In the early 20th Century, the sprawling, 29-building Public Health Service hospital on the south shore of Ellis Island was the biggest federal hospital in the country—and possibly its most state-of-the-art. The comprehensive medical institution treated over one million newly-arrived immigrants ill with diseases like tuberculosis, measles, trachoma, and scarlet fever.
The morgue and autopsy room. (Henry Melcher / AN)
Designed as a series of pavilions, the hospital has long, window-lined corridors that brought in fresh air and maximized natural light. To keep dirt and dust from piling up up in these narrow halls, concrete floors were raked in the middle and lined with drains on either edge. And to stop contaminates from drifting from room to room, no door directly faces another.Ellis Island’s South Side Hospital Complex. (Henry Melcher / AN)
In the 60 years since it closed, the former vanguard of modern medicine has been abandoned, looted, and turned into a decaying, inaccessible, ruin. But that that changes next week when the National Park Service opens up the hospital for public tours. Before that happens, AN got a sneakpeak of the fascinating, and unnervingly stunning, relic.Doctor’s quarters. (Henry Melcher / AN)
The Public Health Service campus has not necessarily been restored, but rather preserved in a state of “arrested decay,” according to Jessica Cameron-Bush who recently guided media outlets through the space. Inside the raw building, concrete is chipped, windowpanes are cracked, wood is splintered, and weeds have gained ground. But the hospital is structurally sound says the National Park Service and the non-profit Save Ellis Island which raised funds to reopen the structure.
Together, these groups have also commissioned an art installation called “Unframed – Ellis Island” to coincide with the public tours, and serve as a reminder of what the space once was. Throughout the hospital, artist JR has stuck life-size recreations of historic photographs that depict the doctors, patients, and families who walked the halls long before any of us showed up.
Hard hat tours of the hospital start on October 1st and will be limited to 10 people per group. Currently, there will be tours four days a week, but the schedule could expand next year. Proceeds from tour sales will go toward the complex’s continued restoration. Tours will be organized through Statue Cruises.