Celebrating the Immigrant: An Administrative History
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The early promotional literature of the American Museum of Immigration, Inc., described quite a grandiose museum to be built within the completed base of the Statue of Liberty. It would have 50,000 square feet of floor space. There would be main exhibit halls arranged in a hollow square around the existing pedestal and "accent" galleries for special displays in the star points made by the walls of Fort Wood. In addition, the museum would contain a library, work and storage rooms, office space, a Hall of Records in which all who had contributed money would receive recognition, and a large auditorium where ethnic groups could gather to celebrate holidays of special significance to them, such as Columbus, St. Patrick's, or Bastille Day (Fig. 4).

As a preliminary step to preparing architectural drawings for such a museum, NPS Supervisory Historian Thomas Pitkin wrote a report on the structural history of Fort Wood. At its April 1957 meeting, the Joint Development Committee [1] instructed Alexander Hamilton to contact NPS Director Conrad Wirth to formally request that the Eastern Office of Design and Construction, [2] under Edward S. Zimmer, begin immediately to develop architectural plans. [3]

The assignment went to EODC Supervising Architect John B. Cabot, assisted by Donald F. Benson. They worked in cooperation with Pitkin and with Alden B. Stevens, a museum specialist and exhibit planner hired by the NPS to aid Pitkin. Stevens and Pitkin were simultaneously creating a preliminary exhibit plan. Cabot presented the drawings and cost estimates to the January 9, 1958, meeting of the Joint Development Committee. The layouts showed all of the features described in the AMI's promotional brochures, including two-story lobby and exhibit halls and a 300-seat auditorium. The accompanying price tag for exterior and interior construction, as well as preparing the exhibits, read $4,479,000. Cabot explained the seemingly high figure to the committee as resulting from the island's location. Labor would be more expensive than in Manhattan, as would disposing of excavated land fill. To provide workers and materials continuous access to the island would require building a dock costing $80,000. Apparently satisfied with what he had heard, General Grant moved that the preliminary general plan and cost estimates be approved as submitted, and all present unanimously agreed. [4]

The AMI officers, however, began to have second thoughts. Their public fund-raising drive had produced results well below their goal, and attempts to revive the campaign were progressing slowly. By the fall, the Executive Committee decided it could not back such a costly project. Hamilton reported this to the October Joint Development meeting, noting, "the estimate of $4,479,000 [is] so far in excess of any fundraising expectation of the AMI, even with the matching-funds provision invoked, that they could not conscientiously solicit additional contributions on such a basis." At best, Hamilton said, they could raise $1,000,000.

When Hamilton reiterated this AMI stand at the next session a month later, Wirth's reply indicated the staff of the NPS had been thinking of ways to cope with the changed situation. The NPS Director suggested that substantial savings might be realized by placing the museum on the intermediate or second-floor terrace and reducing overall floor space to around 20,000 square feet. Hamilton greeted the idea with relief, whereupon the participants asked Zimmer, who was also present at the meeting, to prepare new drawings and estimates along the lines proposed by Wirth, for a museum whose total cost must not exceed $2,600,000. [5]

On February 5, 1959, Zimmer notified Wirth that EODC had accomplished the task. The revised plan called for a facility with 24,000 square feet of floor space, roughly 9,000 of it occupied by a second-floor museum and corridor. They had arrived at the latter size in consultation with Pitkin and Edward J. Beirly of the Museum Branch, who had suggested the minimum space required to mount a meaningful exhibit. Pitkin and Beirly also provided information on visitor traffic flow patterns at the statue.

In the revised plan, the two-story lobby remained because it was, "essential. . .to create the dignity and impressiveness needed for this museum," but the 300-seat auditorium was gone, along with most of the special display areas and office, library, and work space. The plan did contain, however, one feature not found in earlier drafts: in a hall leading to the elevator 1,690 square feet was earmarked for use as a Statue of Liberty Story Room. The accompanying cost estimate showed a price of $2,350,000, which included $350,000 for development of the exhibits and another $350,000 for contingencies.

Wirth passed on the news and sketches to Hamilton, Grant, du Pont, and the other AMI executives. In the months that followed, the plan received formal approval from Regional Director Lee, Superintendent Foster, Director Wirth, and finally in October 1961, the Executive Committee of the AMI. During the same year, the AMI contributed $10,000, matched by an equal sum of federal funds, to finance preparation of final architectural drawings based on the February 1959 plan. All that was needed to start construction was money, which came thanks to Congress and the AMI check handed to Secretary Udall in October 1961. [6]

The following month the NPS awarded a contract for $69,000 to the Acme Excavation Corporation of the Bronx. This first phase of construction involved digging out 12,000 cubic yards of landfill between the statue's pedestal and the ramparts of Fort Wood, and removing the material on barges. Work commenced on November 13 and was finished by mid-December.

removing landfill
The Acme Excavation Corporation removed the landfill between the walls of Fort Wood and the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty to prepare for the construction of the American Museum of Immigration, November-December 1961.
(Source: Photograph Collection of the American Museum of Immigration, Liberty Island, U.S. Department of the Interior, NPS)

Robert E. Smith, chief architect of the EODC, initiated phase II of the building process when, in April 1962, he forwarded to Superintendent Foster blueprints and specifications for the concrete and steel base that would complete the pedestal and house the museum. The NPS invited contractors to study these plans and submit bids for the job.

