THE BURNING OF THE 'VOLTURNO' - PAGE 23
ELLIS ISLAND - PAGE 2
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WAS EVERY PERSON ADMITTED?
No they were not. Only a very small percentage of the arrivals were, in fact, denied entry to the United States; & then became the responsibility of the shipping company which had brought them. And were returned to their port of origin. There are heart-rending stories of families split up as a result. A healthy son permitted to enter perhaps while his aged father was denied. A child rejected for medical reasons & deported in the company of an adult family member as the law required. How traumatic those & similar experiences must have been! Those with 'a loathsome or dangerous contagious disease' faced major hurdles to entry & those with trachoma or tuberculosis & many other medical conditions were denied entry automatically. As were cripples, lunatics, criminals, polygamists amongst others, & somewhat surprisingly, those who did have a job to come to, called 'contract labourers'. It was quite illegal to arrive with a job 'in hand', it would seem. That law was written to protect immigrants from slave-like labor in the U.S. And also to protect the jobs of those who had arrived ahead of them from employers who wanted to 'import' cheap workers by paying an immigrant's fare with the purpose of breaking strikes or keeping wages low. And 'undesirables', such as prostitutes & procurers were denied entry, if that was suspected or proven. Now with the vast flow of immigrants, the medical inspectors had just a few minutes to detect such problems. And chalk marked those who would be then further examined. The U.S. did not feel a responsibility to accept those whom it would later have to support. In 1906, for which I have read some numbers, 12,432 immigrants were denied entry, after a primitive appeal process, about 1.2% of the total. I have also read that a maximum of 2% might have been denied entry. For them the view of the Statue of Liberty & the Manhattan skyline from Ellis Island was not a sign of welcome. Rather Ellis Island became for them an 'Island of Tears'. Such is history, I guess.
Now I expected that the manifests that are today gratefully available on line via ellisisland.org were created by the inspectors on Ellis Island as each immigrant passed before them. But I now do not think that is so. It would seem that the manifest lists were prepared by the vessel upon which the passenger crossed the Atlantic & indeed, in the majority of cases, were prepared even before the passenger boarded his vessel. They were certified upon creation & certified again upon arrival in New York. And were then given to Ellis Island. I read that the available manifests were microfilmed in 1943/44 & transferred to the National Archives in Washington D.C., but only those from 1897 to 1943 however. I am pretty sure that I read somewhere that earlier records were destroyed in that fire of 1897 & are therefore just unavailable. Does anybody know for sure?
Manifests only came into use in 1893, I learn, required by the new immigration law. But there were lists, of course, long before that date!
The Grosser Kurfürst arrived in New York with survivors from the Volturno aboard, & the New York Times made specific mention (See page 09) that no manifest pages of those survivors were available 'because of the neglect to manifest them on the way to New York'. So the Grosser Kurfürst manifest lists re Volturno survivors were, we now know, created right at the pier upon arrival in New York.
ELLIS ISLAND AND THE VOLTURNO SURVIVORS
This site is primarily related to the Volturno disaster, as I am sure you very well know by now. So I am pleased to tell you that the survivors of the Volturno were not required to flow through Ellis Island, but were rather examined by immigration officials on shipboard. In the same way as was routinely done for cabin class passengers at that time. A special dispensation to them in all of the circumstances, I am sure. That info comes from a Red Cross Report on Relief Activities which is now on site page 21. Not to say that certain Volturno survivors who had contagious diseases were not quarantined on Ellis Island until they were well again. That did surely take place, but they were a tiny number indeed of the total survivors & the nature of their medical problems demanded it.
I cannot complete this page without a comment about the journey across the Atlantic to New York - the relatively short trip from the European ports, typically of 8 to 10 days depending on distance & weather, or the rather longer trip from ports in the Mediterranean, typically of 15 days.
