60 Years Ago – Ellis Island Closes
On November 12, 1954 Arne Petterson became the last alien immigrant to pass through Ellis Island, when the busiest immigration station in the United States permanently closed its doors.
Petterson is seen here waving goodbye on a ferry in New York Harbor as he was on his way to be picked up by a friend who would sponsor him for citizenship.
Petterson, 48, was a Norwegian merchant seaman from Narvik who had overstayed his shore leave while in New York. In 1942, during World War II, Petterson survived a German u-boat attack on his ship, the Leiv Eiriksson.
Ellis Island was in operation for 62 years and processed over 12 million immigrants.
HELP Did anyone find the real ELLIS ISLAND Arne Pettersen? Thank you, Sam Roberts, New York TImes
Thank you so much for your feedback and for your e-mail with the enclosed paper cutting. It is very much appreciated. Yes, Arne Pettersen’s name has been spelt differently in various newspaper reports. Most crew lists at Ancestry.com and Familysearch.com spell the name Arne Pettersen, though. The name is not uncommon, but there are fortunately not too many with that name and born around 1906 in the Norwegian national census of 1910.
One possible candidate is Arne Pareli Pettersen (1906-1981), https://www.krigsseilerregisteret.no/no/sjofolk/523390/, but he lived in Larvik at the time, not Narvik. I have tried to contact his grandson and hope to get his name confirmed or affirmed soon. He was onboard Leiv Eriksson as well, but not in 1942 as the Krigsseilerarkivet (War Sailors’ Archives) confirms.
Another possibility is a Arne Johannes Pettersen who definitely was a seaman and came to the States several times, but I am not sure if he came to the States as early as 1954.
Then there is a Arne (Magnus) Crogh Pettersen who was born in Narvik in 1905 and died there in 1981, but I haven’t found out if he was a seaman or not. He would have been 49 in 1954, though, as he was born in January. But cannot be ruled out yet.
The Arne Pettersen born in 1917 and who was on board when Leiv Eriksson was destroyed changed his surname years before 1954, so he can be ruled out. He died in 1982 in Oslo.
I cannot rule out yet another Arne Pettersen as well … But I am, with some help from other Norwegian genealogists, working on it. What spurred my interest was a recent article in the Norwegian history magazine Aftenposten Historie about Arne Pettersen and Ellis Island. But there were not too many details about Pettersen, and no information at all about what happened to him after 1954. I will go more systematically through the passenger crew lists and see if I can find more clues, and I will also see if I can find crew lists at this side of the pond which might lead to a conclusion.
Thanks again for your help!
Dag T. Hoelseth
What is the source for the claim that Pettersen survived a German u-boat attack on the ship “Leif Eriksson”? There was one Arne Pettersen on Leiv Eriksson, but he was born in 1917, not 1906 (the Arne Pettersen who left Ellis island in 1954 was 48 years old and was thus born around 1906).
The spelling of Mr. Pettersen’s name may be what is confusing.
Most stories concerning the last immigrant to pass through Ellis Isalnd spell the name as Arne Peterssen. I went by the alternate spelling which was on the rear of the original 1954 UPI photograph, and may be wrong. Note that the Arne Pettersen listed on the ship Leiv Eiriksson was classified as “able seaman.”
The New York Times of November 13, 1954 interviewed Mr. Peterssen. Peterssen said he was eager to get back to Norway to his wife and children. He had been picked up by the U.S immigration officials for overstaying a 29 day permit to stay in the USA. He was taken from Brooklyn and detained at Ellis Island. He was ordered to return to Norway by December 10.
The source was for “Arne Pettersen was on the Leif Erickson that was torpedoed in World War 2” was another contemporary newspaper story concerning the same Ellis Island closing story, which unfortunately I can’t locate right now. I usually do not save stories when getting background information. But if something is written on our site, we try and verify it. Apparently this was a case where we went with the contemporary story as proof that he was aboard that ship and the episode happened.
Regarding your alternate Arne of 1917- Another Arne Pettersen, was a third engineer on the Norwegian steamer Ringwood. He died December 9, 1940 of typhoid in Shanghai according to an article in the South China Morning Post running on December 31, 1940. Offline I’ve sent you that article.
If there was another Arne Pettersen or Peterssen that was a seaman in World War II that fits the description of the Ellis Island immigrant, I’d like to know, so I can correct this story. Please let me know.