Ellis Island, the island in New York harbor where millions of immigrants arrived during the turn of the century, is not a place that one associates with the performing arts. Like most federal offices, Ellis Island had an impersonal feel to it as officials tried to process the many immigrants from numerous foreign countries, speaking numerous languages. From contemporary descriptions, it sounds like 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue at lunchtime.
Now converted to a museum, renamed the Ellis Island National Monument and run by the National Park Service, the island provides a fascinating look at how it ran and was able to process so many immigrants. The museum does well in providing a broader social history of immigration and acculturation.
I was initially surprised to see a wall of sheet music at the Ellis Island museum, knowing that the island had no music facility. But then I realized what was in the curators’ minds: What better way to visually express the multiculturalism of numerous immigrants than with contemporary sheet music? It attests to that product’s unique way of being able to grab people with bright colors, large lettering, and attractive (and sometimes humorous) illustrations.