My Triumphant Return to Ellis Island - 2657

Today I returned to Ellis Island amid great pomp and ceremony, a far cry from my visit last weekend. I was again conveyed by an antique ferry. Actually it’s a replica of a circa 1900 ferry, but considering it’s age, it probably qualifies as an antique. There was an early 20th century brass band playing ragtime tunes as I and the other guests made are way to the small island in the harbor.

It looked very different from the Ellis Island I had last seen. The large wooden structure is gone, replaced with a beautiful Beaux-Arts brick building dating from 1900. The island had been greatly expanded to 27.5 acres and more buildings added.

The buildings have all been carefully preserved. It hadn’t always been that way. When Ellis Island was closed in 1954 it had been abandoned to the elements and vandals. Soon the great hall had become a pigeon roost. The public was appalled. For many Americans, this was where they traced their families history to. This was their Plymouth Rock. This was sacred ground. They raised the money and restored the main building in 1990, turning it into an immigration museum. Throughout the 21st century more money was raised until all of the buildings had been restored.

I brought the beat-up carpet bag I had used on my journey and offered it to the museum to add to their baggage room display. These are more than just antique luggage…these were actual trunks and bags that had come through Ellis Island, donated by former immigrants and their descendants. They were thrilled with my gift. I was wearing the same old sack suit I had worn and offered to donate it, too--although they would have to wait for that. I wasn’t about to strip for them.

I think my favorite display was the robots they had wandering about. The museum had considered using famous people, then decided to use composite characters. That way visitors would see their own ancestors in the automatons. The bots were of various ages and ethnic groups, all in period costumes. One only had to walk up and speak to them and the bot would tell you their story. Problem was visitors kept coming up and me my story. They were a bit embarrassed to find out I was real.

Everyone was thrilled with the footage I had brought back of my journey in steerage and through Ellis Island. They were especially delighted that I had captured Irving Berlin entering the country. The Museum Director, Ann Kabadaian joked that I should have waited a year. Maybe I would have caught her ancestor coming into Ellis Island. Her family came to this country from Turkey to escape the Hamidian Massacres of Armenian Christians. Too many had to come to America to escape genocide.

I had a very lovely time and was glad I was able to bring back this record. It helped the descendants feel closer to their ancestors, who came to this country with little more than a dream of a better life.

Great internet sites to visit:
Ellis Island Immigration Museum - video from PBS’s “Great Museums”

Ellis Island Foundation - Search for an ancestor, look at old photographs, read an immigrant’s account.

Interactive tour of Ellis Island


Journey to Ellis Island - Day Ten

Today I visited the Lower Eastside Manhattan. This is the dumping ground for immigrants who can go no further. Having spent all their money to get to America, many can‘t afford a train ticket out of town. There are dozens of nationalities living here: Italians, Jews, Irish, Germans, Poles, Ukrainians, Chinese, Czechs, etc. practically on top of each other in these overcrowded neighborhoods. The streets are glutted with people, wagons, and pushcarts. The carts sell everything from food to used clothing, serving as tiny portable shops for struggling merchants.

Most of the buildings in these neighborhoods are tenements, thrown up in the mid-19th century to take advantage of the influx of poor immigrants. Some are as tall as seven stories, and none of them have elevators. The first floor is reserved for businesses. Above that are apartments--if that is the correct word. Many have been divided into single room dwellings where as many as ten to fifteen people are crammed, with no plumbing, windows or ventilation. Over 300,000 can be found in a square mile here, making this the most densely packed population in the world currently.

Often times these squalid rooms are not only “home“, but also workplace. Mothers assisted by all her children will spend all day cracking nuts, assembling paper flowers, or sewing for meager wages. They can’t even escape these prisons during the day.

Disease is rampant here, not only because of the overcrowded conditions and poor sanitation, but because starvation has broken down resistance to illness. People who had gambled everything for a better life now find themselves in a virtual hell.