In Washington, on June 19, 1962, Secretary of the Interior Udall signed a joint contract for $944,220 with representatives of the two lowest bidders, the Lewis Morris Demolition Company and the Peter Reiss Construction Company, both of Queens, New York. [7] Their labor crews arrived on the island in July, but according to Foster, the work progressed slowly during that summer. [8]

By October 28, the 76th anniversary of the statue's dedication, enough had been accomplished to permit the laying of the cornerstone for the American Museum of Immigration. The AMI, Inc., and the Ladies Auxiliary of the Veterans of Foreign Wars together staged a grand ceremony for the occasion. Alexander Hamilton presided over speeches by Assistant Secretary of State W. Averill Harriman and NPS Director Wirth. The president of the Ladies Auxiliary of the VFW handed Pierre du Pont the final installment of her organization's $50,000 contribution for the museum. Mayor Wagner proclaimed this October 28th "American Museum of Immigration Day." Midway through the proceedings, Pierre-Christian Taittinger, president of the Municipal Council of Paris, arrived by helicopter to bring the good wishes of the people of Paris. Earlier in the week, a metal box implanted in the corner of the original pedestal was removed. The box, with its 19th-century contents, was placed in a larger copper container, along with such 20th-century artifacts as United States coins minted in 1962, presidential medals, and the charter of the AMI, Inc. The gathered dignitaries then embedded the new box in the cornerstone of the museum. [9]

With the official celebration over, construction activities resumed but all did not proceed smoothly. Foster continued to complain of slow progress, while David O. Smith, project supervisor, reported the work was often of poor quality. Smith had to constantly thwart the attempts of the contractor to "circumvent" requirements of the specifications. Whatever the difficulties, by the end of 1963 the concrete shell was completed and stood for all to see.

When the statue's next anniversary rolled around, the Ladies Auxiliary of the VFW hosted a celebration inside the new building. John A. Townsley, superintendent of the NYC NPS Group, invited them to walk out upon the broad terrace formed by the roof of the structure. He pointed to four large doorways in the original pedestal, which, until then, had been ornamental but functionless. Townsley told the group gathered on the new terrace, "We intend for you to be the first official party to enter one of those doors. . . " [10]

The third phase of building got underway in April 1964 when the NPS awarded a contract for $984,562 to the Teaco Construction Corporation of the Bronx. The agreement called for facing the concrete shell with granite, constructing a massive stonework entryway, and repaving the promenade surrounding the base and the mall in front of it with bluestone. Superintendent McClanahan reported that the rate and quality of work were satisfactory and by mid-summer 1965, the pedestal was finished. It did, indeed, reflect one of Richard M. Hunt's plans, which envisioned a stepped-terrace design.

The completed base was officially dedicated on October 28, 1965, but no further work was immediately undertaken. The NPS had signed no contracts for preparing the interior because congressional appropriations had run out and no additional private donations were forthcoming. For the next two and one-half years the cavernous space beneath the base waited untouched. [11]

Congress finally made phase IV of construction possible with its appropriation for fiscal year 1967. The task of supervising this stage of the job fell to the Philadelphia Planning and Service Center, Design and Construction, of the NPS, with Judson S. Ball named as coordinating architect. Drawings and specifications were prepared to show to prospective contractors, and the Superintendent of the NYC NPS Group issued an invitation for bids in October 1967. On December 15, the Philadelphia Center entered into a contract for $1,097,888 with the low bidder, Gagliano and Gagliano, a Brooklyn firm owned by five brothers whose parents had emigrated from Italy. [12]

Under the terms of the agreement, the Gaglianos served as general contractors, bringing in a number of smaller companies to perform various parts of the work. [13] These firms finished approximately 17,000 square feet of the interior, consisting of a main lobby, the Statue of Liberty Story Room, public rest rooms, office, kitchen and other facilities, and the upper-level lobby in front of the space reserved for the museum. Their activities ranged from installing plumbing, electrical, heating, and cooling systems to laying carpeting, plastering ceilings, and reinforcing the concrete structure. Work commenced in January 1968 and by the spring of 1969, all stood ready but the 7,500-square-foot area where the AMI would go. [14]

The exhibits to be displayed in the Statue of Liberty Story Room still had to be prepared. In 1966, the NPS had signed a contract with a Miami, Florida-based designer, Gart Urban, to prepare an exhibit plan for the Statue of Liberty story. Based on this work, the Eastern Museum Laboratories of the NPS. prepared the exhibits, and the Statue Story Room opened to the public on February 22, 1970. [15]

The NPS had intended to start the fifth and final phase of construction, finishing the AMI museum area and installing the exhibits, in the summer and fall of 1969, but with the cost of the Vietnam War rising relentlessly, Congress decided to cut back on domestic spending. One of the casualties of these cutbacks was the fiscal 1969 appropriation for completing the, by now, almost 20-year-old project.

When federal revenues again became available in fiscal year 1971, phase V finally got underway. On January 15, 1971, the NPS invited companies to submit bids for a contract that covered all of the remaining work on the American Museum of Immigration, ranging from preparing the floors to putting in the air-conditioning, from doing the electrical wiring to creating the exhibit walls and cases. Three bids arrived at the Office of the Superintendent of the Fire Island and NYC NPS. Group. To the consternation of the NPS staff and the leaders of the AMI, Inc., the lowest asked for $914,200, the highest $987,654. The government had estimated that this final portion of the job could be accomplished for $430,000, and the NPS had available only $440,000. [16]

A few days later, on February 23, Judson Ball and Donald Benson from the Eastern Service Center, Russell Hendrickson, chief of the Museum Division, Ray G. Martinez of the Procurement and Contracting Office, and several others met to discuss the situation. The participants decided to redesign the project and break it into separate contracts for plumbing, air-conditioning, electrical work, floor covering, wall and exhibit case systems, and so on. They reasoned that breaking up the package would permit smaller companies to bid, and the competition among firms in each trade would produce lower prices.

