The island that ushered millions of immigrants into the United States reopened to visitors Monday for the first time since Hurricane Sandy struck a year ago.
The Ellis Island Immigration Museum in New York hasn't fully recovered from the floods that filled its basement, and many of its more than 1 million photographs and other artifacts are still in storage. But visitors were able to return to much of the graceful main building, including some exhibits, and to absorb the island's singular views of the nearby Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan.
"Awe" was the reaction of Cathy Scheer of Riverside, Calif., as she stepped off the first visitor ferry Monday morning. Some of Scheer's German and Scottish forebears immigrated via Ellis Island, so she was excited at "the chance to walk in my ancestors' shoes," she said.
Sandy's surge swamped Ellis Island, the entry point for about 12 million newcomers from 1892 to 1954 and a public historic site since 1976. David Luchsinger, the National Park Service superintendent for the island and the Statue of Liberty, arrived the day after Sandy to find doors and windows blown out, pilings strewn on the grounds, and the basement full of water, which destroyed the electric, heating, air conditioning and phone systems.
Liberty Island was also inundated during Sandy and reopened on July Fourth.
Rebuilding and storm proofing the electrical and other networks of the museum without marring the building was a challenge to plan and is still a $21 million, 18-month work in progress.
"Yes, we are shy a little bit on exhibits and artifacts, but we're not shy on character, at all," Luchsinger said while standing before a glass-enclosed array of steamer trunks and suitcases in the former baggage room where immigrants left belongings.