Those who can’t be heard now have a spokesperson. This evening I attended a lecture by Jacob Riis. Armed with a camera, he captured the misery of the innocent victims of poverty. He now goes to various churches, clubs and synagogues showing the rich and middle-class slides of his photos and describing what he had seen. I couldn’t believe the horrified looks on the faces of the audience. More than one mother dabbed her eyes to see babies living in filth. The pictures are heartbreaking. To find out people are dieing of neglect in America’s wealthiest city is a shock to them.

Jacob Riis knows poverty first hand. He came to America from Denmark in 1870 when he was 21 years-old. Penniless, he struggled to stay alive until he eventually landed a job as a police reporter for the New York Tribune. Having escaped out of the slums, he now had to return to them to cover the news. Riis decided to expose the biggest crime of all in New York--the deplorable conditions of the city’s poor. In 1890 Riis published How the Other Half Lives, followed by other books about the slums. His efforts will have an impact. Slowly laws will be passed and conditions improved. He will even get the worst slums around Five Points torn down and replaced with a much needed park.

Jacob Riis wore the title of Muckraker proudly. Two years ago he showed New York how it’s water supply was being contaminated by sewers. It was cleaned up. In 1895 he will show future Police Commissioner, Theodore Roosevelt, how nine out of ten policemen were not at their posts. Roosevelt fixed that. Roosevelt would come to call Riis “the Best American I ever knew.”

Reform is never easy, but I get the feeling Jacob Riis does not doubt he will win in the end. He would probably be surprised though to find out parks, schools and civic centers will be named for him in both New York City and Chicago. After the lecture I had to walk up and shake this man's hand--and it wasn’t just to get a close-up.

The story of Jacob Riis (short video)

A collection of Jacob Riis photos

Download Jacob Riis books:
How the Other Half Lives
Children of the Tenements
Out of Mulberry Street: Stories of Tenement Life in New York City
The Battle With the Slums
Neighbors: Life Stories of the Other Half


Journey to Ellis Island - Day Nine

This morning we were woken by an official calling us to breakfast. I had a deuce of a time waking up. Between the uncomfortable cot and the noise of the snoring I had received little sleep. We were served oatmeal and bread with butter. Not a glamorous meal, but it was free, so I have no right to complain.

I returned to the queue I had been forced to abandon the evening before. The doctor eventually showed up and the line once more began to move. My turn finally came. He asked me to remove my spectacles and read a chart on the wall. I did. The doctor then asked why I was even wearing glasses since I had 20/20 vision. I told him I was a teacher and they made me look smarter. He accepted that explanation.

I was then given directions to the Great Hall. This is a huge auditorium with desks at the far end. There were a few benches along the wall, but those were taken up. I thought there were suppose to be rows of benches, but my computer records show those were not installed until 1903. Theodore Roosevelt saw to that. Good old Teddy! For now though we had to stand, or sit on the floor.

The officials called out names for legal inspection. The person then goes up to one of the desks and the official begins asking the immigrant questions. I wondered where they got the names. I had read they are from the ships’ passenger records. Wouldn’t my name have been called yesterday? After a couple of hours though they did call out “Wendell Howe.” I hurried forward.

The official wore an official-looking uniform and sat on a high stool at an official-looking desk. Even though he was seated, his face was level with mine. His had a pen in hand, ready to record my answers. He asked my name, where I was going, did I have relatives in America, did anyone promise me a job, and a couple of dozen more questions all fired in rapid succesion. He then told me I was free to enter the country and gave me a card. I stick it in my pocket and turn to go.

My way is blocked by a large family at the next desk. They appear to be Russian Jews. The man and woman have six children and an interpreter with them. “So,” their interviewer asked, “Your name is Moses Berlin?”

“Beilin,” the interpreter corrects him.

“And your youngest child is named “Izzy?”

The interpreter asks the father something, then turns and smiles at the official. “It’s short of Israel.”

I look at the little five year old child. Poor thing almost got stuck with the name “Izzy Berlin.” I start to walk off, when I got an odd feeling. Where had I heard that name before? I pull out my computer and check the name “Israel Beilin.”

My computer screen begins scrolling information like crazy. This kid will be famous someday. Dear heavens, can he really be him? Probably the greatest song writer of the 20th century--Irving Berlin? Yes, father’s name Moses. Entered America in 1893.

