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FacesInWindow
In 1902, long before any sign of Ebola or the creation of the Centers for Disease Control, a small cluster of hospital buildings on a little more than 25 acres of land in the middle of New York harbor were the main U.S. defense against infectious diseases carried by the millions of immigrants streaming into the country from all over the world.

Most of us know the story of the main processing building on Ellis Island and its cavernous hall where some 12 million people were screened before being sent on their way into Manhattan, New Jersey, or points farther north, south or west.

But about a tenth of those immigrants, some one million, only made it off the island after spending time in the two-story cluster of brick and plaster buildings directly across a small harbor from the main building — the island’s medical facilities. Bustling in the 20 years of the island’s heyday, the examination rooms, ward rooms, kitchen, power plant, mortuary and even the prim Victorian home of the superintendent were abandoned in the 1950s, with much of the buildings’ furnishings remaining in place,

In their day, they were staffed by some of New York’s top doctors and they arguably included the best-trained and most knowledgeable infectious disease experts in the U.S. And they had to be, given the range of diseases that found their way from all corners of the globe past the Statue of Liberty to Ellis Island, the largely man-made stopping point built up in part by dumping debris from NYC’s newly-dug subway lines.

Think of it as an early version of today’s TSA airport screening.

The first step in the medical screening was a spiral staircase in the main building, specially requested by the doctors, who could thereby evaluate the incoming immigrants from all angles before they were even aware that they were under observation. Anyone who had difficulty climbing that one flight of stairs drew immediate attention.

If the doctors believed further investigation was needed, they put a mark on the immigrants’ clothing and sent them out from the main building down to the right through the ferry terminal, into the Y Hallway.

The hallway got its name from the way it divided at its eastern end. To the left, a corridor led to the wards where pregnant women and anyone who seemed to have mental problems were examined. To the right were the infectious disease wards, where nurses and doctors could evaluate whether their disease would soon run its course or whether the immigrants should be sent back to their homeland. Most only stayed a few days, but a couple, suffering from the lingering effects of tuberculosis, remained on Ellis Island for more than a year, too sick either to be sent back aboard ship or allowed into the U.S.

Only a handful failed to get entry to the U.S., a little over one percent. Some 3,500 died on the island of their illnesses, most buried in a pauper’s grave near Rikers Island, unless they were fortunate enough to have their body claimed by a local relief organization from their particular religious or ethnic group.
Save Ellis Island, a non-profit group, has now been given permission to conduct tours of the abandoned medical facilities, limited to about a dozen visitors at a time. For signup information, go here.
An added treat — the French artist known as JR has enlarged a number of vintage photos of immigrants on Ellis Island and superimposed them on walls, windows and doorways at various points in the tour, bringing the hallways and ward rooms to eerie life.

Meograph cover page

A screenshot of the Meograph demo, using the Trayvon Martin case.

Spent some time today with Meograph, a Web-based new software program that combines a multimedia timeline with a Google map. For now, it’s only available for users of the Chrome browser, but the developers promise it will be upgraded to work with other browsers.

What I like is its ease of use. Before you even sign up for the program, it invites you to create what it calls a “meograph”. But if you skip that step and go to their web site, there are several demos, including an excellent one done by a San Diego TV station on the Trayvon Martin case.

You start a Meograph by adding a Moment to a map. That might entail a date and location, e.g., the time when George Zimmerman first called police to report spotting Trayvon Martin walking through his neighborhood. The location is marked on a Google map, but then the program asks you to upload media, either photos or audio or video. The images are automatically sized and placed on the screen so they don’t obscure the map location. As you add more “moments”, more locations appear on the map. In the Trayvon Martin piece, e.g., there are the events of the night when Martin was killed, followed by statements from public officials, rallies protesting the death and court appearances for George Zimmerman. Yes, a video piece would have conveyed the material with more emotion, but it would have taken a lot longer to produce and the ease of making updates is a Meograph strength.

One very nice feature is that if you don’t have audio or video to upload, or if you upload a still image, you can click a button and record your own narration, using your computer’s built-in microphone or an external mic.

When you’re finished click Done and the “meograph” is ready for playback. It plays the presentation sequentially, highlighting each item on the map. If you later want to edit the content or to add additional media, no problem, just click on the Edit button.

There’s an Embed button, so it’s easy to add the content to an existing Web site, and links to send the Meograph to social media.

Meograph is also Web-based, so it is available on whatever computer you happen to have with you.

I want to play around more with the program, but it seems great for beginners, to get them to visualize a story in its separate components, with words and accompanying images. I think it would be useful as a sort of storyboard to block out a proposed piece, that might end up as a separate video.

But it’s also very good as a standalone timeline, particularly for stories that are going to be updated regularly. It would be very easy to use to plot crimes or accidents on the map and then use it to animate the data chronologically.

It is not as good at replacing video for some stories, as one of the Meograph demos on the Arab Spring and another on Whitney Houston’s life reveal. While the timeline is an excellent organizational tool for both, the requirement that the images pull back for each distinct Moment to reveal the map beneath is awkward where the map is not an integral part of the story. One important feature would allow producers to hide the map and just edit from one image or video to the next.

And, as always, if you don’t write to your media, the result is pretty boring. In the Arab Spring demo, e.g., the author makes little reference to geography, so the existence of the map as a background doesn’t add much at all to the story. A better writer would have used it to show the geographic scope of the turmoil taking place.

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