We woke up Thursday ready to head into the city. We were in Staten Island, so we had quite the commute. But being from Chicago we aren’t phased by all of the transportation. We are however phased by the HEAT! Yikes! John from our marina was nice enough to drop us off at the Metro stop. So that saved us a mile+ walk or a Lyft. Maddy chose Thursday to sleep late of course. So, we left 15 minutes later than we planned, which meant we missed the 9:15 train, which meant we missed the 10 AM ferry. Oh well, no schedule. So, we waited 15 minutes for the next train. The girls marveled that we haven’t been on a train since last summer before we left Chicago. We rode the Metro a half hour through Staten Island to St. George and picked up the Staten Island Ferry there. We caught the 10:30 AM ferry and were dropped off in Battery Park at 11 AM. Ready to begin our day. We didn’t exactly get an early start.
I was amazed to read about the ferry. It’s 100% free to everyone, always. When we got off the ferry we swiped our Metro card for our train ride and that was it. The girls were free for the Metro too. The Staten Island ferry transports 22 million people per year. For free! What a service! This breaks down to 109 daily trips carrying 70,000 people per day on weekdays. The ferry makes 88 trips Saturday and 82 trips Sunday adding up to about 37,180 trips per year. Wow. The ferry was also our first glimpse at the Statue of Liberty!!! The girls were so excited to see Lady Liberty. Next up was a view of the skyline as we pulled into Manhattan. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen a big city skyline!
The ferry lets off next to Battery Park, which happens to be where the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island ferries are located. So, we walked over there and stood in a very hot line in the sun to get tickets. Before getting in the next line for a security screening we grabbed a couple of pretzels and a frozen lemonade from a street vendor. Our morning of transportation left us hungry. We hopped on the next ferry and headed to Liberty Island. We picked up our audio headsets and began our tour. We did not go up to the Pedestal or Crown (tickets sell out way in advance) but we really enjoyed the tour of the grounds. The audio tour had a children’s setting. It’s an added bonus when something with so much history is explained at their level. I listened to that tour so I could hear what they were hearing. Both girls enjoyed it, but Madelyn really loves audio tours. She does NOT like guided tours where she has to listen to someone talk. And it’s hard for her to try to read everything or have me explain everything. But she really pays attention when she can listen to it herself. Plus, the story of Lady Liberty was told from the perspective and voice of a bird so it was fun! All of the questions they had been asking me were answered. They learned when she was built, how she came to America, what she stands for, how her torch shines at night and everything else. I say it over and over, but what a truly special experience it was to be there with the girls.
Next up was the quick ferry hop over to Ellis Island. Keeping track, this is one train and 3 ferries so far today. First stop on Ellis Island was lunch! We ate in the café, which happens to be the same cafeteria that immigrants used so many years ago.
After lunch we grabbed our headsets for our next audio tour. Madelyn was excited. Ellis Island also had a children’s tour, this time narrated by a muskrat. It started with a little bit of background about the immigrants that traveled through Ellis Island and the luggage they would bring. There was a story that an older lady told about when she was a little girl. Her mom had sheets with big bundles of whatever she could carry. She wanted her own bundle so they made her a bundle of her own with some of her smaller clothes to carry.
Next we moved up into the main hall which was the registry room so many years ago. There is so much history in this room. It’s emotional and overwhelming to try to think about all of our ancestors who left everything behind and came with what they could carry with the hope of a new life here in America. It’s hard to convey the enormity of that to the girls but we (and the muskrat) tried.
While in the main hall the National Parks Foundation had a table set up with an activity. There is a new exhibit coming out before too long where there will be a golden wall of messages written by visitors to Ellis Island. The girls each wrote notes that will be hung on the wall. The messages could be thoughts you have for someone new coming to our country, or a message to a family member who came here so long ago.
The audio tour took us through many more rooms. We learned about the medical clearance and how your coat was marked with a chalk letter indicating what may be wrong with you. We learned about the rest of the long process these immigrants had to go through to be admitted to the country.
We saw a room full of hospital artifacts and photos from the quarantined patients. The museum has an excellent collection of items that people brought with them to look at as well.
We also spent quite awhile looking at the models of how Ellis Island’s buildings expanded over the years with the addition of extra hospital wings mostly. These buildings are still on site but only accessible via a separate hard hat tour. We also got to see a sample dormitory room. Many did not have to stay on Ellis Island, however for those who did there were stories of having to run for blankets at night and to grab a bunk before they were all gone. We are all so spoiled – it’s impossible to understand how hard life was for these immigrants.
I was surprised at how much Madelyn enjoyed the tour. She didn’t want to leave. And she kept asking if we could go back the next day. But alas, we boarded ferry #4 for the day back to Battery Park. We decided that was probably enough for one day. The ferries were extremely hot and crowded and we were worn out from the heat. So, we got some ice cream and headed back to the Staten Island Ferry station to begin the trek home. We rode the ferry back (#5 – because we actually don’t spend much time on the water you know…). Then we hopped on the Metro again back to the Great Kills stop. We walked about a mile to a cute little restaurant overlooking the harbor and collapsed into our chairs for some dinner. After dinner we walked back to the boat, put the girls in some much needed showers and got them in bed. We were ready to tackle NYC Day 2 on Friday.