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A live weekly radio adventure through Indiana history with host Nelson Price. Airs live on Saturdays from noon to 1 pm ET at WICR 88.7 in Indianapolis. 

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June 03, 2023

Before Ellis Island: immigration and Benjamin Harrison - Encore

During a show five years ago, Hoosier History Live explored the connections between Indiana and Ellis Island, the gateway to America for generations of immigrants. The receiving center for aspiring Americans in New York Harbor opened in 1892 during the administration of President Benjamin Harrison, the only president elected from Indiana.

As a kind of prequel to that show, in this encore of a program broadcast in July 2022, we delve into the immigration scenario that led the federal government to open Ellis Island, including controversies at its predecessor, Castle Garden on lower Manhattan in New York City. The country's first official immigration center, Castle Garden, was operated by New York officials.

We also will explore the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which Harrison opposed as a U.S. senator from Indiana. The Chinese Exclusion Act, which suspended the immigration of skilled and unskilled Chinese laborers, passed without Harrison's support. According to Nelson's guest, Harrison was labeled the "pro-Chinese candidate" of the Republican Party in his presidential campaign of 1888.

Jennifer Capps, the veteran curator at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site in Indianapolis, also will share some insights about Angel Island, a center on the West Coast where immigrants were detained and interrogated. Angel Island opened in 1910, nine years after Harrison's death. In addition to receiving immigrants from Asian countries, Angel Island also was an entry point to America for Canadians, Mexicans, Central and South Americans and Australians.

As Jennifer will explain during our show, major fires at the processing centers, including infernos at Ellis Island in 1897 and at Angel Island in 1940, destroyed the records of thousands of immigrants. The fire at Ellis Island also resulted in the loss of records of many immigrants who had entered previously at Castle Garden.

Last summer, a naturalization ceremony for new American citizens was held at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, along with the dedication of a new, outdoor Citizenship Plaza on the lawn south of the restored home of Harrison and his wife, Caroline Scott Harrison. The plaza's features include a Book of History that lists the new Hoosiers who became citizens at the site, where a naturalization ceremony is an annual event in July.

During our show, Jennifer will share accounts of some shockingly crude medical exams, including eyelid exams performed with instruments that had not been sterilized. At Ellis Island. Immigrants often were turned away if they could not pass various tests, some of which were surreptitious, including the assessments of aspiring Americans as they walked or hobbled up and down staircases at Ellis Island.

According to some estimates, about 22 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island during the years between 1892 and 1924, its peak period as the country's "door", particularly for Europeans. (Ellis Island remained open as a receiving center until 1954. During its final 30 years, limitations on immigration and the creation of other points of entry meant that far fewer immigrants were handled at the island.)

Its predecessor, Castle Garden, was shut down in 1890 by Benjamin Harrison's secretary of the treasury after corruption scandals. According to Ellis Island: Gateway to the American Dream, newspaper investigations in the 1880s determined that "swindlers who had long lurked outside the receiving station had now insinuated themselves inside and that cheating, misleading and stealing were running rampant."

Castle Garden had operated for 35 years, opening in 1855 at the lower tip of Manhattan.

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Roadtrip: Whitewater Valley Railroad

Guest Roadtripper Jeff Kamm, a teacher at Plainfield Community Schools and author of "Classic Restaurants of Indianapolis", will be taking a ride on the Whitewater Valley Railroad. It's a historic passenger train offering trips from Connersville to Metamora. Check the website to book train rides which run through December! 

The railroad traces its roots back to the canal days in Indiana. The Whitewater Canal opened in 1845, connecting the towns of Hagerstown and Lawrenceburg. The canal eventually was a failure, flooding in 1847 and causing washouts, and it was never reopened between Brookville and Lawrenceburg.

By the 1860's trains had become the preferred method of transportation for goods and people. The Indianapolis Cincinnati Railroad laid tracks along the former canal towpath, and the line operated many years, eventually becoming a part of the New York Central Railroad. Railroad mergers in the 1960s and 1970s saw the formation of Conrail. The line was abandoned in 1972 in favor of other routes.

A non-profit was set-up in 1974 to offer scenic passenger excursions. By 1984, The Whitewater Valley Railroad had acquired ownership of the right-of-way. Metamora is a restored canal town and features many shops, working canal locks, and a grist mill.

Trivia prizes and southside restaurant sought

Would your business or organization like to offer prizes for our trivia on air question? Or, are you a restaurant on the southside of Indy, or near the University of Indianapolis, and open on Saturdays at 1 pm? Would you like to host Hoosier History Live guests for lunch after the show on Saturday? Contact molly@hoosierhistorylive.org for details.  


Spring pilgrimage tours the treasures of far eastern Indiana

Hoosier History Live host and historian Nelson Price provided commentary on a motor coach tour on Saturday May 20, sponsored by the Society of Indiana Pioneers. Highlights of the tour included the James Whitcomb Riley boyhood home in Greenfield, the Starr Gennett Walk of Fame in Richmond, and the Levi and Catharine Coffin State Historic Site in Fountain City, just north of Richmond.

In addition to Nelson, some of the tour commentary was provided by former Hoosier History Live show guests Jim Fadely, who was a guest on the "French Lick and West Baden Springs Hotels" show in 2010, and by Bob Jacobsen, who was a guest on “The Jazz Heritage of Richmond” 2013 show. Jill Chambers, who was a guest on the "History of Women's Voting Rights" show in 2015, participated in the tour.

The Society of Indiana Pioneers hosts motor coach tours in the spring and fall of each year. Booking information is through the tour’s organizer, Sue Thomson of Thomson Travel. More information at thomsontravel@gmail.com.



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We'd like to thank the following recent individual contributors who make this show possible. For a full list of contributors over the years, visit  Support the Show on our website.

  • Jane Ammeson
  • Kathleen Angelone
  • Bruce and Julie Buchanan
  • Mark Ruschman
  • Robin Winston
  • Phil and Pam Brooks
  • Rachel Berenson Perry
  • Kevin Murray
  • Susan Bielawski in memory of Jane Bielawski
  • Jill Lough Chambers
  • Sandra Hurt
  • Tom Swenson
  • Peggy Hollingsworth
  • Mike Freeland and Sharon Butsch Freeland 
  • Dr. William McNiece

Molly Head, executive producer (317) 506-7164 
Nelson Price, host and historian
Corene Nickel, web designer and tech manager

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Facebook logo links to the Hoosier History Live! page.Twitter logo for Hoosier History Live.Acknowledgements to WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Monomedia, Henri Pensis, Leticia Vasselli, Heather McIntyre, and many other individuals and organizations. We are independently produced and are self-supporting through organizational sponsorship and through individual contribution at the yellow button on our newsletter or website. For organizational sponsorship, which includes logos, links, and voiced credits in the show, contact Molly Head at (317) 506-7164 or email her at molly@hoosierhistorylive.org.

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