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Wednesday, December 17, 2014 5:48 PM

Ellis Island: From ‘sad side’ to saving ‘South Side’

Some knew it as the “sad side” of Ellis Island.

A century ago, the hospital complex at the historic Ellis Island immigration inspection station was the place where approximately 1 out of every 10 arrivals who were too sick to be allowed into the country were sent to recover, or to die.

The 29-building medical complex — in its day the largest public health institution in the United States — was itself left to die when the immigration station closed in 1954.

Ellis Island’s Main Building was restored and reopened as an immigration museum in 1990. But the hospital complex on the island’s south side remained shuttered for 60 years. That is, until two months ago, when officials opened the dilapidated buildings for public viewing.

“Even though much of the hospital equipment is no longer here, these special buildings are able to speak volumes,” said Superintendent John Piltzecker of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island. “The National Park Service is pleased to work with Save Ellis Island in their efforts to bring visitors to the South Side to learn more about the island’s unique story through this special tour program.”

The hard-hat tours take visitors through select areas of the 750-bed medical complex that have been stabilized and partially restored — including large hospital wards, kitchens, laundry facilities and morgues.

“The tour is for history buffs, and especially photography lovers,” said Yahoo News photographer Gordon Donovan, who recently took the 90-minute tour and shares his images here.

“The fading colors of the interiors, corroding machinery, metal stairs and doors, strong textures and challenging lighting are wonderful photography experiences you should not miss.”

Proceeds from the tours go toward the continuing preservation and restoration of the hospital complex. For more information on tours, visit Save Ellis Island.

Photography by Gordon Donovan

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