Echoes of the Past


A view of the main hospital from the immigration building.

Two years ago when I was in the final stages of writing A Fall of Marigolds, I planned a trip to Ellis Island to see for myself the hospital buildings where I set the story and which have been unused for more than fifty years. They weren’t open to the public then and I was going to be given a private and guided close-up look for research purposes. I had my plane ticket, a hotel room booked, even a reservation on the ferry all set up, but Hurricane Sandy swept in a little less than a month before I was to arrive. Ellis was one of the places that the storm hit hard. The damage to the landing docks was extensive and Ellis would end up being closed for repairs for more than a year. I still went to Manhattan. I met with my editor, took photos of the Upper West side to find the best spot for my fictional Heirloom Yard fabric store, went to the 9-11 Memorial, touched the building that had been the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, looked out over the river toward the island and the hospital buildings, and hoped there would be another time, some day, when I could walk the halls that Clara walked.

This past week, I finally got my wish. On Friday I finally got to see and touch and feel the hospital buildings that served as the detail-rich setting for this book. This part of Ellis is open now to hard hat tours by reservation only. I highly recommend the tour if you are a history devotee, if you enjoyed A Fall of Marigolds, and especially if you wish to join in the effort to preserve the buildings. They are crumbling into ruin as old buildings do if they are left on their own to time and the elements. Proceeds from the tours go to the Save Ellis Island effort. It’s also easy to donate toward the preservation campaign on their website. I send a small portion of the royalties from A Fall of Marigolds to assist in this endeavor.

The primary photo you see above, is the reflected view of the Statue of Liberty, visible from a mirror above a sink in a room in an isolation ward. The terrible irony here is that the patient whose room this was, was likely a third-class TB patient who would never be allowed to immigrate while infected with tuberculosis. He or she would be stabilized until healthy enough to make the journey back to where they came from…


One of several curved hallways in the contagious ward. Curves, so it was believed, kept bad air from settling in the corners.


The caged area was where those with supposed mental illness could get some fresh air during their stay. The mentally ill – diagnosed back then as imbecile, idiot or moron – would sadly be sent back to where they came from as it was believed they would become a burden to society. Only those who could work and make their own way in life were allowed to emigrate.


During the hospital’s golden years in the early 1900s prior to 1930, the lawns and landscaping were professionally cared for. After the buildings were abandoned in the late 1950s, trees overtook the empty spaces and their limbs broke more windows than vandals and heavy storms.

A hallway in the contagious wards. Clara walked down it many times…


Many of the window openings have been covered to keep out the elements. But not this one.


Being a public hospital, it was also a teaching hospital. This was the autopsy theater.


Unfortunately not everyone admitted to the Ellis Island Hospital could be cured. Hence, the morgue. The top two shelves would be packed with ice.


A haunting artistic display is currently on exhibit at Ellis. A French photographer has placed many of these images in different places. You can see more of this exhibit on the website linked above.


This is Ward K, where I put fictional Andrew, who wore the scarf around his neck on the day Clara met him…


Me in my hard hat!

Me in my hard hat!


Author: Susan

This post has 12 Comments

  1. Sandi Freed Ansell on August 4, 2015 at 12:46 am

    I loved the book and find the pictures fascinating. My relatives came through there many years ago…and I am so thankful that they did. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Mary McCauley on August 4, 2015 at 12:52 am

    Thank you for sharing. I first read your series set in Minneapolis area, then this one, now many others. I am blessed to have discovered you as an author and have recommended you to many others. Fall of Marigolds has to be among my favorite reads and one I would reread. Thanks for sharing these pictures!

  3. Bobby Jo on August 4, 2015 at 2:32 am

    Cute hard hat Sue!
    I love this blog post. So intriguing……

  4. Joy O. on August 4, 2015 at 3:48 am

    I loved that book, and this tour. As I posted before, I would love the read more stories from you, set on Ellis Island Hint Hint…..

  5. Susan on August 4, 2015 at 4:16 pm

    Thanks, Sandi, Mary, Bobby Jo, and Joy!

  6. Judy Horning on August 4, 2015 at 5:39 pm

    The top photo is classically haunting. So happy you finally got to explore Ellis Island.

  7. Deborah Strickland on August 4, 2015 at 6:49 pm

    Hi Sue,
    Thank you for including these pictures!! For your writing help me see exactly what those pictures showed.
    Love, Deborah xxx

  8. Susan on August 4, 2015 at 8:56 pm

    Thanks, Mom and Deborah!

  9. Melissa Henderson on August 4, 2015 at 10:17 pm

    Love your stories, Susan. Thank you for sharing the photos. You are an amazing author! 🙂

  10. Kathleen Basi on August 5, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    Loved this photo tour! I’m so glad you finally got to go.

  11. Susan on August 5, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    Thanks, Melissa! And Kathleen, so I am I!

  12. Norine Sultana-McCall on August 21, 2015 at 2:47 am

    These photos are absolutely wonderful, especially the primary photo showing the reflected view of the Statue of Liberty on the mirror above the sink in the isolation ward. Love this photo composition, color, focus, and the story possibilities. Hmm…maybe the cover for another book about Ellis Island? May I have your permission to copy your August 3 blog entry above to put inside my treasured copy of “A Fall of Marigolds” to review when I reread “A Fall of Marigolds”? “A Fall of Marigolds” will always have an honored place on my bookshelf and will be reread many times in the future. Thanks, Sue, for opening my eyes and my heart to the Ellis Island story.

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