Over the holidays, my husband I took a trip to New York City on vacation. We saw so many things while we were there but the one thing I was most excited to see was Castle Garden. All of my ancestors came through there and yet I know nothing about it. All you ever hear about is Ellis Island but between 1855 and 1892, over eight million people immigrated through Castle Garden.
As we neared our destination in Battery Park in lower Manhattan, I saw that there were hundreds of people all around it and I began to get that tingly feeling I get when I know I’m close to finding another ancestor in my family tree research or when I walk into a cemetery where my ancestors are buried. I could just feel that connection. I quickly realized however that the crowds of people were not there to see Castle Garden or for the same purpose I was. They were there to buy tickets for ferry rides to see Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. The lines of people streaming through this great hub if immigration in the US is nothing more than a ticket booth!
I’m not exaggerating this at all. In the center is literally a ticket stand where you buy tickets. The rest of Castle Garden is basically empty. We finally asked someone who worked there if there was anything about the history of the place and he pointed in the direction of a door that had a sign saying museum. After we pushed our way through the crowds that were blocking the door with their line to buy tickets, we walked into a room about the size of my living room with three glass cases on one wall. In each of the three cases are diagrams of Castle Garden in different years. It was nice to see how it once looked and above them there were a handful of historical facts. That’s it. Nothing more.
I found this a horrible injustice to family and United States History. I understand that more people came through Ellis Island and that it was the busiest immigration center of the United States at one time, but here are all of these hundreds of people standing in this historical place and most of them didn’t even know its name. At one time, however, Castle Garden was quite a busy place as well. A description of a British emigrant’s experience can be found here. My favorite quote from it is: “Such is Castle Garden as a great national refuge for the emigrant from all lands. It has nothing to parallel it on the continent of Europe. It stands alone in its noble and utilitarian character.”