island. The buildings languished, falling literally into disrepair,
since the National Park Service had a pitifully small amount of funding
with which to heat or care for any of the buildings. Ceiling plaster
fell, paint flaked, vegetation grew to jungle-like conditions, curtains
rotted off rods, machinery and furniture rusted in place and collapsed.
The roof leaked, pipes burst, windows broke in, and vandals stole valuable
copper from the cupolas.23 The NPS created a Master Plan
for use of the island, presenting a development concept that included
interpretation for visitors focused on the examination process in the
baggage room and main hall, exhibits of information on immigration in
general, and a park for ethnic group activities which reflected immigrants'
cultural origins.24 Despite having the plan and the public's
support for a museum on Ellis Island, Congress still appropriated no
money, and the island sat vacant and decaying for another ten years.25
No attempt to create a meaningful monument to the immigrants occurred
until a determined citizen, Dr. Paul Sammartino, lobbied Congress to
finally pay out money authorized in 1965 for use in rehabilitating the
island in time for the 1976 Bicentennial celebrations. Because so little
money ($1 million for repairs and $500,000 to the NPS for running the
site) was finally appropriated, the island which opened to the public
in May 1976 was a sad form of its earlier self. As a reporter from the
New York Times described the main building, which was the only one open,
This one had been shored up and rendered safe, but it is moldering.
Interior walls have crumbled. Mounds of fallen plaster and pools of
rainwater from leaking roofs spread darkly across some of the floors.
Dust and peeling paint are the most benign signs of the slow rot.
Windows are out, and in one room moss and small trees are growing,
and pigeons have settled in. Here and there bits of salvaged old furniture
have been arranged forlornly in an attempt to recapture the era.26
What the NPS ultimately presented to the public was the image of an
immigrant heritage about which the government cared very little. Its
forlorn appearance, which was supposed to