Janus' Home

8

evoke the sense of immigrants arriving during the first two decades of the 20th century, instead elicited puzzled sorrow. French filmmaker Georges Perec recorded, "what I find present here / are in no way landmarks or roots or / relics / but their opposite: something shapeless, on the outer edge of / what is sayable, / something that might be called closure, or cleavage, / or severance."27 Polls conducted during these tours in the late 1970s indicated the majority of visitors wanted to see the island partially or fully restored;once again, the government and the people had two very disparate meanings that neither side could manage to combine into one.28

The final and most recent phase in Ellis Island's history was marked by the Department of the Interior's decision to organize a commission to head all the private groups wanting to lead fundraising efforts for the island. President Reagan chose Lee Iacocca to be head of the Centennial Commission and later the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. As the son of immigrant parents who had passed through the island, a man who had climbed the ladder of American success, and a prominent businessman who had recently rescued a floundering Chrysler Corporation, he was the perfect person to raise money effectively.29 Appointing Iacocca was a calculated move for Reagan, since it not only upheld and further romanticized the "American dream," but also was to prove "how much more effectively private enterprise and fund raising could accomplish a historic restoration than a government bureaucracy like the National Park Service.".30

The Ellis Island Immigration Museum, which opened its doors in 1990 after nearly forty years in formation, reflects a complicated set of ideals from the perspectives of both of the new social historians and the Reagan administration, a combination which does not always work. The museum has nine exhibit areas which tell the story of immigration through general facts and


27. Perec and Bober, Ellis Island.
28. Blumberg, Celebrating the Immigrant.
29. Holland, Idealists, Scoundrels, and the Lady.
30. John Bodnar, "Remembering the Immigrant Experience in American Culture," Journal of American Ethnic History 15 (1995): 18.
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13