One Million Artifacts Salvaged From Hurricane Sandy Return to Ellis Island

An aerial view of Ellis Island. Photo: NPS/Colyer, Sandy Response NPS, via Flickr.
An aerial view of Ellis Island. Photo: NPS/Colyer, Sandy Response NPS, via Flickr.

Over one million documents and artifacts will return home to Ellis Island September 10, after nearly three years in storage following hurricane Sandy.

The historic treasures include immigrants’ shoes from China, Albania, and other countries around the world; historic postcards of immigrant steamships arriving from foreign ports; and the steering wheel from the Ferry Ellis Island (1904), which brought staff to and from work and immigrants granted admission to the US over to Manhattan.

“These personal artifacts, many donated by individual families from across the country, truly bring the immigrant experience to life, and we know visitors will be delighted to see them again on display at Ellis Island,” said Stephen A. Briganti, president and CEO of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc., in a statement.

A dock at Liberty Island damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Photo: NPS/Rannow, Sandy Response NPS, via Flickr.

A dock at Liberty Island damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
Photo: NPS/Rannow, Sandy Response NPS, via Flickr.

 

It’s a fitting date for the artifacts’ return, as the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration opened to the public 25 years ago this week. During the island’s over-sixty year stint as an immigration station (between 1892 and 1954), approximately 12 million people entered the country there.

Since the 2012 hurricane, the documents, which comprise approximately half of the museum’s collection, have been stored offsite at a facility in Landover, Maryland. Though the artifacts survived, the island suffered $77 million in damages, according to official National Parks Service (NPS) estimates.

Hurricane Sandy flood waters covered 75 percent of Liberty Island and almost all of Ellis Island. Perimeter walkways and railings around were severely damaged, as were electrical, water, sewer, phone, radio, and security systems. The storm also destroyed visitor security screening facilities, and the main passenger pier on Liberty Island.

The health exhibit in the Ferry Building on Ellis Island was damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Photo: Sandy Response NPS, via Flickr.

The health exhibit in the Ferry Building on Ellis Island was damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
Photo: Sandy Response NPS, via Flickr.

In order to safeguard against future storms, the NPS has completed a $39.4 million infrastructure project that improved the Ellis Island museum’s humidity control and moved mechanical and electrical systems above flood levels.

As the third anniversary of the devastating hurricane approaches, Sandy’s effects continue to be felt. Just last month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo earmarked $6.2 million for 16 historic sites damaged by the wind, rain, and flooding.

In the wake of the storm, art collectors are being warned to have sufficient insurance and a contingency plan in the event of a weather-related emergency.

At Ellis Island, it will take less than a month to reintegrate the returning artifacts into the museum displays.

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