family arrived here, but that’s a different story.

Chances are the fact that my family came over in 1929, after major changes to the immigration system in 1924, probably have more to do with why they avoided Ellis Island than anything else.

But as a result of what my grandmother said, I never felt a connection to Ellis Island. In my often way-too-literal mind, if my family didn’t enter there then it didn’t concern me, and there was no use thinking learning about it.

My two visits here have changed my opinion about that. Immensely.

More than twelve million people entered the United States through the island between 1892 and 1954. Many stayed in the area, taking factory jobs in the city or in nearby New Jersey, while many others headed west. In New Jersey, the ferry leaves from the rail station where many immigrants took trains to their new homes.

Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal
Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal

My great-grandfather and his brother arrived here soon after the island opened, and headed to the Cuyahoga Valley. A few years later, for reasons unknown, my great-grandfather returned to Germany.

The museum has three floors. On the first floor are displays describing immigrants’ experiences before the creation of Ellis Island, when they entered freely via several ports on the east coast.

The second floor has exhibits about their experiences after leaving the Island, as well as the famous main hall.

The main entry hall.
The main entry hall.


The third floor has examples of where the people stayed if they were held over on the Island.

Immigration is a hot topic right now, of course, and that makes my discovery of the museum seem timely. But even without that extra context, visiting here makes me think long and hard about what my grandfather must have experienced arriving in New York City alone 87 years ago, and working to save the money to send for his family almost a year later.

One of my cousins here in the U.S. had a plaque put up to commemorate my grandparents. I am glad he did.


Regardless of where they entered the U.S, they took on a huge risk and laid the foundation for good lives for all of us. They should be remembered.

No set of pictures from New York Harbor is complete without this.

If you are ever in New York City are, a visit to Ellis Island is worth your time. Spend some time there, too.

Catch the Book Train

The New York Public Library has installed a “book train” system for delivering books to patrons.

This replaces an older system in the Stephen A. Schwarzman building (the one with the lions) that consisted of boxes placed on a conveyor belt.

I have a ticket for a event in October where they will unveil the new reading room. Hopefully I get to see this in action too!

Amazing Library in China

There are few things writers and readers love more than libraries.I have fond memories of bicycling to and from the library when I was growing up in Ridgewood, NJ, and I also have spent plenty of quality time at events and doing research at the New York Public Library.

But feast your eyes on this amazing place in Yangzhou, China.

The image above is the entrance, which uses a black mirrored finish on the floor and distinct rounded shelving to create a stunning effect.

Here’s another shot of it.


Inside, the otherworldly effect continues with rounded pillars, shelves, and ceilings.img_6_1467955356_c51ce410c124a10e0db5e4b97fc2af39

The first thing of thought of when I saw this was the sets of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

img_4_1467955356_0a8005f5594bd67041f88c6196192646 img_2_1467955356_faeac4e1eef307c2ab7b0a3821e6c667

This may be the best reason to visit China I’ve seen so far.

All images © Shao Feng.

Read Some History and Call Me in the Morning

The party out of power tends to run on the idea that things are terrible. The party in power tends to run on the idea that things are fine and only going to get better.

These statements make sense. “Vote for me because I want the job” and “Vote for me because I want to keep the job” are not compelling campaign slogans.

We’re at a strange place in history right now. The party that controls both houses of Congress is making the case that things are falling apart and about to get worse, despite the fact that they wield quite a bit of power.  The party that controls the White House insists we are heading in the right direction, while their candidate promises fundamental changes in direction in areas like trade.

The Democrats have got a decent case. Without writing the 2,976,912th blog post about what a terrible human being Trump is, and how he is a uniquely unqualified candidate for anything other than Assistant to the Village Idiot.

But does Trump represent the end of society? The School of Life doesn’t think so.

When I heard this line, I backed up the video and listened again:

It makes no sense, and is a form of twisted narcissism, to imagine that our era has any kind of monopoly on idiocy and disaster.

This statement provides a huge helping of perspective.

Trump’s rhetoric sounds like that of past dictators, and I’ve written a lot about how our times bear a resemblance to the doomed Weimar Republic.

But we’re not there yet. Trump is a demagogue that has taken advantage of a fractured party’s feckless leadership. He’s trailing badly in the polls, and there’s a compelling case for him only doing as well as he is because he opposes by a very unpopular candidate who has done a good job of sabotaging herself.

Does this mean everything is fine? Do we have nothing to worry about? Of course not. But it’s not time to despair. It’s time to take action.

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