This frightened looking child will someday write 1250 songs, 25 number one hits, among them: White Christmas, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Puttin’ on the Ritz, There’s No Business Like Show Business, Easter Parade, Always, Blue Skies--the list goes on! They are still singing his songs in the 27th century!

His greatest gift to the country that gave his family refuge is “God Bless America.” It is interesting that whenever Americans are in an emotional state, it’s not “The Star-Spangled Banner” they sing, but “God Bless America.” Perhaps because Irving Berlin meant every word.

I look into those big eyes that look back at me. Yes, he does look like the photo, only younger. I smile at him. Then I turn and head for the exit, wondering who else might be in this room.

Last stop at Ellis Island was to get my pounds converted into dollars. I don’t know what the going rate is, but it seemed fair. I suppose cheating the immigrants and turning us into paupers would defeat the purpose of this place.

I got on the ferry and stood at the railing while immigrants were loaded on. They weren’t American citizens yet, but they were now legal. We got off the vessel at Battery Park in front of the Immigration Office. Now we were really in America. Several people wept. One fellow fell to the ground and kissed the pavement.

America at last.


Journey to Ellis Island - Day Eight

After spending another night aboard the RMS Umbria in steerage, third class passengers waited for the officers of the custom-house to show up. We were then queued up on the dock while they went through our luggage looking for contraband. I asked exactly what they were searching for, but I got a nasty look.

Once that was finished, we were loaded on a barge and towed out to Ellis Island. Everyone was eager to get to land at last. A dock really doesn’t count as land. Since most of Ellis Island is landfill, I’m not sure if it really counts as land either. You are on “American soil” but you really aren’t officially in America until you have been passed through here. It’s a bit of an ambiguous limbo.

The people in steerage were very nervous. They had heard horror stories of families spending everything, and then being deported back. I of course could not point out that history estimates only 2% were ever deported--since how could I know history that hasn’t been made yet.

We were loaded off the barge onto the dock at Ellis Island, and directed into the main building. The building on Ellis Island in 1893 is a huge structure made of Georgia pine. It looks like a warehouse. When it burns down in 1897 it will be replaced with a much grander looking brick building that is still there.

Our first stop was the baggage room. They offered to take any baggage and hold it for us. They would give us a baggage claim slip. When I elected to keep my carpet bag, they shrugged, and made no protest. Apparently this was meant as a service rather than mandatory.

Next was the medical inspection. The doctor looked us over in just a couple of minutes. As I stood in line I heard screaming ahead. A nurse was trying to lead off a small child while his mother was crying. My computer translated the woman’s Italian. She was pleading with them not to take away her child, for he was all she had left. He was her world. A translator came running over and explained to her that they were not taking the child away permanently. The little boy was being taken to the infirmary, because he appeared sick. When he was well he would be released.

This might seem cruel, but I can see why America wouldn’t want a contagious child on her shore to spread his illness. Keeping him until he was well seemed kinder than just shipping him back to Italy. Indeed considering that he might end up in substandard housing where he would just get sicker, the officials could be saving the lads life. I don’t know what the medical facilities are like now, but in 1902 the island will be expanded to hold a 22 building hospital complex. It will be one of the most modern hospitals in the country.

I am in perfect health, so when it was my turn I confidently stepped up. When the doctor was finished he drew an “E” on my jacket and pointed me to another line. I asked why. He said I was wearing spectacles and my eyes would have to be tested to make sure I could see well enough to hold down a job. How could I tell him I don’t need my glasses, that they are just a disguised video camera. I meekly did as I was told.

I stood in line for hours. Before they could get to me, I was told the doctor had left for the day. He would test my eyes in the morning. Would I have to go back to the ship? Could I get a hotel and come back in the morning? I was told I would have to stay on the Island tonight. What?

I had read it took 3-5 hours to go through Ellis Island. It would take me two days? I checked my computers records. It’s been estimated 1 in 5 were detained for a day…or week…or month. At least they fed me and my fellow prisoners. They took us to a huge cafeteria. We again lined up to receive stew on a tin plate, along with bread. No sign of tea.

