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A Guide to Lower Manhattan, Liberty Island and Ellis Island

A Guide to Lower Manhattan, Liberty Island and Ellis Island

My Mom was so excited for this vacation to Manhattan. She spoke with me about it for weeks on the phone, and then finally booked tickets. We headed to New York City for an opportunity to connect with our past.

My maternal grandfather had emigrated from the Netherlands to the United States. My mom didn’t know much about that time, but had assumed that his family had entered North America through Canada. However, when my sister moved to New York City, she researched and found out that the family had arrived through Ellis Island. My sister worked to get the family name placed on a plague on Ellis Island, and surprised my mom with the information and the plaque.

U.S. Flag and Statue of Liberty
Did my grandfather see this same site from Ellis Island?

Our trip was made in honor of our family history and to see the place where our family started their lives in the United States.

Although this was a personal vacation for us, I know that many people visit New York City and want to know where to go and what to do. Here is what you can expect on a tour of Lower Manhattan, which includes a trip to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.


Battery Park

We started our journey at Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan. It is the launching point for a ferry ride to Lady Liberty and Ellis Island. From the park, you can also catch a ferry to Governor’s Island, Brooklyn, and New Jersey.

Castle Clinton National Monument
Here I am in front of Castle Clinton

We headed to Castle Clinton, a National Monument and the location to purchase ferry tickets for your ride over to the islands. While my sister waited in line to purchase tickets, my Mom and I walked around the castle looking at the historical exhibits of the monument. Then, we headed to the ferry for our 10-minute ride to Liberty Island.

The Statue of Liberty

Once at Liberty Island, we were able to walk the circular path around the Statue of Liberty, snapping pictures from every angle. You can pre-purchase tickets for tours to the base of the Statue or to her crown. When we toured, these tickets were not available (I think because it was the week of the heads of state were speaking before the U.N. and security was heightened).

Liberty Island
The Statue of Liberty

We spent one hour on the island, strolling the pathway, briefly checking out the gift shop, and getting our National Parks passport stamped. There also are some food and snack options available on the island.

Liberty Sculpture
A view of Lady Liberty through the trees

One of the more interesting features on Liberty Island are a number of sculptures telling about the artists who made Lady Liberty a reality.

We then headed back to the ferry to catch a five-minute ride to Ellis Island.

Looking at the Big Apple. Photo courtesy of Lana York.

Ellis Island

This, of course, was our main reason for the trip.

Ellis Island Sign
Me at Ellis Island

We knew the marker number for the American Immigrant Wall of Honor, where the family name is engraved. The wall is behind the main entrance to the building and it took us some time to find the marker. It was a very emotional time for us, as my Mom took it all in, reaching out to touch the engraved name of her father. Clearly, it was a moment that we’ll never forget.

Wall of Remembrance
My Mom reflects on her father’s name on the wall

Then we went inside the building to look at the exhibits. On the main floor, there is an exhibit showing all the routes immigrants took once arriving in the United States. I was able to follow the journeys people took along the Santa Fe Trail, through St. Louis, or through San Francisco as they made their new life in this new world.

Ellis Island National Immigration Museum
The signs on the first floor showing the urban centers immigrants went

I then headed up to the second floor housing the registry hall. It was here that 12 million people signed their names to a ledger as they entered the country from 1892-1924. It is an impressive, large room which has the feel of bureaucracy. I got a real feel for what it would be like to arrive in the United States and then wait for 3-5 hours with my family in this officious room.

Immigration room
The daunting registry room at Ellis Island
A Look at History
A little of the story of the registry room

Finally, I headed to the third floor which contains a dorm room for the quarantined immigrants. Once registered, an immigrant would be quarantined on Ellis Island for a number of days before they could leave the island and start life in the new world. It is quite probable that my grandfather slept in dorm beds like these.

Waiting in dorms
A view of the dorm rooms at Ellis Island

We then got in line for our ferry ride back to Battery Park. It’s worth noting that the lines for the ferry can be long and the wait was about 20-30 minutes. The wait and standing was difficult for my mom.

Looking to the future
A look at Manhattan from Ellis Island
a View of Liberty
You also can see the Statue of Liberty from the windows of the Ellis Island Museum

Fraunces Tavern

A couple of blocks from Battery Park is Fraunces Tavern, one of the oldest structures in New York City. The Tavern, open since 1762, was the site where General George Washington gave his farewell address to his troops in 1781.

Historic Tavern
Frances Tavern in lower Manhattan
Front of Fraunces Tavern
The Tavern is on the National Registry of Historic Places

The tavern serves some great early American cuisine, and also has a large number of ales and draft beers. It was fun to eat here, looking out of those ancient windows into the very modern streets and buildings of present day New York.

Inside Fraunces Tavern
Colonial features seem to clash with modern Manhattan beyond

Above the tavern is a museum containing the original room where Washington gave his farewell address and the Clinton dining room, containing one of only 11 remaining handpainted wallpapers in the world. The museum houses nine galleries which contains flags of the early Americas and artwork representing colonial American history. It’s definitely worth a stop.

General Washington was at Fraunces Tavern in 1783. My Mom was here in 2017.

From the Tavern, it is a short walk north to Wall Street, Federal Hall, and the site of the World Trade Center.

 

My Epic Fail

I was so excited for the trip. It was my first time touring the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Given the significance of the trip for my family, I wanted everything to be perfect. There was one problem, however. There was a smudge on my camera lens. I didn’t know it. It was only later that evening after taking a couple hundred pictures that I noticed a black smear on all my great pictures. You’ll see the smudge throughout these pictures. I hate it. The pictures mar an otherwise perfect and emotional day for my family.

Have you dined at Fraunces Tavern? Or have you been in the crown of the Statue of Liberty? Let us know about these  or other New York City experiences in the comments below.

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