1954 — Ellis Island closes
On this day in 1954, Ellis Island, the gateway to America, shuts it doors after processing more than 12 million immigrants since opening in 1892. Today, an estimated 40 percent of all Americans can trace their roots through Ellis Island, located in New York Harbor off the New Jersey coast and named for merchant Samuel Ellis, who owned the land in the 1770s.
On January 2, 1892, 15-year-old Annie Moore, from Ireland, became the first person to pass through the newly opened Ellis Island, which President Benjamin Harrison designated as America's first federal immigration center in 1890. Before that time, the processing of immigrants had been handled by individual states.
Not all immigrants who sailed into New York had to go through Ellis Island. First- and second-class passengers submitted to a brief shipboard inspection and then disembarked at the piers in New York or New Jersey, where they passed through customs. People in third class, though, were transported to Ellis Island, where they underwent medical and legal inspections to ensure they didn't have a contagious disease or some condition that would make them a burden to the government. Only two percent of all immigrants were denied entrance into the U.S.
Immigration to Ellis Island peaked between 1892 and 1924, during which time the 3.3-acre island was enlarged with landfill (by the 1930s it reached its current 27.5-acre size) and additional buildings were constructed to handle the massive influx of immigrants. During the busiest year of operation, 1907, over 1 million people were processed at Ellis Island.
With America's entrance into World War I, immigration declined and Ellis Island was used as a detention center for suspected enemies. Following the war, Congress passed quota laws and the Immigration Act of 1924, which sharply reduced the number of newcomers allowed into the country and also enabled immigrants to be processed at U.S. consulates abroad. After 1924, Ellis Island switched from a processing center to serving other purposes, such as a detention and deportation center for illegal immigrants, a hospital for wounded soldiers during World War II and a Coast Guard training center. In November 1954, the last detainee, a Norwegian merchant seaman, was released and Ellis Island officially closed.
Beginning in 1984, Ellis Island underwent a $160 million renovation, the largest historic restoration project in U.S. history. In September 1990, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum opened to the public and today is visited by almost 2 million people each year.
1996 — High school sweethearts murder their newborn child
Young lovers Amy Grossberg and Brian Peterson check into a Delaware motel. During their stay, Grossberg gave birth to a 6 pound, 2 ounce baby. When the infant was later found dead in a trash container behind the motel, the strange and unsettling story drew national attention.
Grossberg and Peterson were high school sweethearts. Though Grossberg became pregnant during her senior year of high school, she managed to conceal the pregnancy from friends and family. Letters sent from Grossberg to Peterson during the fall of her freshman year of college reveal that as her delivery date approached, she was feeling resentful toward the unborn child and thinking about her options. "I am sorry I look fat and ugly," she wrote. "I wish I could have my nice body back. All I want is for it to go away. I can't get caught. I can't. I can't."
After Grossberg gave birth, Peterson placed the infant in a garbage bag and whisked it out to a trash bin behind the motel. In an autopsy report, medical experts revealed that the baby was alive at birth and died of massive head trauma, which refuted the couple's claim that the infant was stillborn.
Though prosecutors initially tried to pursue murder charges against Grossberg and Peterson, both eventually pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter. Peterson was the first to cooperate with officials, and in return he received a two-year sentence. Grossberg received the same sentence plus six additional months after agreeing to cooperate. At the sentencing, Grossberg made an apparently remorseful statement. "I put aside what was best for my baby," she said, "and that pain will be with me the rest of my life."
— This Day in History is courtesy of History.com.