They also have rooms with bunk beds for us, or maybe bunk cots is a better word. There were not enough blankets to go around. I’m hoping they at least have enough for the children. I don’t know if I will get much sleep with the raucous snoring of a hundred men or so. Yesterday I was disappointed I couldn’t get on Ellis Island, and now I’m disappointed I can’t get off.

Still I suppose this offers me an opportunity to see parts of Ellis Island I wouldn’t have normally. This is just an inconvenience for me, but what about all these other chaps. They must be terrified that they will be deported back to a place where they have no hope. At least I know I will get out eventually.

If only they had tea.


Journey to Ellis Island - Day Seven

I was awoken from my doze on the deck this morning by someone yelling, “There she is! There’s the lady!” People ran to the railing, and gave an excited cheer. I wondered who they were talking about. I slowly wormed my way through the crowd to get a glimpse myself.

There on the horizon were the tall buildings of Manhattan. In front of it stood a structure in the harbor that everyone in the world recognizes. It was the Statue of Liberty. I had just seen her hand and torch last year at the 1876 Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia. Here she was, completed and on her pedestal. She was the first to greet us to America. For some of these poor souls, she would be the only one to make them feel welcome. I’m not sure who decided to put France’s gift in this spot, but I could not think of a better one.

As we got closer to Miss Liberty, the excitement grew. People were laughing and hugging each other. Some were crying in relief. Our makeshift Irish band began playing Yankee Doodle. I noticed an elderly Jewish chap wearing his prayer shawl and bowing to Liberty. I’m sure he was praying to God rather than the statue--but then perhaps the Statue of Liberty is the Wailing Wall of this Promised Land.

A couple of immigration officials were waiting at the dock for the RMS Umbria came into port. They had come to quickly process the first and second class immigrants. We watched as saloon and then cabin class filed off the ship. Everyone in steerage lined up on deck waiting. We knew we would be next.

After an hour the captain told us that all American citizens with papers were to come forward. They would be the only ones allowed off the ship. Immigrants would have to wait. Needless to say the captain was drowned out by angry protests. He blew a shrill whistle and demanded silence. The steamship company was responsible for any immigrant that tried to jump ship, so no one was going to leave until the government officials were ready for us.

So we waited on deck in the hot sun all afternoon. We were finally informed we would go to Ellis Island tomorrow. We would spend another night aboard the ship in steerage. Everyone at first was to shocked to speak. Finally there was grumbling.

“Hmpt!” snorted a Cockney, “They just making us stay ‘ere for spite, they are!”

I didn’t point out that I’m sure the steamship company was just as unhappy about this as us, having to feed 430 passengers at least two more meals, and spending another day in dock.

“I thought this was the land of the free where all men are equal?” a Welshman complained.

“Oh, it is, boyo,” an Irishman smirked, “Just some folks more equal than others.”


Journey to Ellis Island - Day Six

Yesterday’s lethargy has been replaced by growing excitement. They say we will be in New York tomorrow! All eyes are now scanning the eastern horizon. A bank of clouds lays there. One of the sailors says that means land.

Everyone is in a flurry of excitement. People are pulling out there best clothes, trying to smooth out the wrinkles. Most of the men are braving the rocking of the boat to get a shave with their straight edge razors. An immigrating barber has setup “shop” and is doing a marvelous business. Those that can scrounge the modest price he is asking, are lining up for of a shave or haircut. I decided joining the queue was preferable to risking getting nicked. He did a great job, I must say.

All talk of the past that drove these people immigrate has been replaced by talk of the future. It has to better than what the poverty and oppression they left behind. As for me, I lean on the railing and watch, feeling eager anticipation, even though I’m not really immigrating but merely observing. The hope is just too infectious.

I can’t get that old song "Coming to America" out of my head. It was written long ago in the 20th century--or should I say, it will be written someday in the future, since it’s now 1893. The songwriter's grandparents came through Ellis Island. I believe the chap's name was Neil Damion...or was it Neil Donald?...no wait, Neil Diamond!

Click here to see "Coming to America" by film maker Alexa Nelipa. This video best captures the feeling of the song. You can visit her website at: Alexa's Art Good show, my dear Ms. Nelipa.


