This photograph, taken by journalist and reformer Jacob Riis in the early 1900s, shows a group of girls and boys in an outdoor playground. (A few women are keeping a watchful eye over the kids.) Several children are riding tricycles and play-wagons, while the lucky little one on the right snagged the lone swing! But the key to this photo is the many American flags that look like they’re waving in the breeze. Why such a show of patriotism in the playground? That’s because this particular playground was at Ellis Island, the federal immigration station where, for 62 years beginning in 1892, millions of immigrants started new lives in America. Among those who passed through Ellis Island? A huge wave of Jewish families from Eastern Europe, who were seeking economic opportunity and religious freedom. Many would eventually settle on the Lower East Side. The journey to America on a steamship was long and difficult, and some new immigrants needed time to recover at Ellis Island before continuing on. Ellis Island’s leaders felt it was important for children whose parents were recuperating to have a place to play, so they created one on the roof! “There [the children] could enjoy the sea breezes of New York Harbor, precisely the sort of tonic needed after their passage,” reported one newspaper at the time. “There they could run and romp and laugh and shout.” Seems like a nice welcome to America!
Photo credit: Museum of the City of New York
More to Think About….
- What do you think it feels like to move to a new country?
- What does it mean to you to feel welcomed?