National Geographic : 1990 Sep
S IKE A DESERTED village," Ellis was described in later years, and the stench of decay still fills unrestored, vine-covered outer buildings. Grime-encrusted metal eagles guard the Ferry Building built in the 1930s. The glass-enclosed corridor on Island 3 connected the 11 wards of the Contagious Disease Hospital. Crutches are remind ers that the wards were used for wounded servicemen of both World Wars. Originally Island 3 buildings were crowded with immigrants suffering from infections con tracted aboard crowded ships or at the island itself. Many were children with measles, scarlet fever, diphtheria, or a com bination of ailments. Two-year-old Walter Strahm became ill during the month long journey with his parents from Bern, Switzerland. When the family arrived at Ellis on December 20, 1920, he was admitted to the hospital for what became a six-week stay. "Our days on Ellis Island were very long days," his mother later recalled. "Only one of us could go visit our sick boy for five minutes once a week." Viewing him through a glass, she said, "I could hear him cry, 'Mama, Mama.' " The child developed measles, scarlet fever, and pneumonia, and finally died at 11:10 p.m. on February 9, 1921. But Mrs. Strahm had heard rumors of children being kidnapped, and "no one told me what would happen to our boy's body." When researchers at Meta Form, designers of the new Ellis Island Immigration Museum, became aware of the story, they helped locate Walter's death certificate in city records, which listed his burial place in a local cemetery. Now the tale has joined the collection of oral his tories told in museum exhibits.