Journey to Ellis Island - Day Five

The weather was fairly nice today so most of the passengers were up on the deck. Most have recovered from the seasickness, but some are still queasy. The initial excitement has waned. The crowded conditions are getting to everyone in steerage. Some try to fight the boredom by playing cards, listening to chaps playing instruments or chatting. A good many doze, the conditions on deck preferable to the smelly, stuffy hold.

The stewards, outside of feeding us and making sure we don’t mingle with our betters, pretty much ignore us. In contrast they fawn upon the passengers in the upper decks. First class has been supplied with all sorts of entertainments by the steamship company. Ironically their favorite pastime seems to be watching those below in steerage like we were a zoo exhibit. Some even toss coins down to us to watch the children scramble for them.

Myself, I have entertained myself people watching. I have left my spectacles disguised as a camera on for the most of the trip. I’ve also walked around with my Bible open so I can read the computer screen inside. The glasses and the Bible have earned me the nickname “Vicar” with the chaps in steerage room one. My computer has been translating the various conversations around me, so I can easily eavesdrop on the Scandinavians, Germans and Russian Jews.

Some of the talk is amusing. Many of the young single men go on and on about how they will become rich and famous within the year. Others conversations are sad. One Swedish husband was consoling his young wife, sad that she would never see her parents again. A little Jewish boy asked his father if America had Cossacks and would they burn down their next house, too. A twelve-year-old girl assured her eight-year-old brother that their parents would meet them in New York. They are not the only children I have noticed traveling alone. Perhaps the one advantage to the crowded conditions is that if anyone tried to harm the youngsters, there would be plenty of witnesses to come to their aid.

Many have brought their luggage up from below. Partly to protect the few possessions they own, but also as a substitute for deckchairs. Linen and burlap sacks make up most of the baggage. They are now doubling as pillows. Right now I am sitting on the deck, leaned against my ragged carpetbag, my beat-up bowler pulled down to shade my eyes, the collar of by shabby jacket turned up. I am in dire need of a shave. If Dr. Henry Darrel could see me now, I don’t think he’d be calling me “fancy-pants.”


Journey to Ellis Island - Day Four

The storm has calmed a bit, but seasickness has left many in a bad mood. Tempers were not helped we were all told to go back to our appointed rooms. The ship’s surgeon and his assistant came in and told us he was there to make sure we had all had our vaccinations. We were told to queue up for muster and come forward as our names were called. We were to roll up our sleeves. Anyone who could not show a vaccination scar was to be inoculated.

There was a howl of protest. The surgeon firmly explained anyone who was not vaccinated would be held in Quarantine when we reached New York. No exceptions.

The surgeon never mentioned what we were being inoculated for, but we all knew--smallpox. Nasty disease. Highly contagious. It causes diarrhea, vomiting, high fever, severe headache, excessive bleeding, etc. Worse of all are the nasty pustules that cover the patient’s body. These break and crust over, leaving a horrible scar. The face and limbs are the worse. There is a 30% or higher fatality rate. Those that survive have a chance as high as 85% of being scarred. Blindness is less common, but always a danger.

For centuries the Chinese and other countries have inoculated people with small pox, sometimes causing more problems than they were preventing. Then in 1796, Edward Jenner, an English scientist, developed a vaccine using the far milder cowpox virus. Jenner observed that those who came down with cowpox later seemed to be immune to smallpox.

British Parliament made smallpox inoculation mandatory in 1853. Other countries followed and by the beginning of the 20th century, smallpox will be virtually nonexistent. By 1979 smallpox virus will become the first disease to ever be eradicated.

The surgeon began the vaccinations. Rather than using a syringe and putting the virus in the bloodstream, he pricked the skin with a two pronged needle that is dipped in the vaccine solution. The spot will itch and a blister will form, then scab over leaving a scar. One small scar on your arm beats dozens on your face.

When it came my turn, I rolled up my sleeve and showed the surgeon my scar. I’ve been vaccinated for all the known and even extinct diseases, like all Licensed Time Travelers. We don’t want another scare like the one in 2416, when a time traveler brought back smallpox! Thankfully it was contained in time.

