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.”