The last time we took a look at Ian Ference’s photographs, it was of a spooky island that was formerly a leper colony. Now he’s taking us inside a building on Ellis Island that has been abandoned and turning to ruin for more than a half a century.
Ference gives us a peek into the Baggage and Dormitory building, located on the north side of the island, where immigrants with non-medical cases were detained. The building was boarded up in 2011 and “went dark.”
Calling up the nickname “Island of Tears,” referring to the 2 percent who were turned away from the nation’s immigration station that functioned just off the coast of Manhattan from 1892 to 1954, Ference wrote that many reasons aside from illness might lead to someone not being admitted into the United States.
“A variety of other factors – ranging from poverty to belonging to an “undesirable” ethnic or religious group to suspicion of radical political leaning – could lead to detention or deportation,” the photographer based in Brooklyn, New York, wrote in the latest post on his blog The Kingston Lounge.
The Baggage and Dormitory building, he noted, is more simple on an architectural level, compared to others on the island, indicating how quickly it was built and its intended purpose of being a “Detention Center.”
At one point after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Ference wrote that the building served as an internment camp.
“[…] while the Main Building saw 98 percent of prospective immigrants pass into America and thus represents hope, and while the Hospital Complex saw many prospective immigrants convalesce to the point that they were able to enter and thus represents healing, the Baggage and Dormitory Building has no such positive context. It was, always, a building first and foremost for detention,” Ference continued.
Here are a look at a few of his pictures inside the building (the descriptions are from Ference too):
Ference believes that if more funding is granted the building could someday be restored as part of the Ellis Island National Monument.
“Classism, racism, and anti-semitism are a part of the American story just as much as the ‘melting pot’ concept we learned a glossy version of in Social Studies classrooms. Internment was a reality of our national conduct during the Second World War. These aren’t happy stories, but they are fundamentally American stories, and they deserve to be told,” he said.
Be sure to check out Ference’s blog for more pictures of the Ellis Island building and history of its use here.