PRINT December 1990


Producing Ellis Island

HOW DOES a federal office become a shrine? From 1892 until 1924, millions of steerage passengers passed through Ellis Island as quickly as possible without looking back. Today even more recreational immigrants will board Miss Freedom and other official Ellis Island boats provided by “America’s Favorite Boatride,” the Circle Line. They will participate in the founding myth of our time, “America’s great immigrant heritage,” through the trope of retracing the steps of those who came to the “promised land” before them.

Never an icon like the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island was an aperture, not a place; it was a gauntlet controlled by the Bureau of Immigration. Since 1965, the onset of a new period of mass immigration, it has been under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. Ellis Island, now a repository of patriotic sentiment, has been incorporated into a recreational geography of

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