Ellis Island opened on January 1, 1892, and for the next sixty-two years, it was the gateway to America. More than twelve million immigrants arrived, were processed, and allowed entry to the United States through this island in New York Harbor. For many immigrants, Ellis Island was a symbol of hope and a place where their American dream could begin, but for others, it was the place where dreams stopped due to a denied application or the diagnosis of a disease. Ellis Island remains a tribute to the immigrants of the twentieth century. Their journeys and sacrifices shaped modern America.
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Famous individuals who came through Ellis Island
Irving Berlin — Composer of Patriotic Favorite
Michael Strank — Raised Flag at Iwo Jima
General Colin L. Powell’s parents — Former Secretary of State
Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, USN — "Father of the Nuclear Navy"
Bob Hope—American Entertainer
Black Tom Explosion Damages Several Buildings on Ellis Island
At 2:08 am, on July 30, 1916, Black Tom Island in New York Harbor exploded with such force that windows were shattered in Times Square and reverberations were felt in Philadelphia. Immigrants at Ellis Island had to be evacuated to the Immigration Bureau at the Battery in lower Manhattan. The buildings on Ellis Island were severely damaged, and it was during the repairs from this explosion that the famous ceiling over the Great Hall was constructed by the Guastavino brothers.
The Black Tom explosion occurred before the United States entered World War I. During this time, German saboteurs would bomb targets with munitions and supplies destined for the Allies fighting against Germany. Black Tom Island was a storage facility for ammunitions being shipped to the Allied forces in Britain, France, Italy, and Russia. On the night of the explosion, over two million pounds of ammunition was waiting to be transported overseas. Shortly before the explosion, the guards at Black Tom discovered several small fires on the pier. The blast that followed caused an information blackout, one-hundred-thousand dollars of damage to the Statue of Liberty, over twenty-million dollars in property damages, severe injury to the buildings on Ellis Island, at least three deaths, and blast repercussions as far away as Brooklyn and Philadelphia.
New Jersey state officials immediately suspected German sabotage, but little was known or proven until after the war. The most serious suspect was Michael Kristoff, a twenty-three-year-old, German immigrant who may have started the fires for $500. His FBI folder states that Kristoff was “quite familiar” with the Black Tom Explosion. However, Kristoff died in 1928, before any charges were brought against him. In 1939, the German-American Mixed Claims Commission claimed that a German saboteur was responsible and ordered Germany to pay $50 million dollars in reparations. While the identity of the terrorist was never revealed, Germany accepted responsibility and Michael Kristoff remains the most logical suspect for the Black Tom bombings.