This attempt to stimulate competition met with a problem in one area. Very few businesses existed with the specialized skill and experience to prepare exhibit walls and display cases. Russ Hendrickson thought he knew of one that possibly had the expertise and would undertake the assignment at a reasonable figure. He and Judson Ball contacted Presentations South, Inc., an Orlando, Florida, firm. After investigating its facilities, Henrickson and Ball, in March, recommended that the contract be awarded to Presentations South, which would do the work in Florida where labor was cheaper than in New York. The walls and cases would then be shipped to Liberty Island for assembling and installation. The Procurement and Contracting Office waived the requirement for further competitive bidding since Presentations South, Inc., was agreeing to do the work for $272,231 as opposed to $375,000 quoted for that part of the project by the lowest of the bids received under the package deal. [17]

The NPS signed the contract with Presentations South in June 1971. During that summer and fall, the Service also negotiated agreements with various companies to prepare the floor surfaces, install acoustical tile ceilings, build in heating, air-conditioning, and electrical systems, and finish general construction. [18]

The Eastern Service Center, which was coordinating and supervising the many activities, set September 15, 1972, as the target date for completion, but several AMI leaders hoped for a swifter pace. On July 20, 1971, AMI Board members Spyros P. Skouras and Alfred Horowitz called upon NPS Director George Hartzog, Jr., Associate Director J.E.N. Jensen, Northeast Regional Director Henry G. Schmidt, and Fire Island and NYC NPS Group Superintendent Jerry Wagers to discuss ways to expedite the project. Skouras especially urged haste. Hartzog promised the NPS would make every effort to move the finishing date up to March 15 by instituting the following measures: laying and adhering to a strict time schedule for each job; processing contractor's vouchers for immediate payment; providing labor crews with transportation at 7:00 a.m. on the Park Service utility boat, rather than having them wait for the first Circle Line ship at 9:00 a.m.; and finding space on Liberty Island for a contractor's house trailer and for storage of building supplies.

Grant A. Cadwallader of the Eastern Service Center, who served as project supervisor, put these measures into effect. Superintendent Wagers issued monthly progress reports to Director Hartzog, representatives of the AMI, Inc., and all others concerned in the effort. A Daily News reporter, visiting the Statue in October 1971, described the work scene inside the base as one of "deliberate haste." On March 14, 1972, an inspection team that included Superintendent Jim Batman, Museum Curator Edward Kallop, Architect Judson Ball, Supervisor Cadwallader, and others, toured the site. They found all construction acceptable and all the work, except for a few minor items, finished. [19]

The museum was now ready for the public to enter. However, such acrimony had developed over the content of the exhibits that it threatened to postpone the opening indefinitely. To understand the controversy, one must go back to the 1950s and trace the long evolution through which exhibit planning had gone.

As early as 1954, the AMI, Inc., the cooperating Historians Committee, and key NPS staff members had agreed upon a number of basic concepts which guided exhibit planning and development. [20] In a meeting on June 9, 1954, that included William H. Baldwin, Alexander Hamilton, Gardner Osborn, John Krout of Columbia University, and from the NPS, Regional Director Ronald Lee, Chief Historian Herbert E. Kahler, and Superintendent of the Morristown Park Francis S. Ronalds, a consensus was reached on the aim of the exhibits. They agreed that the museum should inform visitors where the immigrants came from and why they came; it should emphasize "Americanization" or the "flowing together of the various races, creeds and cultures into one main stream"; and it should highlight the "contributions of nationality groups and famous immigrants to the development of America in such areas as economics, culture, science, etc." Ronald Lee offered to find a NPS historian who could do the research, assemble materials, and put together a museum prospectus along the lines discussed. [21]

Lee assigned the job to Dr. Thomas M. Pitkin, and during 1955 he spent most of his time preparing a Preliminary Draft Prospectus. In early 1956, Pitkin submitted his work to the regional and Washington offices of the NPS and to the AMI Historians Committee. At its March 22 gathering, the committee unanimously approved the prospectus and recommended its acceptance to the Joint Development Committee. [22]

In part, the favorable response to the prospectus stemmed from the fact that it held very closely to the principles agreed upon earlier. It also shared a point of view prevalent among many of these men in the 1950s. For example, Pitkin echoed the Cold War thinking of Baldwin, Hamilton, and du Pont, when he stated in the prospectus, "In a time of conflicting ideologies, when the competition for the loyalties of groups and individuals is keen," the purpose of the museum must be to foster national unity. Further, Pitkin's prospectus reflected the then widely held "melting pot" theory about the role of immigrants in American society. He stated that the museum would concentrate on the contributions made by people of diverse origins to a "common national life." According to the prospectus, the heart of the story presented by the museum should be that of the European migration between 1815 and 1914. Such an emphasis could be justified, in part, by the fact that during the years 1820-1920, nearly 34,000,000 immigrants entered the United States and, as Pitkin pointed out, the "overwhelming majority of these came from Europe." On the other hand, concentration on the Europeans mirrored the general neglect by historians in the 1950s of the African, Asian, and Hispanic minorities. This would lead to much criticism of the museum plan in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

If Pitkin shared much of the outlook of his colleagues, he also appreciated the complexity of the topic and the impossibility of covering it thoroughly in one museum of limited size. In the prospectus he quoted historian Oscar Handlin who stated:

Once I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America. Then I discovered that the immigrants were American history. As I worked, the conviction grew upon me that adequately to describe the course and effects of immigration involved no less a task than to set down the whole history of the United States. [23]

After the Joint Development Committee approved Pitkin's prospectus, it wished to begin development of exhibits based on the narrative in that document. In November 1956, the AMI, Inc., donated $20,000 to the NPS to cover the expense of employing a museum specialist and exhibit planner to assist Pitkin. Lee, Ronalds, Chief of the NPS Museum Branch Ralph Lewis, and Pitkin decided Alden Stevens was the man for the position. Stevens had helped to design the NPS museums at Shiloh National Military Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. He had also served as associate director of the NPS museum laboratory at Berkeley.

