Troop 140 of St. Mary Magdalen: Scouts Take Tour of Ellis Island

Ranger Mark St. John (center) with Boy Scout Troop 140 of St. Mary Magdalen Church at one of the original 14 desk tables used to register and question immigrants, at a trip to Ellis Island from Friday, March 13 to Sunday, March 15.

OAKVILLE — Boy Scout Troop 140 of St. Mary Magdalen Church camped at Alpine Scout Camp in New Jersey and then went to New York City for a trip to Ellis Island from Friday, March 13 to Sunday, March 15.

The scouts took a hard hat tour of Ellis Island. The tour was a 90-minute private guided tour experience through abandoned immigrant hospitals, an area that is not seen by the public and will not be restored.

The hospitals were abandoned in 1954 and are currently in a state of arrested decay.

They were few people on the island. Guides broke the troop into two and gave a bonus two-hour tour.

The troop saw various hospital wards and learned how individuals suffering from measles, trachoma, tuberculosis, scarlet fever and other diseases were treated.

Scouts were shown a card that doctors would mark for the 5,000 immigrants that went through Ellis Island every day. Nine doctors would position themselves at the bottom of the stairs, look at each person for six seconds and mark them with chalk, diagnosing their status.

The eye disease trachoma was the most dreaded chalk mark, because there was no cure at the time.

It caused blindness, making the sufferer unable to work. Because they were then not considered useful citizens, they were sent back to their countries of origin. Only one percent of persons entering the country were sent back.

Most immigrants paid $100 to come to America. 

After the hard hat tour, Ranger Mark St. John took scouts to the main hall and explained a myth that inspectors at Ellis Island changed immigrant’s names when entering the country. Actually, when immigrants approached the 14 desk tables at Ellis Island, their names were already supplied by the boat company that brought them.

Scholars concur that names were changed when immigrants left their homeland. At the time, most immigrants were illiterate and could not read or write.

Many would travel for miles to a port in their native countries before sailing to Ellis Island. When speaking their names, the person recording names would ask the person to confirm their name. Because they were illiterate, immigrants accepted what was written.

By law, boat companies had to provide a manifest of all passengers. There were interpreters to speak any language. He said Mayor Fiorello La Guardia spoke seven languages.

Before the troop headed to Ellis Island, there was daily communication with administrators who said the island was open and safe. Tourist boats which usually transport thousands had few passengers.

There were many cleaning crews, their numbers tripled for public safety. 

The scouts met a couple from New York City whose play had been canceled and decided to visited Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. They lived in Manhattan for some time, but had never visited these historic destinations. 

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