Firstly there were good ships & bad ships, but very few it would seem of the former. On those 'quality' ships the conditions were fine, the trip was fast but the fare was expensive. Far too expensive for the majority of immigrants who had scrimped & saved often for many many years to make emigration even possible & for whom a fancy liner was simply out of the question - totally beyond the immigrant's ability to pay. The transportation of immigrants was a lucrative business it would seem. The higher fares of those passengers who travelled in cabin class would generally cover the shipping company's costs & the fares from the steerage passengers was then all profit. There were no rules that governed the ships. They could do what they wanted. They could cram as many steerage passengers into the available space as was possible. And they did. And the masses still came. The steerage conditions could be & generally were simply appalling & food & services to the steerage passengers was kept to the bare minimum.
The fare in the early years of Ellis Island would be an average of $30 for the trip either from Europe or from the Mediterranean ports. Even in those days there were price wars, I read! With special rates of $15 or $16 per head! Children were carried at half price, & infants were free. I find, as you probably also find, those values to be quite meaningless without an understanding of what those fares would be worth in earning power. It may help, therefore, to read that an unskilled labourer might then earn $720 a year, & a carpenter $1,600. A stenographer might earn $1,000 a year & an interpreter might earn in the range of $1,200 to $1,400 a year. I believe that those values are U.S. values & were dramatically higher than earning levels in one's country of origin. The fare was accordingly a most significant factor for those who chose to emigrate as was having some cash on hand upon arrival to prove to the immigration officials that you & your dependents would not become a burden to the state.
The steerage quarters were located in the worst parts of the ship, of course. In the bow, or in the stern perhaps, close to the noise & vibration of the engines or bearing the major brunt of the buffeting of the waves & the motion of the ship. The steerage quarters typically has no portholes, had little ventilation & often in times of storm the passengers were battened in and could not escape their confines even for a moment. The steerage facilities were routinely horribly crowded. Hundreds, perhaps many hundreds, close together, in rooms the full width of the ship, men separated from women by a blanket hung from a rope. Bunks were two or three tiers high & were equipped with 'meager mattresses populated by lice'. Many were seasick & were confined to their bunks for days at a time. And could not reach the deck to vomit. The mattresses must have smelled awful. Mothers clutched their infants lest they roll off in the night. Privacy was non-existent. The toilet facilities were often poorly maintained & smelled to high heaven. Most passengers did not wash. And those that did so had to manage with cold sea water. It was warm in the steerage quarters however, so no one was cold, I read. The sheer numbers of bodies assured that. But the smell was surely quite appalling but had to be endured. You really do not want to know about the typical food that was provided! Many brought their own food or maybe supplemented what they were given with whatever they had managed to bring on board.
All in all, it was not a pleasure cruise. But the passengers had generally come from poor & rural backgrounds or had faced religious persecution. Hardships were the way of life for them. And with this trip there was surely the hope that life would be better once they reached the freedom & opportunity of the United States. And for the vast majority of immigrants who were admitted, it was better.
Now the principal subject matter of this total site is the Volturno, which was a tiny ship, carrying cargo & passengers, & surely not in any way a luxury vessel. I rather doubt if it was considered to be a 'quality' ship. So I wonder whether the above description of the lot of a steerage passenger is a good description of the conditions that were experienced aboard the Volturno. Can anybody comment?
Apropos that question, I have read one book by Peter Morton Coan (Ellis Island Interviews: In Their Own Words) which contains a great many interviews with immigrants who passed through Ellis Island over the years; just a selection, I gather, of the many such interviews which form part of the Ellis Island Oral History Project. The conditions of a steerage passenger were on my mind as I read those immigrants' words & I was struck by how few references there seemed to be to the dreadful conditions in steerage. Perhaps, with the passage of time, one's memory fades & good times are better remembered than bad. And, a passing comment also, I was surprised how many immigrants, in that selection of interviews, never saw the Statue of Liberty as they arrived in New York Harbour. Those who did were often overwhelmed by the sight, but a great many immigrants, I read, never even saw it.
Should any reader wish to locate material about the conditions aboard an immigrant ship, you might wish to locate a small volume, of just 45 pages, of such a voyage in 1888. It was written by Eliza Putnam Heaton about her voyage, as a journalist rather than as an immigrant, aboard S.S. Aurania, a Cunard vessel, presumably from the U.K. into New York. How do I know that? An e-Bay item in Feb. 2007 told me so. Eliza was only able to get six hours of sleep in the ten day voyage. She apparently describes 'the horrid cuisine and cramped conditions'. The book sounds most interesting. It was published privately in 1919 by John Langdon Heaton as 'The Steerage'. The e-Bay item sold for U.S. $113.48.