I was handed a card like the one on the left. You will notice there is no mention of smallpox. Everyone just knows what the vaccination is for. The back of the card reads: “This card must be kept by the Passenger to avoid detention by Quarantine in New York or while traveling by Rail or Steamers in the United States.”

The surgeon finished with the lot of us, and then moved on the next steerage room. I heard loud complaints come from it, too. Still no one was brave enough to do more than grumble. No one wants to be put in quarantine. The immigrants will do anything to get into America.


Journey to Ellis Island - Day Three

Last night while on deck I felt the first drops of the storm. By the time we all made it down below, the rain was coming down good. The gentle motion of the ship became more pronounced. We were all staggering like drunks.

This typhoon has lasted all day and has not let up. All right, the stewards told us this was just a minor squall, but if it was put to a vote by the passengers, this is a typhoon! Most of the chaps are now laying in their bunks, moaning. Several are convinced they are dieing and will never live to see America. Even with my seasickness pills, I’m feeling a little queasy myself, what with the motion and the smell of bile.

Through all this sat a small group of men playing cards. I went over to their table. They ask me if I’m a sailor, too. I tell them no, I just have a strong stomach.

They chuckle at the sissy landlubbers and begin telling me horror stories of the old days when riding in steerage really could kill you. In the old sailing ships, the Atlantic crossing would take weeks rather than days. The conditions were far more unsanitary. Water was often foul, as was the food--when it was available. Some ships served no food at all to steerage. Passengers had to bring their own. It was not uncommon for an epidemic to spread like wildfire in these deplorable conditions and take out many. If all this wasn’t bad enough, many of these ships were unsound and would sink before reaching America. The Irish nicknamed the immigrant vessels “coffin ships” for a reason.

Steerage aboard the Umbria are not the best accommodations, but they could be worse. It’s also nice to know they will be much better in ten years. It’s hard to believe that just above us, in first class, are salons and cabins that any luxury hotel would be proud of. Still for all the satin sheets and fancy décor, the first class passengers are just as seasick and miserable as the lot down here in steerage.

I really do wish I could pass around my seasickness pills. Here’s hoping for better weather.


Journey to Ellis Island - Day Two

Today we stopped at Queenstown at Cork Harbor in the south of Ireland. If you go looking for Queenstown, Ireland on the map, you won’t find it. It was once called Cove, then changed to Queenstown when Queen Victoria visited Ireland in 1849. When Ireland became free in 1922 they changed it back to Cove, but spelled it in the original Gaelic spelling of Cobh. It’s pronounced “Cove.” I think they just spell it “Cobh” to confuse people.

At Queenstown we took aboard mail and more steerage passengers. Over fifty people were added to our already crowded conditions. Many are just going to America to make money to send back home. Of those, many will decide to stay. The Potato Famine may be in the past, but Ireland is still suffering from crushing poverty. It won’t be until the late 20th century that she will really prosper.

Between 1820 and 1920 nearly four and a half million Irish immigrated to America. Perhaps it is fitting that the first person through Ellis Island was a fifteen year old Irish girl named Annie Moore. She left from this very same port. Just last year, in 1892, she arrived with her two little brothers to meet her parents already in America. There is a statue of her at Cobh and one at Ellis Island today, in remembrance of all the Irish immigrants.

Statues of Annie Moore: Left at Cobh and right at Ellis Island

I heard one Cockney complaining about our new guests. Later I saw the same man smiling and tapping his foot to an impromptu Irish band, made of a tin whistle, concertina and fiddle. A couple of young Irish girls, and a spry old one, got up and did jigs. Our Cockney was not the only one smiling. It did make the crowded deck seem less dreary.

We are now pulling away from the Irish coast and headed into the Atlantic Ocean. Next stop: New York Harbor.

Journey to Ellis Island - Day One

My latest assignment is to record Ellis Island’s first Main Building that existed between 1892 and 1897. The wooden structure will burn down in 1897 and will be replaced by the lovely familiar brick building. Rather than just riding by the island on a ferry, I convinced the Institute of Time Travel to allow me to pose as an immigrant and go through Ellis Island.

