French Artist, JR, depicts blown up photos of immigrants on the wall in front of an old-fashioned bed in the Ellis Island Hospital

Book an Ellis Island Hard Hat Tour for a Historic NYC Experience

Take a lesson in American history on this Ellis Island Hard Hat tour.

From 1892 to 1954 over 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island in their pursuit of the American dream. After the long difficult journey to the US, many travellers became too ill with infectious diseases to be allowed to enter the country. Immigrants who were deemed unfit to enter the United States were admitted to the Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital. Many immigrants were so gravely ill they succumbed to their diseases. Those who were released from the hospital would either be allowed to enter the United States or be denied entry after their long journey and would have to be sent back to their country.

What Should I Expect?

This facility was opened in 1902 as the first public health hospital in the United States. It remained in operation until 1930. The unit encompasses a general hospital and a separate pavilion style contagious disease hospital. Today visitors can tour this unrestored facility. It’s named the Hard Hat Tour for good reason and yes, actual hard hats are provided and must be worn during the duration of the tour. Visitors should be aware that the building does present some potential hazards such a broken glass, uneven walking surfaces, and dangerously loose fixtures. Closed toed shoes are required as flip-flops, sandals, and any other open-toed shoes are not permitted.

The tour does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the building, the tour is not wheelchair accessible and visitors must have the ability to climb stairs. The building is not climate controlled and there are no working bathrooms. What the tour lacks in comfort and amenities it more than makes up for in providing a memorable experience during your New York weekend break.

What are the Highlights?

Today visitors can tour this iconic landmark and learn its place in history as well as its role in preserving the health and well-being of the public. Visitors to the facility will embark on a 90-minute tour of select sections of this 750-bed medical facility. The tour encompasses the Ellis Island Hospital and the Infectious and Contagious Disease Ward. Also included in the tour are the kitchen area as well as the mortuary and autopsy rooms. Much of the Laundry Building is still in tack with the original equipment remaining in place. Those working in the laundry facility had the daunting task of washing and sterilizing over 3000 pieces of laundry per day.

The Ellis Island experience is brought to life through a unique art display, “Unframed” by French Artist JR. This artist has taken the actual photos of immigrants blown them up to full size and pasted them on the walls throughout the hospital. Some images are of doctors in the operating room, children awaiting diagnosis and patients hoping to be cleared for entry.

How do I get there?

Ferry boats depart daily from two locations, New York City’s Battery park located on the Southern tip of Manhattan and Liberty State Park in the Central Railroad Terminal in New Jersey. Tickets for the Ellis Island Hard Hat tour include the cost of a ferry ride.

For more unmissable things to do and see, check out our guide to the best New York tours.

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