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I toured two Ellis Island hospitals that have been abandoned for 65 years. Here’s what they’re like inside.

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Frank OlitoAug 6, 2020, 20:16 IST

I toured two Ellis Island hospitals that have been abandoned for 65 years. Here's what they're like inside.

  • When Ellis Island was in operation during the early 1900s, immigrants who were deemed too sick or disabled to be admitted into the US were sent to hospitals on the south side of the island.
  • Today the hospitals are abandoned. In 2019, I took a tour back of the Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital and the Contagious and Infectious Disease Hospital.
  • Inside, the walls are crumbling and the ceilings are falling down, but most of the structures have remained intact.
  • The morgue still has the cooling chambers where dead bodies were kept, and the chief of medicine’s house still stands on the edge of the island.
  • The hospital was known for its pavilion wards, which were large rooms that housed 20 patients with the same illness. Today, the large rooms are empty and deteriorating.

For many immigrants coming to America, Ellis Island was the entryway into their new lives. The visit to the island off the coast of Manhattan would be a sojourn for most, but 2% of immigrants never made it to the mainland.

Instead, they were turned away and sent back to their home countries, while others were sent to the hospitals on Ellis Island to be treated for diseases like measles and tuberculosis.

Today, Ellis Island is a bustling museum that welcomes 4 million tourists each year. But the hospitals on the south side of the island are closed to the general public and have been left in ruin for 65 years.

In the fall of 2019, I gained access to the hospitals through a special hard hat tour operated by Save Ellis Island, a nonprofit organization devoted to rehabilitating the island. Here’s what it’s like inside the abandoned and dilapidated ruins.

Once inside, I could immediately feel the sense of dread in the long, dark hallways.

Once inside, I could immediately feel the sense of dread in the long, dark hallways.
A hallway.

Frank Olito/ Insider

While most of the windows were boarded up, small slits of light snuck through, offering glimpses of the rundown building.

The hallways lead to rooms that are completely crumbling.

The hallways lead to rooms that are completely crumbling.
Abandoned room.

Frank Olito/ Insider

My tour guide did not explain what this room was initially used for.

Meanwhile, other rooms are strangely filled with aging chairs.

Meanwhile, other rooms are strangely filled with aging chairs.
Chairs in an empty room.

Frank Olito/ Insider

In this part of the hospital, there were several rooms completely filled with chairs. Most of them were stacked on top of each other, while others were pushed into corners.

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On my tour, in the morgue, small doors on a giant refrigerator were open, offering a glimpse into darkened chambers inside.

On my tour, in the morgue, small doors on a giant refrigerator were open, offering a glimpse into darkened chambers inside.
The morgue chambers.

Frank Olito/ Insider

The refrigerator once helped preserve dead bodies.

The room also acted as an operating theatre. More experienced surgeons would perform surgeries to educate the younger doctors.

The room also acted as an operating theatre. More experienced surgeons would perform surgeries to educate the younger doctors.
Morgue and operating theatre.

Frank Olito/ Insider

Strangely, historians cannot find a single photo taken in this room while it was in operation.

Walking from the morgue to our next stop on the tour, I noticed how some parts of the building were completely missing.

Walking from the morgue to our next stop on the tour, I noticed how some parts of the building were completely missing.
Missing side of the building.

Frank Olito/ Insider

Every now and then, I came across windows that were shattered, walls that were missing, and ceilings that were collapsed.

The hospital had 11 pavilions, which were large rooms that housed 20 patients with the same disease at the same time.

The hospital had 11 pavilions, which were large rooms that housed 20 patients with the same disease at the same time.
A pavilion or ward in the hospital.

Frank Olito/ Insider

Early on, doctors and nurses in this hospital learned that putting a person with measles next to a person with tuberculosis would greatly decrease their chances of survival. So, they implemented a creative and successful pavilion-style layout that originated in Virginia during the Civil War. Each pavilion or ward was designated for a specific disease. The picture above, for example, shows a measles ward.

