My Dearest Carlo, As you know, I went through a series of events to get to Ellis Island and my experience there is worth telling. I will tell you about my voyage there, the very maddening inspections, and all my little experiences in-between and after. Let me tell you about my journey to get to Ellis Island. As you know, I went to Ellis Island to live with my mother since my father had passed away roughly 7 years ago and I was living with my aunt and uncle in Italy. My mother had gone to Ellis Island a few years previous to my own journey to start a new life for us.
My aunt and uncle had to save up to five years wages (2200 liras). I had to walk about 50 miles to get to the seaport! The trip across the Atlantic lasted about a week and a half. The fortunate first- and second- class passengers stayed in staterooms and cabins. Alas, like the majority of all the people on the steamship, I was in third class, which is called “steerage. ” Steerage was a large and open space at the bottom of the ship. There were so many people on the ship-around 3,000. I met this one girl that tried to talk to me, but she spoke a different language so we weren’t able to communicate.
In fact, we didn’t even have the same religion. I’m Roman Catholic, as you know, and she was a Russian Jew. All of the third class passengers, including myself, had to travel in crowded and unsanitary conditions on the bottom of the ship with few amenities. When we arrived at New York, we were transported from the pier by ferry where we would undergo a medical and legal inspection. When we arrived at New York, we all had numbered tags pinned to our clothes, which indicated the manifest page and line number on which our names appeared.
These numbers were later used by immigration inspectors to cross- reference us about our right to land. We were greeted with unfavorable gestures: pointing fingers and unintelligible commands. The line was so long that it stretched from the Ellis Island dock into the Baggage Room of the Main Building, winding its way up to the second floor where some of us were met by a team of doctors and inspectors who would decide if we were “in or out”. Although lots of us didn’t know it, as we made our way up the stairs and into the great hall of the registry room, the inspection process had already begun.
Scanning the moving line for signs of illness, like predators looking for prey, Public Health Service doctors looked to see if anyone wheezed, coughed, shuffled, or limped as they climbed the steep ascent. I chuckled as I watched them, thinking of my dear cat scanning the grass while on the porch with his eyes set on a bird or mouse scurrying by. Ah, how I missed my home and my beloved cat as I immigrated although I did not regret going to Ellis Island since I was very excited and determined to see my mother again. Some little children, as little as 2-years-old, were asked their name to make sure that they were not deaf or dumb.
Those that looked over two-years-old were taken from their mothers’ arms and made to walk. The doctors checked us for 60 symptoms for various diseases. The “buttonhook men” as we called it, were the most dreaded officials on Ellis Island. Immigrants who appeared sick or were suffering from a contagious disease during line inspection were marked with blue chalk and detained for further medical examination. The sick were taken to Ellis Island Hospital for observation and care, and once they recovered, could proceed with their legal inspection.
The unfortunate immigrants with incurable or disabling ailments, however, were excluded and returned to their port of departure at the expense of the steamship line on which they arrived. I was very discouraged as people were told to go, or taken to the hospital. Firing questions at us, the inspector asked us our age, occupation, marital status, and destination in an attempt to determine our social, economic, and moral fitness. The officials were very strict. The immigration officials refused to send single women into the streets alone, and they could not leave with a man not related to them. Imagine that!
After the inspection, I went along with the other immigrants and descended from the Registry down the “Stairs of Separation. ” They called the stairs this because they marked the parting of the way for many family and friends with different destinations. I was directed toward the railroad ticket office. Others were directed to the island’s hospital and detention rooms. I was bound for Manhattan and met my mother at the so-called “kissing post. ” I can remember vividly running to my mother and us hugging and crying out of joy. That is where we both began our new life of freedom! All of our love, Carolina