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Statue History Comes Out of the Closet

August 22, 1985

NEW YORK (AP) _ America’s attics, closets, trunks, trash cans and tag sales are yielding a treasure trove of Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island artifacts and memorabilia, according to the American Museum of Immigration.

″We didn’t have a glimmer of what’s out there until we started to receive it,″ said Paul Kinney, curator of the museum on Liberty Island in New York Harbor. ″We are absolutely amazed at some of the things people have sent us.″

Sylvia Weaver Jones of Chevy Chase, Md., was browsing at a church book sale when she spotted a program for the statue’s 1886 dedication ceremony. She bought the program for $12 and passed it along to grateful museum officials.

Irene Soar of Pawtucket, R.I., sent the uniform and sword worn by the officer who led the parade marking the dedication.

A woman in Redwood City, Calif., donated an inscribed watch commemorating her great-grandfather’s role as the first person to light the statue’s torch before the dedication ceremony.

She and several other donors were not identified by the museum because their permission had not been obtained.

An Essex, Conn., collector sent rare photographs of the arrival and unloading of the ship that carried the statue’s pieces from France.

An Illinois woman searching through the trash found an unpublished book manuscript written by a social worker at the Ellis Island immigration station.

Kinney said that such items help researchers fill in the historical record of the statue, the immigration station and their times. But many gaps remain.

There are no photos, for example, of the statue being assembled.

″Photography was about 40 years old then, and there were a lot of camera bugs around,″ Kinney said. ″I do believe there are photos out there.″

He said he also hopes to receive materials that might verify or debunk some myths, such as the one that Ellis Island immigration officers sometimes changed or shortened long surnames of European immigrants.

″What papers were people issued, if they were issued anything?″ he asked. ″We believe mostly they left Ellis Island with nothing″ after inspection.

Immigration cards or documents, he said, might settle whether names were changed, and if so whether it was done by immigration officials or the compilers of shipping company passenger lists.

Other popular tales of Ellis Island involve alleged changes in destination: the man who wanted to go to Houston and wound up on Manhattan’s Houston Street, the family that wanted to go to Amsterdam Avenue but would up in Amsterdam, a town in upstate New York.

Kinney said researchers have been told that medical personel on Ellis Island, like battle medics, devised new strategies to treat the ailments with which they constantly were confronted.

″But what did they learn?″ Kinney asked. ″We have no idea.

″We’d like some facts, from diaries or letters or travel documents, to answer all these questions. We’d like to know what really happened.″

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