12.5.10

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.”

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