Between February and June 1957, Stevens translated Pitkin's prospectus into museum exhibits. He began by writing a proposed story line for the museum. Then, he compiled a tentative list of 61 different exhibits and made rough sketches of the content of each, with accompanying label copy. Using the remainder of the money donated by the AMI, Inc., the NPS signed a contract with artist Clifford Young to illustrate the exhibit plan with black-and-white and colored drawings. By June, Young had done this for eight of the 61 units.

During the summer, Stevens took a temporary leave without pay from the NPS, while Pitkin showed the exhibit plan to various experts for their criticisms and suggestions. In June, Pitkin traveled to Cleveland to confer with Dean Wittke of Western Reserve University, who was a member of the AMI Historians Committee. The following month he met at Federal Hall with Dean Blegen of the University of Minnesota, another member of the committee.

Finally, in November 1957, Pitkin, Stevens, and Young attended an AMI exhibit planning conference in Washington, D.C. with Lee, Kahler, Lewis, Ronalds, and others to consider the advice of Wittke, Blegen, and others and give the plan a thorough review. The participants decided the number of exhibits was excessive and cut them back from 61 to 47. Most of the units removed, or combined and condensed, dealt with the pre-19th century period. They decided to add, on the other hand, some displays of the Statue of Liberty and its symbolism. Lastly, they set late 1958 as the target date for making all necessary revisions and producing the finished exhibit plan. [24]

Pitkin, Stevens, and Young returned to the drawing board and by July 1958 had completed a preliminary exhibit plan, containing label copy and illustrated by 45 sketches and colored pictures. Their handiwork went on public display on the third floor of Federal Hall during the summer and fall. Pitkin wrote to dozens of professional historians inviting them to come and offer their criticisms and suggestions. The majority of those who visited the Federal Hall show and then wrote evaluations, praised what they saw. John Hope Franklin, a specialist in Afro-American history and then chairman of the History Department of Brooklyn College, thought the display was, on the whole, "a splendid job." Rowland T. Berthoff, professor of social history at Princeton, found it a "generally well-balanced treatment."

Some staff members of the NPS were critical of the presentation rather than the content. Regional Director Daniel J. Tobin informed Pitkin that "the consensus of opinion in our Interpretive Division is that the plan could use more dramatic impact. . .fewer words, more objects, more use of color and highlighting techniques." Floyd A. La Fayette of the Museum Branch said much the same thing and added a comment on the content that gave a hint of the criticism to come in the 1960s and 1970s: "...the good old Anglo-Saxons," he said, "are still portrayed as the predominating force in America."

During July, Pitkin and Stevens took a field trip to obtain further advice on the exhibit plan. They spoke to Blegen in Minneapolis and Wittke in Detroit. They visited and talked to curators at the Milwaukee Public Museum, the Detroit Historical Museum, the Polish Museum in Chicago, and others.

On the basis of the suggestions and criticisms, Pitkin, Stevens, and Young spent the fall revising the preliminary plan. The planning team completed its work on schedule in December 1958. It submitted the plan, containing 48 drawings of proposed exhibit units, to the NPS's regional and Washington offices, as well as to the AMI, Inc. Young's contract was over; Stevens left the employ of the Service to pursue other career opportunities; and Pitkin devoted his attention to research on the General Grant National Memorial. [25]

During 1959 and 1960, further museum planning came to a standstill due to the failure of the fund-raising campaign, and a rethinking about the size and type of building the AMI could possibly finance took place. Efforts resumed with an exhibit planning meeting held in October 1961 among Pitkin; Alan Kent, curator of the Eastern Museum Laboratory; and EODC architect Don Benson. It was, by this time, clear that the 1958 plan would have to be modified. Stevens had estimated that the 48 units of that proposal would require between 25,000 and 32,000 square feet of floor space. However, the scaled-down architectural plan approved (out of economic necessity) in 1961 by the Park Service and the AMI provided only about 9,000 square feet of space.

For the next two years, Pitkin and Kent were joined by Floyd A. La Fayette, assistant chief of the Western Museum Laboratory, in the job of pruning, condensing, and revising the 1958 plan. They also had to write a prospectus and outline exhibits for the Statue of Liberty Story Room, which, though talked about earlier, had not been included in the 1958 plan. The Branch of Museums assigned La Fayette to lay out the exhibits for both the immigration museum and the Statue Story Room because he had the reputation of being one of the "best designers" in the Service.

In the summer of 1963, the new exhibit plan was ready for review by Chief of the Museum Branch Lewis, STLI NM Superintendent Foster, Regional Director Lee, and finally the Director's office. By the end of the year, it had gained approval from all of the above, though there continued to be some grumbling in the regional and Washington offices, and among some in the Interpretive Division, that the approach of the plan was still "too academic." [26]

Meanwhile, another very important phase of developing the museum was underway: searching for and obtaining the photographs, prints, paintings, and immigrant artifacts called for in the exhibit plan. In June 1962, George J. Svejda, a NPS historian who was fluent in seven languages, took on that task. He began by writing to leaders of ethnic organizations and thousands of their local chapters, explaining that the American Museum of Immigration would "depict the main causes of migration to this country, trace the course of migration, display items which the immigrants brought with them, and finally illustrate some of the accomplishments which they achieved here." Then, he appealed to them to donate or ask others of their group to donate such cultural artifacts as family Bibles, books, clothing, jewelry, coins, musical instruments, embroidery or other items brought by immigrants from the Old Country. He also requested pictures and/or photographs depicting important events in the history or culture of that nationality group.

Next, Svejda contacted hundreds of ethnic journals, including the The National Tribune in Detroit, the Chinese Times in San Francisco, the Armenian Mirror-Spectator in Boston, and Byelorussian Youth in Brooklyn. He asked the editors of these papers to publish an appeal to their readers for cultural artifacts. Svejda, additionally, offered to write articles, in the native language of the readers, about the planned museum. Many journals printed his appeal and several published the stories he wrote for them.

