I don't need time. What I need is a deadline.– Duke Ellington



murray street PRODUCTION:
Ellis Island


1. Passage to America
2. Registry Room Views
3. Isle of Hope / Isle of Tears
4. Baggage Room
5. Between two Worlds
6. Exhibit Music, Clip1: Passages
7. Exhibit Music, Clip 2: Between Two Worlds
»  Read Transcripts

When the Ellis Island Immigration Museum opened on September 8th, 1990, in a gala celebration attended by a host of dignitaries, one of the most prominent features on display was a series of permanent audio installations that bring alive the sounds of America's immigrant past.

In association with the Liberty/Ellis Island Collaborative – three design, communication and exhibition fabrication firms selected by the National Park Service from competitive bids – Murray Street worked for almost two years to plan and complete the sound aspect of the museum’s displays.

The focal point of the $162 million Ellis Island restoration project, the 100,000 square foot museum, is housed in the island’s Main Building where twelve million new arrivals were processed during the period from 1892 to 1924.

Sound is a critical part of two of the museum’s four major exhibits, “Through America’s Gate” and “Peak Immigration Years,” as well as integral to the displays in the building’s “Baggage and Registry Rooms.”

The audio aspect of the Ellis Island Museum exhibits actually broke down into 27 separate sound productions, for which Murray Street Enterprise employed a staff of ten. Steve Rathe, producer Lauren Krenzel, and associate producer Donna Gallers supervised the project.

Tasks included evaluation of 200 hours of oral history tapes collected by the National Park Service, and the technical clean-up and audio processing of those tapes; original interviews in nine cities with immigrants or their descendants; collection of archive music from public and private sources; and mixing and editing to create multi-track sound montages. Much of the original sound collection by Murray Street was done digitally.

”Essentially, Ellis Island was a bureaucratic center with few really fascinating material objects,” says senior producer Steve Rathe. “With this spare picture in mind, the designers of the museum decided that a good way to bring alive the ghosts of Ellis Island was to have their voices fill its rooms.”

Today’s tourists arrive by boat at the historic ferry slip and proceed to the former Baggage Room, the same route taken by the immigrants. In addition to a display featuring hundreds of antique trunks, suitcases and baskets, visitors will pick up phone receivers to hear remembrances of personal objects brought by newcomers from Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, Hungary, England and Macedonia, among other countries.

The next stop on the immigrants’ route is one flight up – the Registry Room, the emotional core of Ellis Island. For this site, Murray Street Enterprise devised a series of montages in which immigrants describe the ordeal of processing, which included lengthy waits for medical and legal inspection. Visitors can also hear this audio installation through phone receiver stations, called “listening posts.”

The audio work for “Through America’s Gates,” one of the four major exhibits, is heard on speakers in 11 of 14 rooms, as ambience that recreates the atmosphere of the 1918-1924 period. These small rooms, all opening up to each other, contain visual displays of historic photographs, artifacts and personal papers. Voices of the past fill the rooms like ghosts, whispering memories that describe the human drama that occurred at Ellis Island.

For another of the major display areas, “The Peak Immigration Years: 1880-1924,” tapes again are heard on listening posts in a 10-room exhibition grouped around a sky lit atrium. Among other reminiscences, the audio for this exhibit includes immigrant descriptions of the voyage to America, including the first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty and the sight of New York harbor at dawn. Sounds, such as fog horns, water and gulls, enrich the audio stories.

For further information on the
Ellis Island Immigration Museum, please click here.


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