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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Coming to America

Imagine if you will. You've been on the ship now for weeks. In steerage. You've sold everything you had to pay for the passage. You've fit everything you treasure in two trunks a large basket and a cloth bag. It's all you and your family have to start over again in a new land. America.

Then finally one day you see her - the Lady in the Harbor. The glorious beacon to freedom. You have arrived. The promised land is before you. Soon you will see for yourself if the streets are really paved with gold.
But not so fast. Although the first and second class passengers will be processed on board the ship, the steerage passengers are to be put upon ferries and sent to Ellis Island. The name sends dread through you. You've heard of people not allowed in, sent back home because they have a bad cough or an eye disease, or are simple minded or don't have enough money. You know you yourself are not simple minded. But you don't have much money - is it enough? And the baby has come down with a cough? Will they let you in? What if they won't let the baby in? What can you do? A baby can not be sent back across an ocean by itself.
You get off the ferry and enter the building, following the scores of others and trying to figure out what to do next, where to go. You are told to leave your baggage on the main floor - to check it in. Leave it? It's all you have in the world. No, you decide you'll simply keep it with you. Your son is big, he can help with one of the trunks.

Then up the stairs to the reception room. It's large, so much larger than anything you've seen back home. And it is full of people and benches. A man in a uniform directs you to one side. You wait, you hope. You sweat it out.

Most people were processed through Ellis Island with no problems. Their paper work was in order, they showed no signs that they would be a burden on society, so they were released and ferried over to the train station in Jersey City or to New York to continue their journey and start their new life.

Some however had to go through medical exams, legal hearings and competency tests. Some people stayed for days or weeks on Ellis Island in the dormitories that slept 300 in beds stacked three high.

Today the island is a museum. And it is where we spent out day today. There are wonderful displays about immigration through the ages - and specifically to Ellis Island. Very informative and very interesting as well.

One interesting thing is the language tree - showing what language some of our common words come from. Pippi likes the word Caboodle; it's Dutch.
And this sea gull sitting on the piling by the ferry dock just seemed like he wanted someone to take his picture. So I did.
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4 comments:

PJ Hoover said...

Great post! My grandparents come in through Ellis Island.

Christine M said...

If I had known that I would have looked them up for you! There is all kinds of information there. My ancestors came over before Ellis Island opened - so we have no direct connection through there.

Heather said...

Thanks so much for posting this.

Cassie said...

I went to Ellis Island, oh, 12 years ago, I think, when they unveiled the portion of the wall (monument) that has my great-grandparent's names on it. I was completely awestruck by the reality of what they had to go through. I pretty much cried, tears actually streaming down my face, the entire time we were there. You've captured it very well. I actually had the privilege of knowing my great-grandmother until she passed when I was 17 years old, so I could very realistically imagine her there, having known her personally. It was a very moving experience.