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Brooke Shaffer

Author, Ski Patroller, and Pasta-Eater Extraordinaire

Ellis Island When?

SPOILERS AHEAD: PROCEED WITH CAUTION

So, in reading Windup, if you are any kind of history buff or just a Google guru, you will know that Ellis Island did not open until 1892. Walter arrived in America decades before, yet he still tells Tommen that he came through Ellis Island.

Some might point to Castle Clinton (also called Castle Garden). It was opened in 1812 to defend New York harbor during the War of 1812. It changed hands within the government multiple times before being commissioned as an immigrant reception center in 1855.

But Walter came over earlier than that. So, what was his experience like?

In 1847, New York (city and state), together with various immigrant groups, sought to regulate immigration, to keep track of who was coming in, where from, what skills they had, and to prevent disease from overtaking the cities. Walter, because he was alone and unskilled, may have stayed in a boardinghouse as a sort of temporary quarantine, all the while pestered by shady employers looking for cheap labor.

How does this explain his Ellis Island bit then?

So, when Walter emerged from the cave, it was 1923. Ellis Island was still processing immigrants (it did not see a reduction in workload until the following year). In having to build a new life, Walter had to say that he came through Ellis Island, as it would make sense for a new timeline. Because he was still coming to grips with his new reality where he'd jumped 70 years, he had to constantly practice on his new life as if he'd really lived it, which included the lie about going through Ellis Island. His anxiety over telling Tommen the truth understandably resulted in a few slips and inadvertent un-truths.

Castle Garden and Ellis Island are still the two most well-known immigration centers, certainly the only ones of their kind. Arriving in America in the late 1990's would be about as exciting as his immigration in the 1850's before Castle Garden. Any time he was asked about it, he would simply state the year he came over and avoid details. Therefore, his anxiety and the truth plus his drilled memory about his real versus false immigration experience got all tangled up until he mistakenly stated that he came through Ellis Island. The full truth of his experience is revealed in Of Saints and Sinners, coming out in September.

-Brooke Shaffer

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