Svejda also took field trips to the midwest and along the eastern seaboard to seek the help and advice of curators of ethnic museums and leaders of ethnic communities. At the same time, he publicized the museum and its search for cultural objects by arranging for radio, TV, and newspaper interviews.

Svejda's efforts soon began to pay off, as the Park Service acquired such items as a Croatian prayer book printed circa 1895, an 80-year-old Armenian wedding dress, a 300-year-old Czech Bible, and seven Japanese coins ranging in dates from 1706 to 1936. As these artifacts came in, it was Svejda's task to catalogue and store them until the museum was finally ready. [27]

As Svejda gathered objects for the exhibits, construction of the building to house those artifacts also proceeded. Both the architects from the EODC and Regional Director Lee found the interior of the new concrete shell, with the now exposed base of the statue, stark and dramatic. This led them to question whether the 1963 exhibit plan for the AMI made the best use of the site. On May 14, 1964, Lee wrote to the national director's office, "The new potentials now apparent in the exhibit hall of the AMI prompts us to suggest a restudy of the exhibit plan--not in content, but rather in dimensions and arrangement." For that purpose Lee suggested that they call a meeting at the statue in July to be attended by representatives from the Washington office; EODC, the region; the Statue of Liberty National Monument; and Floyd La Fayette, the designer of the 1963 plan.

A series of gatherings followed the one held in July, and out of them came the decision to redesign the layout in such a way as to utilize more effective, dramatic, and modern display techniques. Lee and the other conferees also concluded that they needed the help of commercial design firms. Thus, in the summer of 1966, the NPS signed the contract, discussed earlier, with Gart Urban, for redesign of the Statue of Liberty Story Room. In July 1966, NPS also awarded a $21,300 contract to the industrial design firm of Walter Dorwin Teague Associates of New York, for redesign of the immigration museum. Teague Associates had provided exhibits for five pavilions at the 1964 World's Fair and designed a museum for the United States Military Academy at West Point. Robert Blood of Teague Associates took responsibility for the job. In the course of the work, Blood formed his own industrial design company, known as Quorum 5, and completed the contract under that name.

Blood made few changes in the content of the exhibits, except to cut the amount of written text. He also tried to highlight the colorful and unusual event or custom, without too much concern for preserving overall balance in the presentation. As Blood put it, he wanted to create something new and exciting, "not the old, stodgy museum idea." By January 1967, Blood and Alfred Stern, a writer for Teague Associates, had produced a preliminary script. In April, the NPS called a press conference at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site at which Blood revealed the new plan to newspaper and television reporters, and other invited guests. [28]

Spokesmen for black-, Polish- and Italian-Americans, members of Congress, and professional historians, some of them the same ones who had praised the 1958 Federal Hall exhibit and Pitkin's Prospectus, now denounced the Teague plan. What had happened? The content of the exhibits had not changed very much, but the climate of opinion in the country had. The civil rights movement had gathered increasing momentum. The demands of aroused blacks for equality and respect touched off heightened cultural consciousness in many other racial and ethnic minorities. Young blacks, Italians, Irish, Jews, Poles, and many others became intensely interested in discovering and celebrating their cultural roots, not simply as flavorings that had blended into a national melting pot (a concept never fully accepted by many ethnic Americans), but as a valuable and continuing heritage that had every right to survive indefinitely.

These changes in climate and opinion had also begun to influence the historical profession. The new history being written by the mid-1960s showed greater awareness of and sensitivity to the roles played by blacks, ethnic minorities, and even women in American history. By this point, most historians had abandoned the melting pot theory. As Robert Ernst, an expert on immigration history, summed it up, "The United States became more a salad bowl than a melting pot. Melting pot obscures the concept of cultural pluralism which many feel to be worth maintaining and defending." [29]

Actually, protest against the AMI exhibit plans began even before the unveiling of the Teague script. In August 1965, five temporary exhibits designed by the NPS's Eastern Museum Laboratory were installed inside the unfinished base of the statue. About the same time, Svejda wrote a letter describing the AMI exhibit sequence which was made public. He indicated that blacks would be presented in an exhibit on involuntary immigrants, with their story dramatized by a scale model of a slave ship. An indignant congressman, Adam Clayton Powell (Democrat-New York), charged that such treatment ignored the "fantastic cultural contributions of Negroes in this country." Powell called for the resignation of Svejda, whose employment would be an "insult. . .to America's 20,000,000 Negroes." Constance Baker Motley, the first black woman to serve as Manhattan borough president, also expressed concern, requesting a meeting with NYC NPS Group Superintendent Townsley which took place in October 1965. [30]

These initial criticisms were mild, however, compared to the barrage fired after the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace press conference. Early in June 1967, Dr. Eugene Kusielewicz, an expert on Polish-American history and vice president of the New York-based Kosciuszko Foundation, wrote a harsh evaluation of the Robert Blood plan, which he sent to the NYC NPS Group headquarters and also made public. "The primary philosophy governing the preparation of the SCRIPT," he charged, seemed to be the "presentation of that which is colorful or eye appealing, rather than that which would present an accurate and balanced picture of American immigration." He further declared that there was so little coverage of Italians and Poles that "...a visitor would leave the proposed museum with the impression that the two largest immigrant groups, presently in the United States, . . .virtually do not exist." The Polish-American and Polish-American Journal carried front-page articles on Dr. Kusielewicz's criticisms and urged readers to make their complaints about the slighting of Polish-Americans to Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall.

