It’s an archetypal American story: grandeur and legend rising from modest, humble beginnings. Both islands were once home to vast oyster beds, and one was built up from the spoilings and fill from nearby dredging operations. Then in the late 19th century, the two islands became central to the narrative of the United States of America as “melting pot” for different cultures and a beacon of hope for the “tired, poor, huddled masses” of the world looking to make a new start.
On October 25, 2015, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on the Landsat 8 satellite acquired this image of Ellis Island and the Liberty Island. Those once-modest islands stand like magnificent sentries in New York Harbor, with Jersey City, New Jersey to the west and the lower reaches of Manhattan Island and Brooklyn to the northeast and east.
Liberty Island, once known Bedloe’s Island, was an oyster harvesting ground for the Lenape Indians and later for early European settlers. It then saw stints as a quarantine station, a hospital, and a military outpost. Fort Wood, with its walls shaped into an eleven-point star, eventually became the foundation for the Statue of Liberty, which was completed in 1886. The statue was designated a national monument in 1924, and in 1933 responsibility for the statue and island was transferred to the National Park Service. Today Liberty Island is one of the most visited sites in the National Park system, with nearly 4.3 million visitors per year.
Ellis Island has long had a complicated relationship with the “New Colossus” standing next door. Many people referred to it as the “Island of Hope, Island of Tears.” From 1882 to 1954, more than 12 million new immigrants to the United States made their entry to the country through the processing station on Ellis Island. The busiest year was 1907, when 1,004,756 immigrants were processed—11,747 of them on April 17, the busiest day.
NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey.