Students at Bergen County Academies created a virtual reality tour of Ellis Island as it would have appeared in the years 1918 through 1924.
In a small room off Ellis Island’s Great Hall, Neel Patel-Shah took off his glasses, folded them neatly and slid them into his breast pocket. Eyeglasses only get in the way when you time travel.
“All right,” he said under his breath. “Let’s do it.”
Patel-Shah, a Fair Lawn native and senior at the Bergen County Academies, wedged his face into the virtual reality headset. And just like that, he leapt through the decades and landed back in the Great Hall, circa 1918.
Here, immigrants fresh off the boats that ferried them across the Atlantic wait on wooden benches to be let into the country for which they cast aside their homelands.
Some virtual immigrants have icons floating above their heads. Patel-Shah, 17, approached them and, with a loud “Excuse me,” began asking questions. From what country did they come? Where was their family? Why had they come to America?
The answers were drawn from oral histories given by the immigrants themselves — with a few details left out, to ensure that users don’t inadvertently stumble on long-lost relatives.
This is the virtual Ellis Island, the culmination of more than 3½ years of labor by about 15 students at the Bergen County Academies, said Scott Lang, the…
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