When I first decided on Ellis Island Hospital back in 2011 as a setting for what would become A FALL OF MARGOLDS (the original title was THE WEIGHT OF THE WORLD), I knew I wanted to visit its crumbling ruins despite its being closed to the public. I began corresponding with Janis Calella (featured in the above video) and when I was able to make plans in late 2012 to come to Manhattan to meet my new editor at Penguin, Janis arranged a private, hard-hat tour of the hospital buildings for me.
I was grateful for and excited about that upcoming visit. But then Hurricane Sandy hit and the destruction to New York and New Jersey was so acute and Ellis Island so badly affected, the island was closed for a year while repairs were made. I still made the trip to NYC to meet with my editor and see the other locations that showed up in my novel – like the NYU biology building that is the site of the former Triangle Shirtwaist factory, and Washington Square, and the Upper West Side. But I could only look longingly at the East River’s edge to where Ellis sits- probably as longingly as those long-ago immigrants gazed at the place were I stood. They had wanted to be where I was and I wanted to be where they were!
I left New York without stepping foot on Ellis Island and had to rely on email exchanges with wonderful people like Janis Calella, Barry Moreno, Art Lawrence, and Lorie Conway (all experts on the hospital’s history) to help me get the story right.
But still. I’d see photos on Save Ellis Island’s Facebook page and I’d feel a twinge of melancholy that I had been so close to being where Clara, my main character, lived her fictional life. Where she met Andrew, where she met the good doctor, where she found the scarf, where she wrestled with her demons.
So I am both elated and envious that at last the buildings are being opened to the public – by reservation – starting next week. I still hope I can get there someday soon. I especially want to see the accompanying photographic exhibition called Unframed – you simply must click through and view the slide show. The photos, so compelling on their own, make the unrestored ruins come to life. And hopefully, the tours will do what I hope my book will do, and that is bring awareness to the effort to raise the funds to save the buildings from total ruin. You can give toward the end – a portion of my royalties go toward it – right here.
Have you ever been to Ellis? Would love to hear your reactions to being in that wholly remarkable place…