Polish groups and individuals were soon doing just that. The Polish-American Guardian Society of Chicago wrote to Udall complaining that, "the Polish people have been largely ignored." The Polish-American Council on Cultural Affairs of Buffalo made the same charge and urged Udall "to correct this omission." Other irate Polish-Americans wrote to their congressmen, which led, in turn, to letters and phone calls to Udall and the Department of the Interior from Senators Robert F. Kennedy (Democrat-New York), Harrison Williams (Democrat-New Jersey), Birch Bayh (Democrat-Indiana), and Frank Lausche (Democrat-Ohio) and Congressmen T. J. Dulski (Democrat-New York), and Henry Helstoski (Democrat-New Jersey), among others. All stressed that Polish-Americans and their contributions to the United States must be adequately presented in the museum.

Meanwhile, two Italian-American congressmen, Frank Annunzio (Democrat-Illinois) and Peter Rodino (Democrat-New Jersey), took up the cudgels for their ethnic group. Rodino informed the Department of the Interior of his "deep concern" over the minor amount of material on Italian-Americans in the Robert Blood script. Annunzio wrote directly to the White House, as well as to the NPS, charging that not only were the Italian-Americans practically ignored, but what the Teague plan did highlight was ill-chosen. "There is more to the Italian contribution," he wrote, "than Italians who work in the vineyards of California and a fisherman enjoying an Italian dinner." Indeed, Annunzio added, "I would appreciate your deleting the entire text about spaghetti, eggplant, peppers, chianti, pizza, etc. . . .I want to be associated with an exhibit that doesn't touch the stomach of people, but touches their hearts!" [31]

The NPS attempted to defuse the criticism in several ways. Assistant Director of Interpretation William Everhart wrote to the senators and congressmen who had registered their dissatisfaction, explaining that the Blood script was merely a preliminary exhibit study suggesting a display approach to be taken. During the summer and fall of 1967, Robert Blood's Quorum 5 firm would prepare a more detailed exhibit plan, based on solid research that would do justice to the contributions of all ethnic groups. Secretary Udall promised Congressman Dulski and others who had written on behalf of Polish-Americans that when Quorum 5 revised the plan, it would consult with Dr. Kusielewicz. The NPS assured Congressmen Annunzio and Rodino that the final exhibit scheme would deal with a wider range of Italian contributions, and the Service would present them with copies of the revised plan. This commitment was fulfilled on June 6, 1968, when Everhart met with Rodino and Annunzio to discuss the reworked Blood plan.

Alan E. Kent, now in the NPS' Washington office, stated that the section of the AMI dealing with black contributions would be reviewed by a leading black historian. The NPS asked John Hope Franklin to take on this assignment. He declined, but suggested in his place Dr. Elsie M. Lewis of Howard University. The Service consulted her and the AMI invited her to become a member of its Historians Committee.

As Robert Blood revised the script during the fall and winter of 1967-68, Everhart wrote to General Grant asking for his help in convening the AMI Historians Committee to evaluate the completed work. He also requested a contribution of $25,000 for an interim exhibition to be mounted in the unfinished interior of the statue's base in the spring of 1968. The AMI responded favorably to both requests. [32]

The interim exhibits were ready and installed before Quorum 5 had completed its final product. On May 17, 1968, Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson arrived on Liberty Island to officiate at the opening. After remarks by NPS Director George B. Hartzog and Mrs. Johnson, the First Lady, using two pairs of scissors brought to the United States by immigrant tailors from Italy and Austria-Hungary, cut the ribbons strung across the entryway. Inside, the visitors saw pictures and displays that would become a part of the permanent AMI exhibits, as well as sketches illustrating how the museum would eventually look.

Mrs. Johnson
Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson opening the interim exhibits of the American Museum of Immigration on Liberty Island, May 17, 1968. New York City NPS Group Superintendent Henry G. Schmidt (right) assisting her.
(Source: Photograph Collection of the American Museum of Immigration, Liberty Island, U.S. Department of the Interior, NPS)

By June 1968, Blood had a revised plan ready to show the AMI historians. On the 21st, the committee met at the library of the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site. Dr. Pitkin, who had by then retired from the NPS, but was now a member of the AMI, Inc., chaired the gathering. Several other original members of the committee also attended, including Dr. John Krout, Francis S. Ronalds, Herbert E. Kahier, and William Baldwin. Among the newer recruits on the committee were Dr. Elsie Lewis and non-historians Alfred Horowitz and Viola Thomas, representing the AMI, Inc.; Dr. Alan Kent and Harold Peterson, NPS, Washington office; Frank Barnes, NPS, Northeast Regional Office; Jerry Wagers, NYC NPS Group; and Statue of Liberty Superintendent McClanahan.

Blood offered commentary on the revised script and showed slides of the proposed exhibits. When he left, Pitkin led a lively discussion and finally asked the members to further study the plan at home and send in written evaluations. He and Horowitz would summarize the proceedings and their written statements in a committee report.

Horowitz submitted that report to the NPS on March 27, 1969. It stated, "The exhibit plan for the American Museum of Immigration, prepared by Quorum 5 and presented to the Historians Committee of the AMI, cannot be approved without revision." The unit on Afro-Americans came in for the most criticism. The consensus seemed to be that "the contributions of this group prior to the present time have been neglected." The report called for more material on free blacks in the pre-Civil War period. The midwest exhibit still slighted the roles of Italians, Poles, Jews, and other ethnic groups. The industrial expansion section should have included mention of additional immigrant groups. Immigrants from the Near East had been ignored. The report stated, "All identifiable immigrant groups should receive at least minimum treatment." Finally, some of the members questioned the whole melting pot approach and some disliked the amount of attention given to the role of immigrants in America's wars. The latter complaint may well have reflected the growing public unhappiness with the Vietnam war in which the country found itself embroiled at the time. [33]

Kent, Wagers, Barnes, Don Benson, and several others met on June 4, 1969, to discuss what should be done about the AMI historians' report. They agreed that the unit on Afro-Americans had to be expanded along the lines suggested and that the exhibits on the midwest and industrial expansion should have greater coverage of Italians, Poles, Jews, and all other appropriate immigrant groups. However, most of them felt the exhibit plan "still needed the 'Melting Pot' idea," although "there was some disagreement about this." They disagreed with the contention that there was too much emphasis on war, and voted to keep the six exhibits devoted to the subject.

