Via An Island of Hope, A New Home

Over a span of roughly 70 years, Ellis Island grew from an anonymous outcropping in New York Bay to an iconic symbol of American multiculturalism. Equally important to its legacy is the culture of hospitality beyond its shores.

Eddie Hausner/The New York Times

In 1921, 8-year-old Julius Kaplan came to Ellis Island from post-war Poland. Two years later, Dora Belinsky, 7, arrived from Latvia and passed through the same hallways. Almost three decades later, the two would meet and marry.

Now nearly a century later, their daughter and granddaughter, Robin and Courtney Messer, are returning to those hallways. In late June, the two were treated to a night at Ellis Island, the latest stop in Airbnb’s “Night At” series. The Messers spent the evening touring the historic location and discovering their family history before enjoying a sumptuous meal and finally retiring aboard the 160-foot yacht Arabella, moored just offshore.

Courtesy of Airbnb/Marck Wickens

Courtney’s entry was selected, in part, because of her enduring connection to Ellis Island. Courtney remembers visiting as a child and making a rubbing of her grandparents’ names after finding them chiseled into the island’s Wall of Honor, a memorial listing some 700,000 immigrants. She and her mother share a passion for genealogy “but to really be there and see these things firsthand, it means so much more than seeing a scan on a computer,” she says.

In the 1920s, Courtney’s grandparents and their families were welcomed into the Jewish communities of Lower Manhattan. The two met in the Garment District and married after World War II. Julius later opened a hardware store and moved the family to Brooklyn.

Courtney hopes future generations won’t lose interest in their ancestors. “To share this experience will help get my future children excited about their family history,” she says.

Neal Boenzi/The New York Times

The Messers aren’t the only ones that have ancestral links to Ellis Island. Today, roughly 40 percent of Americans are descendants of those who passed through its halls. Known as Oyster Island during the colonial era the island was renamed for Samuel Ellis, its first private owner. The island debuted as an immigration center in 1892, after teenager Annie Moore was processed just hours after arriving by ship from Ireland. By 1954, 62 years after Moore’s arrival, more than 12 million others had followed in her footsteps.

Of those 12 million immigrants, most came from Europe. Italy and Russia sent some 4 million combined. Their stories have been passed down through generations.

Hear their stories.

Read more about Ellis Island and the culture of hospitality it fostered in America for generations to come.

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