Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Ellis Island: Ghosts of Freedom

Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital
I love old things, people, and places. I remember one of my very favourite activities was exploring old abandoned farm houses with my father, when I was a kid. I knew we really shouldn't be going into those buildings, but both my father and I were so drawn to these old houses, and of course it was a different time and place all those years ago. However these experiences always left me with residual feelings of sadness and loss. Buildings are much more than just physical structures. They hold the untold stories of families, and individuals. I was left wondering why they left, what happened, and will any one every remember them.

Upon writing this post I got thinking, and realized I have blogged about abandoned buildings several times, but I never knew the history of Ellis Island, in particular the Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital. I knew the island existed, and that this was the entry point for immigrants. I was always curious, but honestly never really made the effort to find out about this mysterious place until now.

 I first heard about the remarkable French street artist JR a few years back, after seeing a TED talk he did. In 2014 JR was invited to install his exhibit, Unframed Ellis Island . Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital was opened in 1901 and abandoned in 1954. The hospital played a vital role in caring for those who were ill and first arriving in North America.

JR's exhibition opened Ellis Island to the public to view for the first time since it had been abandoned the public in 1954, giving a close up perspective of the abandoned Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital.

New York photographer Stephen Wilkes, and his five year documentation entitled Ellis Island: Ghosts of Freedom is powerful and haunting. An incredible historical record, that most North Americans can relate to, having connection to Ellis Island through there immigrant families, and who have an important story to tell, that the next generations need to hear.

 The stories that Ellis Island holds, are hard to comprehend, but both JR and Stephen Wilkes give us a remarkable glimpse into a historical past that emotionally moves you, and greatly captivates the imagination.

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