Spectres of Migration and the Ghosts of Ellis Island

Joanne Frances Maddern

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33 Citations (SciVal)


This article is based on in-depth interviews carried out with producers involved in the restoration of Ellis Island Immigration Station, New York and those responsible for turning it into a successful national heritage site which opened to the public in 1990. The buildings on Ellis Island operated as an Immigration Station between approximately 1892 and 1924 during which time they processed over 16 million migrants of predominantly European origin. An analysis of interviews conducted as well as readings of Ellis Island taken from archives, folklore and US popular culture suggest that the site is imbued with the spectropolitics of its politically emotive immigrant processing past. Rather than dismissing the spectrality associated with Ellis Island as folkloric or irrational, the article attempts to untangle the different meanings attributed to the `ghosts' that circulate through the buildings and material objects that inhabit the island. It suggests that a number of `tropes' of ghostliness can be associated with the island; uncanny ghosts which defy the sanitizing force of the restoration; conjured ghosts, which are deliberately invoked by producers for various political and economic purposes, and the ghosts of deconstruction which make any meta-narrative of immigration history at Ellis Island a precarious if not troubling achievement.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-381
JournalJournal of Cultural Geography
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2008


  • Ellis Island
  • materiality
  • migration
  • restoration
  • spectrality


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