Hundreds of visitors returned to Ellis Island on Monday for the reopening of the tourism landmark, one year after Sandy slammed it hard, flooding the building's basement, destroying electrical and heating systems and forcing the removal of historic artifacts.
"We offer everyone a heartwarming welcome to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, which are international icons," said David Luchsinger, superintendent of the federal facility.
Luchsinger spoke at the main entrance to the museum, which he said is being powered by its original radiator steam-heating system. The antiquated but functional heating source, however, cannot provide climate-controlled temperatures needed to house the museum's 1 million artifacts and documents, he said.
The collection, whose items were donated by families from across the nation, range from toys and clothes to letters and official government documents. The collection is being kept in Maryland until a restoration project is completed.
"We have well over 1 million pictures, papers, clothes that people wore, pots and pans and special musical instruments that the immigrants brought with them. These possessions were all they had when they came here," said Luchsinger, who expected the collection to be returned by the spring.
The $21 million restoration includes a new electrical, air-conditioning and duct system. It cost taxpayers $77 million to repair both monuments after Sandy struck, Luchsinger said.
At Ellis Island, the repairs and restructuring of its infrastructure will secure the museum from further storm damage in the future. "If there is another Sandy, it will only take two to four weeks to repair and cost less than half-million dollars," Luchsinger said.
A group of 36 Pennsylvania fourth-graders from The Swain School in Allentown were the first to arrive at the museum Monday.
"This is really exciting for the kids. We were so happy to find out on Friday that Ellis Island was open," said Sarah Kleppinger, the students' teacher at the private school.
The children have read books about the American immigration experience at Ellis Island including "Orphan of Ellis Island," by Elvira Woodruff, said Kleppinger.
"The students also researched the plethora of jobs immigrants did when they arrived including our own steel jobs in Pennsylvania," she said. The class also planned to visit the Statue of Liberty and the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side before returning home last night.
Nine-year-old Mohammad Durrani, whose parents emigrated from Pakistan, said he was interested in "how sad the people were on the boat leaving their homes; and were almost crying when they got excited to see the Statue of Liberty."