ONE IMMIGRANT WHO DID SEE THE STATUE
I trust I may be permitted to provide here a few words from Peter Coan's volume.
Many of those who passed through Ellis Island became famous indeed for their later achievements in their adopted land. One such immigrant, who arrived in New York in 1908 at the tender age of 5, remembered standing with his mother & five brothers as their vessel, the St. Louis, entered New York Harbour & they saw the lights & the Statue of Liberty. Years later, when in New York again, he said, "I just remember staring out over the water to Ellis Island and the statue, and remember feeling very grateful, very lucky, and saying to myself, "Thank you." Thanks for the memory. That was the first song I sang in the movies with Shirley Ross and it was such a hit, I just kept on doing it. But emotionally, when I hear it, I think of that day that we arrived at Ellis Island. I don't think, in all my years, I ever told anyone that..."
That immigrant? Leslie Townes Hope (1903-2003), better known, of course, as Bob Hope.
THE IMMIGRATION LAWS AND THE IMMIGRANT FLOW TO THE U.S.A.
I would like, in relatively few words, to describe here the historical immigration flows to the United States, & the effect upon those flows of world events & U.S. immigration laws. But I do not find such a summation easy to write, at least not based on the books about Ellis Island I have so far been able to read here in Toronto, Canada. So the words that follow will surely need to be corrected & improved, as I locate new data, or new information & comments are received from site visitors.
It would seem however that there were no Federal immigration laws (though there were State laws which were rejected by the U.S. Congress) in the United States until 1882, if, that is, one ignores the 1875 laws that were written to restrict access to persons of Chinese & Japanese origin. In 1882, all Chinese immigration was in fact stopped for 10 years & the first generally exclusive immigration laws were passed. So 'any convict, lunatic, idiot, or any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge' was banned from immigration. Three years later, in 1885, the first of a number of 'alien contract labor laws' were passed - to restrict the importation of alien workers to the detriment of the existing labour force. There were some exceptions, of course, but the objectives were clear. Fueled by sentiment in the country of which the following is, I am sure, just one powerful example ~ From Judge Magazine & dating, I understand from 1903.
There are other such images, which were kindly available on the WWW (no longer I think!) thanks to W. W. Norton and Company, whom I thank.
Restrictive medical laws were introduced in 1891 & updated & frequently revised in later years.
Those laws, all said and done, would seem to have done little to actually restrict immigration. Until the 1880s, immigration was mainly from what one might term the northwestern European countries ~ from the British Isles, from Belgium, Denmark, France & Germany & from Scandinavia. Not exclusively of course, but predominantly from those countries. After the 1880s, the immigration sources changed dramatically, & persons from the southern & eastern European countries dominated. That flow included immigrants from Poland, Rumania & Russia & from Italy, Serbia, Turkey, Bulgaria & Greece. And so it would seem to have been, through 1921 & then 1924 when the quota laws were introduced. They changed everything.
The 1921 law restricted immigration to a maximum of 358,000 persons (or maybe 358,703), but also controlled the country of origin of immigrants. A annual quota limit was imposed - 3% of foreign born immigrants of any particular nationality living in the U.S. in 1901 as per the census. And no more than 20% of that nationality quota could be landed in any one month. Such laws discouraged immigration from the eastern European countries in favour of those from the 'old countries'. The 1924 laws were even more restrictive. A maximum of 164,667 immigrants a year, limited to 2% annually of any particular nationality living in the U.S. as of 1890, with no more than 10% in any month. The changes were quite stunning. I have read that immigrants of Italian origin were as an example extremely & badly effected. (But I choose not to present here the numbers I have read because they seem to me to be statistically nonsensical.) But the effect is clear indeed. Immigration from anywhere other than northwestern European countries was discouraged & greatly impacted. Here is a quota list as established under the 1924 Act. I am still trying to find a page which summarises the actual immigration statistics from say the 1880s through to 1924 or later.
