Friday, December 4, 2009

Ellis Island

After three weeks at sea Baba was still seasick in steerage and did not know that her ship glided quietly past New York harbor's Statue of Liberty. It seems a sort of hopeful, welcome tribute, that Lazurus's words inscribed on the tablet set at the base of the monument--tired, poor, huddled masses--exactly described Baba and her two traveling companions:

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Landing at Ellis Island, courtesy of Norway-Heritage

Thousands of European immigrants were processed through 27-acre Ellis Island so officials efficiently limited the time that each spent there. Sanitary facilities and food were stretched thin. In 1911 an average of 5000 immigrants per day passed through. Each immigrant was tagged before leaving the ship with a card that stated their name, origin and destination. Baba presented her documents to the immigration officials and although only 15 years of age, she claimed to be 17 years old for fear a child of 15 traveling without an adult would be sent back to Europe.

Dining Hall at Ellis Island, courtesy of Norway-Heritage

A brief medical exam was administered. The main concern of immigration officials was that no immigrant have serious contagious diseases, especially trachoma (an eye disease), or any other physical condition which might interfere with the ability to be self-supporting. Other than that, if a newcomer appeared in good health, he or she was allowed to stay in the US. Baba described her fear at this part of the immigrations process. The worst thing that could happen would be to be sent back home. The eye exam, though quick, was particularly objectionable because a buttonhook-like tool was inserted under the eyelid so it could be inspected for disease.

Once officials determined everything was in order, Baba and Mary Szemjan boarded the train for Pittsburgh which departed from Ellis Island very late that night, December 14, 1911. Mary Szorokacs took a separate train, her destination being to relatives in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Immigrants Waiting to Depart Ellis Island, courtesy of Norway-Heritage

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