Following this and several more meetings, Kent headed an Interpretative Planning Group, headquartered at Harpers Ferry, which undertook revision of the script within the framework of the Quorum 5 exhibit layout. He, along with NPS Curator David Wallace and NPS Designer James Mulcahy, worked closely with Dr. Lewis on making the necessary additions and corrections to the exhibit on black Americans. The planning group increased coverage of the Poles by introducing Casimir Pulaski, Tadeusz Koscuiszko, and Haym Salomon in the American Revolution exhibit; including General Wladimir Krzyzanowski and the Polish Brigade in the Civil War display; and mentioning the achievements of Wanda Landowska and Arthur Szyk, among others. They found room for more photographs and artifacts pertaining to Italians and Jews as well. [34]

The planning group completed its revisions by 1971, and on August 25 the AMI Historians Committee convened in New York. Many of the persons attending had also been present at the 1968 meeting. They were now joined by two well-known experts on immigration history: Professor Oscar Handlin of Harvard and Professor John Higham of Johns Hopkins. Superintendent Jim Batman and Edward Kallop, who has been appointed curator of the museum the month before, represented the STLI NM. Also present to answer questions about their text and receive suggestions were Kent, Wallace, and Mulcahy.

Jerry Wagers attempted to forestall serious criticism of the plan with an opening statement suggesting that "the time factor [target date for museum completion was March 1972] necessitates a factual review not a major revision." This introduction may explain why the committee gave its approval to the plan, though some of those present still felt unhappy about various parts of it. Dr. Lewis again objected to what she saw as an overemphasis on war, especially relating to black contributions. Horowitz and Pitkin observed that all of the artifacts in the Jewish section were of a religious nature. Several participants pointed to an almost complete neglect of Mexican, French-Canadian, and other inter-American immigrants, as well as skimpy coverage of Asian-Americans. John Higham voiced his frustrations with the proceedings, declaring, "I have basic reservations about the concept of immigration in the museum, but there is no point in discussing it." Following the committee's acquiescence, Northeast Regional Director Chester L. Brooks approved the final text, and the museum laboratory at Harpers Ferry went into full production of displays and labels. [35]

If the NPS thought it had weathered the storms of criticism and now all would be smooth sailing, it soon learned otherwise. One member of the Historians Committee who had received the text, but had not been present at the August 25 meeting, felt very strongly about what he read. On September 7, 1971, Professor Rudolph J. Vecoli, director of the Center for Immigration Studies at the University of Minnesota, sent a long critical analysis of the plan to Dave Wallace and other members of the committee. Vecoli's letter reflected the many changes in emphasis and interpretation that the historical profession had adopted between the 1950s, when the museum exhibits were first conceived, and the early 1970s. He blasted the melting pot approach, the theme of "immigrant contributions," and the extensive treatment given to the "Old Immigration " (pre-1890) at the expense of the "New" (post-1890).

In the ferment of the 1960s, political radicals often accused historians of writing primarily about the doings of those on top, while ignoring the daily lives of average men and women. By the late sixties, many historians, sensitive about these charges, were attempting to write about the past "from the bottom up." Reflecting this new mode, Vecoli stated, "The meaning of American immigration . . .is that it was a folk movement of unprecedented dimensions, that it involved millions of ordinary people. . . . This central truth is obscured by the Museum's emphasis on the elite. . .of the few who won fame and fortune." He felt the museum should show the immigrants at work, at school, in their churches, and should tell the story of the labor unions they built. He further contended that the treatment of Italian immigration was still "totally inadequate" and the role of women in immigration was ignored. In the growing anti-war spirit of the early 1970s, Vecoli expressed astonishment that six of thirty exhibits were devoted to wars. Merge them into one, he advised, and "free much needed space to depict the many facets of the immigrant experience which are presently omitted."

When Wallace replied to the letter by saying it was now too late for a "total refocusing" of the exhibit plan, Vecoli began to mobilize ethnic community leaders. He contacted heads of Polish, Italian, Jewish, and other organizations and directed two meetings, one in New York on October 25 and the other in Chicago on November 21, to discuss flaws in the proposed museum. It was decided at the New York meeting to seek an appointment with Secretary of the Interior Rogers C. B. Morton. On October 27, Casimir I. Lenard, executive director of the Polish American Congress, wrote to Morton demanding such a meeting. He told Morton that, if this request were denied, these ethnic representatives would be "compelled. . .to direct a nationwide campaign against the Museum concept." Lenard warned, "this matter could well become a political issue in an election year." [36]

J. E. N. "Joe" Jensen, associate director of Professional Services for the NPS, contacted Lenard at once, indicating that before he and his delegation met with Morton, the NPS wanted to arrange a conference between them and NPS historians and interpretative personnel in New York. The NPS people could then present a detailed account of the displays and layouts, and conduct them on a tour of the museum premises. Lenard accepted the invitation, and the briefing took place on November 8.

On that morning, delegates from the Polish-American Congress, the Koscuiszko Foundation, the Polish Daily News, the American Italian Historical Association, and the American Jewish Committee showed up at Federal Hall and listened to Wagers, Wallace, and Pitkin present a history and defense of nearly twenty years of exhibit planning. Lenard's group was not impressed. One after another they repeated Vecoli's criticisms. Wallace, Wagers, and Pitkin claimed that it was too late to make extensive changes for the exhibits were already in production and the March 1972 opening was rapidly approaching. The ethnic representatives told them to delay the opening until the changes were made.

