Northern New Jersey
November 5, 2011
ALBERT MAROTTA (#1018)
The Northern New Jersey chapter of POINTers In Person met on
November 5, 2011 at the Elmwood Park Municipal Building. Twenty people attended.
Maria Carparelli (#2100) opened the meeting by informing the members that the Coro d’Italia, the wonderful Italian-American folk dance and song ensemble which performed for the chapter’s 10th anniversary, was presenting at the Italian American Museum in Manhattan.
Also, she mentioned that the 2011 research trips for the group were being postponed and re-scheduled for the Spring of 2012. Annita Zalenski (#39) alerted the chapter about the programs presented by the Passaic County Historical Society. Its Genealogy Club November program was “Preserving Family Photographs and Documents” led by Billy Neumann. Also in November the Passaic County Historical Society had a program, “Someone Must Wash the Dishes” by Michele La Rue about a 1912 viewpoint of women opposed to the women’s suffrage movement.
Maryanne Graham (#3654) presented the treasurer’s report.
The chapter has 41 active members.
Mark Simmons, an actor and historian, re-enacted his thoroughly researched, “Ellis Island Passage to All Things Possible”. Also an extensive photo exhibit featuring many artifacts from Ellis Island, including inspection and detention cards was on display. Conflicting statements from our immigrant ancestors opened his presentation, “It was the worst time of my life”; “It was an island of dreams.”
First Mr. Simmons gave a detailed history of Ellis Island from the 1770s when Samuel Ellis bought the island, through its use as a U.S. fortification site beginning in 1808, and the dismantling of Fort Gibson in the 1880s to prepare for a new federal immigrant station to replace Castle Garden (1855-1890) at the southwest tip of Manhattan. (Prior to 1890, the individual states regulated immigration into the U.S.) It was during this transition period (April 1890-December 1891) that immigrants were processed at the Old Barge office, located at the southeast tip of Manhattan. It was this office where all administrative records for Castle Garden were sent and stored.
The original Ellis Island immigrant station was built of wood in 1892 and caught fire in 1897, destroying the building as well as all of the administrative records for Castle Garden, many of the records for the Barge office and the entire Ellis Island collection of state and federal lists. Fortunately, the ship manifests were kept somewhere else. The fire made it necessary to re-activate the Barge office for the processing of immigrants from June 1897-December 1900. The new Ellis Island building opened December 1900 and closed as an immigrant processing station in 1954.
One day in April 1907 over 11,000 immigrants arrived at Ellis Island. The voyage took between eight days to eight weeks, depending on the shipping company and other circumstances. According to Mr. Simmons most immigrants came to the U.S. with the intention to stay.
Mr. Simmons then transformed himself into various characters in order to give the chapter a fuller understanding about why these immigrants came, what they experienced right before they left their homeland, the voyage itself and the first days they arrived in the U.S. Each character spoke from the heart. It was as if the chapter was reading the immigrant’s personal letters or diaries.
He began his series of immigrant stories by portraying a Russian/Polish man from 1912 who fled his beloved country due to government-sponsored pogroms which were murdering the Jewish people. The chapter heard his heartfelt story in his own words.
Before returning to the next character, Mr. Simmons spoke about the problem experienced by about two percent of the immigrants who were detained or made to return home, especially due to physical or mental illness. The detainees had chalk marks of various symbols placed on their clothes in order to signal to the inspector what the problem was and whether the person needed to be treated or evaluated. An ill detainee might stay on Ellis Island for days or weeks, until he or she was medically cleared. Only then were they allowed to go to their final destination. Many were marked “LCD” (Loathsome Contagious Disease) and were sent to the second floor. Ellis Island had a Contagious Disease Ward, where immigrants would stay until they were cleared.
The second character portrayed was an immigrant from Ireland, whose Russian father and Irish mother were married in Scotland. There was no work. Twelve people lived in a two-room apartment (including the extended family). Members of the family did not leave for America together. Mr. Simmons then told the chapter that it was necessary to have a relative or someone else who lived in the U.S. to vouch for the immigrant. Before 1903, crime, especially extortion from immigrants, was rampant on Ellis Island. The extorters threatened deportation if the immigrant didn’t pay up. Later, only a special board had the authority to determine whether an immigrant could stay.
The next character was an Italian, whose final destination was a coal mine in Michigan. One of eight children, he later bought a sanitation business and sold it for a great profit. Finally, he was the owner of a sports bar – all with no education. He was extremely thankful that he was successful in his new country. The final immigrant was a Norwegian seaman.
Each immigrant, in his own unique way, found the passage to all things possible.
Future meetings will be held on:
February 4, 2012
May 5, 2012
August 4, 2012
November 3, 2012
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