Ellis and Liberty islands struggle to recover after Hurricane Sandy.
The timing was uncanny: As it whipped up the East Coast
last October, Hurricane Sandy closed Liberty Island
to visitors one day after the Statue of
Liberty’s newly renovated interior was reopened. Damage to its companion
in New York Harbor, Ellis Island
, closed that
national landmark as well.
At press time, Liberty Island was
undergoing repair and set to reopen July 4. “At least 70 percent of the
island was inundated,” says Linda Friar, a spokesperson for the National
Park Service, which manages Liberty and Ellis islands. Staff housing
and the island’s shuttle dock were ruined. The Statue of Liberty itself
wasn’t harmed, and archival material inside it had already been removed
for the renovation.
Ellis Island, however, remains closed through at least 2013. The
, site of the Great Hall
where immigrants were processed, received little structural damage. But
Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge flooded the museum’s basement with
seawater, destroying the island’s infrastructure—heating, electrical
systems, ventilation and communications—and pulling the plug on the
museum’s controlled climate.
Its million historical artifacts, documents and photos were on upper
floors. “The museum became like a refrigerator when the power goes out,”
says Bob Sonderman, director of the park service’s Capital Region
Museum Resource Center and among the first to arrive on Ellis Island
after the storm. “As long as you don’t open the door, the items inside
will last a little longer.”
The Ferry Building, once the departure point for immigrants who’d passed
inspection, needed immediate attention. Doors and windows were blown
off and old medical equipment, on loan from Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum
, was soaked with
saltwater. A Cultural Resources Emergency Response Team of architects,
curators, maintenance workers and others assessed and removed the items.
Meanwhile, the clock was ticking for the Immigration Museum, where mold
was sprouting and condensation beaded on walls. The artifacts had to be
moved. But where? A search failed to turn up a nearby museum-quality
location. Sonderman offered up the Museum Resource Center in Maryland.
Thirty people took about six weeks to move the artifacts. “Teams would
come in and out, staying a week or two at a time,” says Diana Pardue,
chief of museum services at Ellis Island. Museum staff members and
emergency response team members from all over the Northeast packed items
according to museum guidelines. “We used acid-free boxes, acid-free
paper, foam padding and archival boxes,” Pardue says.
Researchers can request limited access to the Ellis Island collection at
its temporary residence. Pardue is confident it’ll return home, but
that may take a while. “We still don’t have electricity,” she says from
an office powered by generators and an old boiler. The Statue of Liberty
and Ellis Island Foundation is raising funds for repairs; see
From the July/August 2013 Family Tree Magazine