Immigrant Museum: Elevating the Ordinary With AM-Ellis Island, Bjt
Sep. 09, 1990
NEW YORK (AP) _ A show at once ordinary and extraordinary opened Sunday on Ellis Island, where the ''Treasures from Home'' exhibit elevated the most mundane of immigrants' possessions to museum pieces.
The exhibit comprises scores of objects on loan from the families of immigrants who passed through Ellis between 1892 and 1954. They reflect the desire to make the Ellis Island Immigration Museum what chief curator Diana Pardue calls ''everyman's museum.''
The first day's visitors, many of whom had donated objects to the collection, cried and cheered as they spotted their family heirlooms, newly enshrined behind glass.
Items ranged from the relatively exotic, such as a formal Aragonese dress fan from end-of-the-century Spain, to passports and other travel documents.
The tone of the exhibit is set by a poster-sized excerpt from a letter written by Sam Auspitz, a Jew who emigrated from eastern Europe in 1920: ''My mother brought her candles, the ones you use on Friday night. She brought the things that were near and dear to us, which were not very important to anybody but us.''
Among the donors was Herman Gold, 82, of Chester, Pa., who arrived from the Ukraine in 1924. He stared at his father's old passport and recalled spending three long weeks on the island when he was 16.
Doctors had detained the whole family after they discovered a suspicious looking fungus on his father's fingernail.
''I remember it was cold as hell at night,'' he said. ''They gave us a blanket, but at night someone would always come and sneak and pull it out from under you. That's what I remember best - freezing to death.''
A pair of elderly sisters, Anne and Mary Lipozac, stood talking excitedly next to a display case filled with objects their mother brought from Croatia in her hope chest.
Its contents included china, christening bonnets, linens, hand-crocheted socks and a tiny loop of beads that was thought to cure sore throats.
The sisters said they regretted that their sister Amy, who helped assemble the collection, died before she could see it encased on Ellis Island.
''I look at this and I can only hope and pray that Amy and Mama and Papa know how valuable this has become,'' said Mary Lipozac, her eyes brimming. ''Mama would be overwhelmed.''