Tartan Day on Ellis Island is one of the principal Scottish heritage events in the United States. The event debuted in 2002 and is presented free-of-charge to the general public by the Clan Currie Society.
Ellis Island is a fitting place to observe Tartan Day. The island and its historic buildings represent America’s “Golden Door.”
From 1892 to 1954, more than 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island. Although many Scots arrived during the colonial period of our history – helping to build the new nation – an additional half-million Scots came through Ellis Island. It has been estimated that 40% of Americans today can trace at least one ancestor’s entry into the United States through Ellis Island.
Describing the program, noted Scottish journalist and author Roddy Martine reported that of all the Tartan Day events held in the United States, the Ellis Island observance has, “stood out as a beacon of what USA Tartan Day is all about: the emigrant ancestors of ordinary Americans who over three centuries crossed the Atlantic Ocean to create the world’s greatest democracy.”
Tartan Day on Ellis Island is produced by the Clan Currie Society – one of the largest Scottish heritage organizations in the United States. The Clan Currie Society began its successful collaboration with the Ellis Island Immigration Museum in 2002 in the coordination and sponsorship of their first Tartan Day celebration. That year, Clan Currie and the National Museums of Scotland joined forces to host the traveling exhibit, “Home and Away: Highland Departures and Returns.”
Subsequent programs have included exhibitions on the Jacobites and America, the Life and Legacy of John Muir, and A Celebration of Tartan. Celebrations also feature performances by a whole host of Scottish artists including pipers and drummers, Highland dancers, fiddlers, jugglers and harpists to name a few.
As part of the celebrations for Tartan Day 2011, the Clan Currie Society commissioned the new Ellis Island Tartan© to mark the 10th Anniversary of Tartan Day on Ellis Island.
Each color in the tartan reflects upon the American immigrant experience. The blue represents the ocean that had to be crossed to reach the American shores. The copper-green is the color of the Statue of Liberty. The red depicts the bricks of the Ellis Island buildings where 12 million Americans took their first steps towards freedom. The gold is the golden door that is the United States of America and the dawn of a new life in America.
The Ellis Island Tartan
Brian Wilton, director of the Scottish Tartans Authority in Crieff, Scotland said: “As the first American footfall for millions of emigrants —including hundreds of thousands of Scots—Ellis Island plays an extremely important part in many family histories. It is entirely appropriate that all those whose American origins were born there should be able to celebrate and commemorate that momentous occasion by wearing the new Ellis Island Tartan.”