They were against this for I’m not allowed to change history, but I pointed out that I would hardly be remembered among the nearly half a million who went through Ellis Island in 1893. Few people make lasting friendships on voyages. I would be lost in the crowd.

Not all immigrants went through Ellis Island. First and second class would be processed on board at their arrival. So I will be traveling Third Class, or Steerage for the RMS Umbria with the Cunard Steamship Company, Ltd.

I arrived Saturday morning at the landing stage. There were hundreds of people there. I was surprised to find so many foreigners there were, mostly Scandinavians, many dressed in their native costumes. Liverpool was just another stop on their way to America. There were also a few Scotsmen, plenty of Irish, some Welsh and of course, Englishmen. Add to that Americans on their way home.

We were loaded on a paddlewheel and taken to where the Umbria sat in anchorage. We were unloaded and herded on board and then down steep stairs to the inner bowels like we were cargo rather than passengers. Several rooms were set aside for steerage. I was sent to room #1, set aside for all English speaking single males. Foreign men were put in another section. Families had a room. At the far end was the room for single females, carefully guarded by a stern looking matron.

The 100+ capacity room was all metal and had been swabbed down. In the middle were long tables and benches. Against the walls were metal bunks. Perhaps shelves is a better word. It was two tier with a lip to hold the bedding--a thick layer of fresh straw as opposed to mattresses. These are wide enough to hold five men each.

Between each “bed” is just a thin metal bar, marking out a 18” territory for each passenger. At the foot of each space lay a folded wool blanket. Atop that sat a tin plate, cup and silverware. I tossed my beat up second hand carpetbag I had bought for this journey onto my space. To be as unnoticed as possible, I picked an uncontended spot--on top and in the middle.

We then were then herded back on deck. Steerage is confined to the lowest deck on the ship. Above us was the upper decks, reserved for first and second class passengers. They did not mingle with steerage. I noticed people above looking down and pointing at us. I think we are going to be part of the entertainment.

We were told to wait for a medical inspection. We all stood there in a queue in the hot sun waiting for the surgeon to arrive. We were then moved through. The medical exam took only a minute, as the doctor looked me over rather superciliously. Beyond him stood a detective, no doubt looking for anyone acting like they were running from the law. The Russian Jewish family behind me looked nervous. They are running from the law in their own country. Here in Britain being Jewish isn’t a crime.

The steamship blew it’s deep whistle, and we began to move. Everyone waved goodbye to those waiting on the docks. This was more than Bon Voyage. Many were saying goodbye forever. There was a mix of excitement and sadness amid the passengers around me.

At noon we were fed dinner which consisted of soup, meat, potatoes and bread. A scan showed nothing questionable in the food. I was expecting hard tack or worse. The meal was quite good, if simple. However the service had much to be desired. Meals are dipped out of buckets and slung onto our plates like the steward was slopping pigs. More than one chap commented on the fact that the crew treated us like cattle. True, but at least they treat us humanely.

We are allowed to go above any time we like, as long as we stay on our own deck. The deck was covered with people, most preferring the salt air to stuffy steerage below. There were a few benches, no deck chairs, and we sat or leaned where best we could. I leaned on the rail and watched Liverpool slowly disappear.

In the evening we were fed bread, butter and tea. No one complained. For many in this era the midday meal is the main one. I was happy to get some tea--even if it wasn’t the highest quality.

People drifted off to their allotted spaces to sleep. The fellow next to me brought onions, bragging they were a sure cure for seasickness. He later proved the theory wrong. He, like too many, did not make it to a convenient place first. I see now why the steamship company uses straw instead of mattresses.

I wish I could have passed out my seasickness pills, but I’m not allowed to share future medicine. The seasickness did not add anything appealing to the smell of too many bodies seeing too little soap. I got a couple of hours sleep, but the noise of dozens of men snoring woke me up. I came up on deck at midnight. Some other chaps were already up here, dozing. I may just spend the night up here myself.

Ah well, it’s an adventure, right? May not be the most comfortable, but at least I’m in no real danger.