In 1924 the rules changed dramatically in another way. The law enacted that year required one to have a visa provided by a U.S. Consulate abroad, to be able to enter the U.S. as an immigrant. It would seem the law came into effect sometime in 1925. Gone was the major function of Ellis Island. Gone was the astonishing immigration flow. And gone was the lucrative trade of shipping in as many immigrants to the U.S. as one could possibly cram into one's hold. Immigration numbers plummeted, quite naturally. In 1925, I read, 137,492 were admitted through the Port of New York. Contrast that with 892,653 in 1913 when the Volturno made its final & fateful voyage & 1,004,756 in 1907, the peak immigration year.
Do please comment about the above. With the objective of greater accuracy, I hope!
THE IMMORTAL WORDS OF EMMA LAZARUS
From 'The New Collosus", a sonnet written in 1883 by Emma Lazarus (1849 - 1887) in aid of the Bartholdi Pedestal Fund.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"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!"
The unveiling ceremonies for the Statue of Liberty were held on Bedloe's Island on Oct. 28, 1886, a cold day with, I have read, a wind-driven drizzle. It is interesting to note that no ladies were invited, though a boatload of suffragettes were on hand to point out that Liberty is after all the embodiment of a woman. Emma Lazarus's sonnet was largely ignored until 1903 when a plaque with her words was installed inside the pedestal. And really only 30 years later than that was the sonnet recognised as being of great brilliance. She, as you may have read above, died in 1887 & knew nothing of such events then in the far distant future.
It would seem that the bronze plaque engraved in 1903 & installed at the Statue of Liberty has an error in it. The comma after the word 'keep' in the first line of the second verse was omitted, probably as a result of a simple 'typographical error'. The error had been noticed a few times before, spotted by sharp-eyed tourists, but it received publicity in Dec. 2006 when New York publisher Brian Eskinazi noticed & publicised the error. Resulting in a front page article in the New York Sun on Dec. 8, 2006.
1. On Jan. 1, 1892, the very first immigrant was processed at the new Ellis Island. Annie Moore, 15 years old that very day, from County Cork, Ireland, was the very first to go through the inspection process having arrived aboard the S.S. Nevada accompanied only by her younger brothers Anthony aged 11 & Phillip aged 7. As the very first immigrant to be processed, she was welcomed in a grand ceremony & given a $10 gold piece - the largest sum of money she had then ever possessed & the first U.S. coin she had ever seen. I was interested to see a 1910 image of Annie O'Connell (as she became after marrying Daniel O'Connell) with her then baby daughter Mary Catherine. I saw that image of Annie (1877-1923) in Peter Coan's volume, courtesy of the National Parks Service (Ellis Island Interviews: In their own words, Peter Morton Coan, 1997). I gather that there is a bronze statue of Annie at Ellis Island today. And another also at Cobh, (pronounced 'cove'), previously known as Queenstown, I believe, in County Cork, Ireland, her original point of departure. I understand that Annie & Patrick O'Connell had no less than eight children, five of whom survived. And there is surely more data should you wish to search. It would seem that she died relatively young after being struck by a train in Texas.
And here is the statue of Annie Moore & her brothers, part of an image available at the website of the Cork Guide, whom we thank. In front of the grouping, at the base of the statue, can be seen a plaque, which can be read on this site, thanks, I see, to Janet Sandberg. They had embarked for America on Dec. 20, 1891, I read.
I learn that there is one book at least about Annie Moore. The book, by Eve Bunting (1928 - ), delightfully illustrated by Ben F. Stahl, is entitled 'DREAMING OF AMERICA: An Ellis Island Story'. A children's book, published in 1999. The book contains an image of the S.S. Nevada which is most interesting.
2. The very last immigrant? I know that I cannot answer that question. Can anybody help? It would seem that the last detainee was Arnie Petersen, a Norwegian seaman who had jumped his ship & was held for three days on Ellis Island in late Nov. 1954. But I do not believe that he would be ever considered to be an immigrant. Since he would seem to have been then deported to his country of origin.
The official Ellis Island Website is here.
If any visitor can clarify (or correct) or provide more information or images about any of these matters, I would truly welcome their help.
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