Ellis Island

Review: Moss on Conway
Lorie Conway. Forgotten Ellis Island: The Extraordinary Story of America's Immigrant Hospital. New York: Smithsonian Books, 2007. 185 pp. Illustrations. $26.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-06-124196-3.

Reviewed for H-New-Jersey by Sandra Moss, Medical History Society of New Jersey

Ellis Island Remembered
In 1998, the Supreme Court gave New Jersey sovereignty over most of Ellis Island, including the hospital complex, the subject of Forgotten Ellis Island. Lorie Conway is a Massachusetts filmmaker who has devoted much time to the research and production of a movie about Ellis Island hospitals. This book arose from that project. In the course of producing the film (which one hopes will appear shortly on public television), Conway interviewed and consulted an impressive array of historians and National Park Service experts. She also did the historian's hard, lonely work of sifting through photo archives and scrapbooks.

Conway tells her story in such a way that one is left with an indelible impression of voices, not only quoted in and alongside the text, but also easily discernable in the scores of stunning vintage photographs. Little details catch our eyes and draw us in--a group of children clustered about a nurse who is trying to write a report; a detainee in a striped bathrobe reading a newspaper on the locked porch of the Contagious Disease Hospital; a group of nurses, some in high-buttoned white boots and others in more fashionable modern footwear beneath their starched dresses and caps; the traumatized faces of rows of detainees with the dreaded "X" chalked on a coat lapel; bald children with headscarves undergoing therapy for the stubborn scalp infection known as favus; the irritated bleary eyes of children and adults suffering through lengthy painful treatments for trachoma, a dreaded communicable eye infection and leading cause of blindness, which, if uncured, was an automatic ticket back to Europe; and multiethnic clusters of girls and women in hospital-issue dresses with a touch of trim at the collar.