Mobilized by Vecoli, these groups then asked Congressman Annunzio to help them arrange a further discussion at the Department of the Interior. On December 13, the delegation, now personally headed by Vecoli, met with Richard C. Curry, special assistant in the Department. They agreed that Vecoli would present his objections to the AMI Historians Committee, which would consider the requested changes. Panels composed of ethnic representatives and academics would then review the final plan and have a private showing of the exhibits that were being installed at Liberty Island. Curry also told Horowitz, in a follow-up letter, that the museum would not be dedicated until the review had occurred and some accord was reached." [37]

On March 16, 1972, with the exhibits almost all in place and the museum looking quite ready to open, the critical review took place. Vecoli was joined by a distinguished group of scholars, including Oscar Handlin and Moses Rischin of Harvard; Victor Greene, University of Wisconsin; David Rothman of Columbia; Robert Ernst of Adelphi; and John Appel of Michigan State. [38] The representatives of various ethnic groups were also present: Kusielewicz of the Kosciuszko Foundation; the Reverend S. Tomasi of the American Italian Historical Association; Irving Levine of the American Jewish Congress; and others. Led by Wagers and John Bond, chief of interpretation at STLI NM, all review groups toured the museum. Afterwards they assembled at Federal Hall, where Vecoli led a discussion about what they had seen.

The main points made at that gathering, plus written comments that the participants submitted later, were compiled in a report, which the AMI, Inc., forwarded to the NPS on March 30. The report repeated that criticisms made earlier by Vecoli, adding that the "concluding exhibit is weak and lacking in inspiration." The document went on to list many proposed changes, such as increased coverage of post-World War II immigration, the development of exhibits on French-Canadian, Mexican, Caribbean, and Filipino immigration; written identification labels for all photographs in the museum, especially those in the Heartland Festivals exhibit, and more emphatic treatment of the landmark 1965 Immigration Act. Realizing that the NPS could not make all of the revisions immediately, the historians specified that certain of the more important ones should be made before dedication of the museum. The remainder of the flaws should be corrected as soon as possible.

The report placed the following on its immediate change list: 1) Remove the World War I "Lost Battalion" exhibit and replace it with displays on immigrant religions other than Jewish, which was already covered in a separate unit. 2) Change the title of the "From the Old Empires" exhibit to something more acceptable and make clear distinctions among the ethnic groups from Russia and Austria, such as Ukrainians, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, etc. Also, add more Polish artifacts. 3) Eliminate all references to the melting pot and give more adequate recognition to Italian and Greek immigration. 4) Redo the "Refuge from Tyranny" exhibit, eliminating the Norden bombsight, and the pictures of a bombed city and of Nazi bookburning. "The emphasis should be on the immigrants not the Nazis." 5) Revise and modify the "summation" in the final exhibit. 6) Check all labels, picture captions, and audio tapes for accuracy.

During April and May 1972, Jerry Wagers; Northeast Regional Director Brooks; Russel Hendrickson, chief of the Division of Museums; and others reviewed and commented on the historians' report. On May 15 they reached a final decision on how to proceed and notified Horowitz, the members of the historians' panel, the ethnic group representatives, and concerned senators and congressmen of their intentions.

They would remove the "Lost Battalion" exhibit, and in its place display "general immigrant objects relating to the period 1900 to 1920." They would choose items that particularly strengthened Italian and Greek representation. They declined to deal with immigrant religions, fearing that to do so would create still more controversy. They pointed out that the terms "From the Old Empires" and the "Melting Pot" were used only for identification on the exhibit plan, but never appeared in the museum. Therefore, they were already removed. At least one more Polish artifact would be added. They agreed to remove the photograph of the bombed city, but the Norden bombsight would remain. The Nazi bookburning photo mural would also be retained with small photographs superimposed on the surface to illustrate refugees fleeing Nazi and Fascist terror. More emphasis would be given to the displaced persons program following World War II and to the 1965 Immigration Act. All labels would be rechecked for accuracy.

The NPS group realized the shortcomings of the summary exhibit, but claimed they had neither the time nor the money to redesign the room before dedicating the museum. That would have to be accomplished after the opening. Many of the other suggestions in the report also were to be handled once the facility was in operation. [39]

The NPS response left Vecoli bitterly disappointed. In a letter to Wagers, dated June 7, copies of which he mailed to ethnic leaders and various congressmen and senators, the Minnesota professor complained that the promised changes "would only partially correct some of the more blatant" flaws. He noted that the NPS gave no clear indication of what further revisions it would make after opening, nor did it offer any timetable for implementing these. "I must conclude," he wrote, "that our efforts to bring about a redesign of the Museum by weight of scholarly opinion have failed."

Wagers sent a reply to Vecoli and those who had received copies of his letter. The tone was conciliatory, but Wagers said the NPS would stick to the decisions announced on May 15. Wagers' answer did not silence the complaints. Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale (Democrat) wrote to the Department of the Interior that summer. Just days before the museum's dedication, Casimir Lenard of the Polish-American Congress was still petitioning the White House to intercede with the NPS for further changes, and Sargent Shriver, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate in that election year, telegraphed a protest to Secretary of the Interior Morton, repeating all of Vecoli's complaints.

Despite the continuing controversy, the NPS pushed ahead with its plans. Curator Ed Kallop, STLI NM Chief of Interpretation John Bond, and designer Jim Mulcahy searched for the photographs and artifacts necessary for the revisions and wrote the additional label copy. On June 7, the NPS signed a $3,500 contract with Walker/Grad, a New York firm, for designing and installing the new displays. The AMI, Inc., donated the money to cover the costs. By mid-August all was finished, and the NPS and AMI, Inc., waited eagerly to hear from the White House about when President Richard M. Nixon would be available to come to Liberty Island to dedicate the facility. [40]

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Last Updated: 24-Sep-2001