The most important feature was the windows. Since there was no real treatment for some of the diseases at the time, the only thing nurses and doctors could do was open the windows and let in fresh air.

The most important feature was the windows. Since there was no real treatment for some of the diseases at the time, the only thing nurses and doctors could do was open the windows and let in fresh air.
A ward looking out on the Statue of Liberty.

Frank Olito/ Insider

I realized each window cruelly looked out on the Statue of Liberty, almost teasing each patient. Lady Liberty was meant to be a beacon of hope and symbolize the start of a new life. For the people in this room, that new life was just out of reach.

The tuberculosis ward, however, looked different because of the severity of the disease.

The tuberculosis ward, however, looked different because of the severity of the disease.
Tuberculosis ward.

Frank Olito/ Insider

Each room in this ward was equipped with two sinks — a necessary feature to stop the spread of tuberculosis.

Each room in this ward was equipped with two sinks — a necessary feature to stop the spread of tuberculosis.
Sinks in the tuberculosis ward.

Frank Olito/ Insider

In the entrance to each ward, nurses’ stations are now covered in dust.

In the entrance to each ward, nurses' stations are now covered in dust.
Nurse’s station.

Frank Olito/ Insider

I saw dust covering the places where medicine, needles, and other supplies were once stored.

Down the hall is the kitchen, which served 500 people each day.

Down the hall is the kitchen, which served 500 people each day.
The kitchen.

Frank Olito/ Insider

In here, there were three types of meals prepared: a meal for patients with regular diets, a meal for patients with lighter diets, and a meal for nurses and staff.

Today, the kitchen is mostly empty, except for a range hood that hangs from a dilapidated wall.

The large, wooden refrigerator once held the hospital’s chilled foods.

The large, wooden refrigerator once held the hospital’s chilled foods.
The fridge in the kitchen.

Frank Olito/ Insider

Today, the fridge is covered in dust and completely empty.

Stepping out of the kitchen, I took one last look down the long hallway that seemed to stretch on endlessly.

Stepping out of the kitchen, I took one last look down the long hallway that seemed to stretch on endlessly.
Hallway.

Frank Olito/ Insider

The boarded-up windows, the ill-lit rooms, and the crumbling facade all made for a terrifying tour. But it wasn’t over yet.

Next door to the Contagious and Infectious Disease Hospital is the chief of medicine’s home.

Next door to the Contagious and Infectious Disease Hospital is the chief of medicine’s home.
Chief of medicine’s house.

Frank Olito/ Insider

The chief of medicine lived onsite with his wife and children. Other senior doctors lived in this home as well.

Upon entering the home, I was immediately greeted by a grand staircase that led to the second floor.

Upon entering the home, I was immediately greeted by a grand staircase that led to the second floor.
Grand entryway to the home.

Frank Olito/ Insider

There are three bedrooms on the second floor, but it’s not considered safe to climb the stairs today.

On the tour, I was told that children who lived in this house used to hide from doctors under the staircase.

Although the living room is now covered in dust, I could still see the home’s former grandeur.

Although the living room is now covered in dust, I could still see the home's former grandeur.
The living room.

Frank Olito/ Insider

I was told this room was the best during Christmas, with stockings hanging from the fireplace and a tree standing in the corner. Now, it’s completely abandoned.

The kitchen came equipped with a cupboard, a stove, and two sinks.

The kitchen came equipped with a cupboard, a stove, and two sinks.
The kitchen in the house.

Frank Olito/ Insider

These days, the kitchen is dark with only a few beams of light seeping into the room.

Back outside, I took one last look at the massive hospital complex and was reminded of all the people who’d once been there.

Back outside, I took one last look at the massive hospital complex and was reminded of all the people who'd once been there.
The exterior of the hospital.

Frank Olito/ Insider

The hospital was later converted into a Coast Guard training center and played an important role in World War II. In 1954, Ellis Island and its two hospitals closed for good, but it still stands today as a monument to all the people who fought so hard to make it to America.

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