10.5.10

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.

1 comment:

mousewords said...

This reminds me so much of tales my grandmother told me!
Her parents had come to America from Lithuania before she was born. When she was 16 (around the 1920s), she journeyed with her father to visit family in the old country. The ship they took was called the "Leviathan." (Though grandmother couldn't pronounce "th" - in her voice it was "Leviatan"!) It must have been 2nd or 3rd class; very similar to what you're experiencing.
At the start of the voyage, some hardy sailor took sympathy on the young American girl, took her aside & told her, "Don't eat any of the meat or potatoes they serve for dinner. Don't eat any rich food at all, just fruit and vegetables and water." She did as he advised, and was the only one of all her fellow passengers who didn't get horribly seasick!
Your stories are so vivid, Dr. Howe--it takes me back to hearing grandmother's adventures!