Until I started researching my new book I had assumed that immigrants to the United States had always gone through Ellis Island. In fact until 1887 they were processed through Castle Garden. This building was constructed in 1811 as a battery to defend New York City from the British but no shot was ever fired. It was renamed Castle Clinton in 1817 in honour of the then mayor of NYC. Between 1823 and 1854 it was the Castle Garden entertainment centre – hosting the Swedish songstress Jenny Lind among others, becoming the Immigration Centre from 1855 to 1890 after which Ellis Island took over. Castle Garden then became the city’s Aquarium. It is now renamed Castle Clinton and is a national monument.
From my new novel:
When they were eventually taken by barge to Castle Garden, Eliza joined a long queue snaking past the customs inspectors and another medical officer, until she entered the rotunda. The vast circular room was supported by narrow pillars, surrounding a central glass ceiling which poured light down onto the motley masses. The noise was deafening as immigration officers interviewed arriving passengers in their own language, creating a smorgasbord of sound. The place resembled a museum of national costume – bearded Russians in long coats and fur hats, Slavic women enveloped in embroidered shawls of every possible hue, English, Scottish or Irish men in tweedy jackets, corduroy trousers, Poles in military-style jackets, Italian girls in coloured head kerchiefs and peasant skirts, Germans in long boots, overcoats, leather breeches and some in leiderhosen.