Friday, August 21, 2009

Immigrant Child

This picture was taken on November 16, 1907. It shows an immigrant child on board the steamer "President Grant". The child does not look very happy to me, maybe it was a hard trip.


  1. I'm sure all of those voyages were difficult, even to some degree for those in first or second class. The crossings must have been rough, and I don't know WHAT I'd do without air conditioning or indoor plumbing. I’m not the “camping” type!

    In this photo, I am particularly fascinated by the details on the child's coat and how nicely made it appears to be. From its design, I would guess that this young person is from Russia or somewhere it Eastern Europe.

    During our visit to Ellis Island last week, we saw many personal articles of clothing and other actual items that had been left behind, including, dishes, blankets, musical instruments, etc.

    Of course, these items were enclosed in glass cases and you can't touch them, but I was amazed at their intricacy - some of them looked brand new despite their age.

    What was the most emotional to see, however, is the huge display of actual luggage that is piled up in the center hall of the main building when you first walk in.

    They have it set up there as if it had just been left by the people who owned it. The immigrants were required to check their luggage on the first floor before walking upstairs to the Great Hall to be processed. Above the luggage are huge panels showing photos of people arriving on the island.

    The entire Ellis Island museum is designed to bring visitors “into” the actual experience of being processed as an immigrant during that time period, and it’s very effective.

    I recommend that anyone who’s planning a trip to New York make the time to include Ellis in their agenda. This was my third visit in the past few years, and I would still like to go again.

  2. Did they address why the luggage was left? Such as the owners were deported, got lost, etc? It's curious that someone would make the voyage and then not take their luggage to their final destination so there must be something else going on. I do recall reading - maybe from you? - that numerous immigrants were not granted entry and sent home, either due to illness or other reasons.

    I too am very interested in the coat. Of course, it clearly was made for durability and possibly was a hand me down, or would be one once this child out grew it. My father wore his uncle's old clothes as a kid, since his uncle was only 4 years older. :-)

  3. Norkio:

    I didn’t see any information posted as to why or how the luggage was left behind, but that question has crossed my mind several times, too.

    I’m sure one of the Ellis Island Museum employees and/or US Park Service Rangers would have had that information. Everyone on staff was very knowledgeable and helpful; and there were free guided tours available, along with an audio tour, several films, and some re-enactments.

    However, I was too busy keeping an eye on my 94-year-old father to make sure he wasn’t pushed, didn’t fall or get too tired. My husband and daughter were wandering all over the place, so I was primarily focused on him. I insisted on taking him to see the documentary film, mainly so that he could sit down for a while. I’ve been there several times before, so this was more for him than me. He wanted to look up HIS father’s records, and we did find them.

    If I were to guess, I’d agree with you - that the luggage was probably left by those who died on Ellis Island (i.e. sick people who were in quarantine); or that it was forgotten about or lost after the immigrants checked it in; or maybe it belonged to people who were deported in a hurry.

    In any event, it’s a very meaningful display.

    The coat almost looks military in design, doesn’t it?

  4. At least it appears that he is getting his daily intake of food.

    What a life that must have been. It makes me realize how well and how spoiled we really are in today's life and society.

  5. Anon:

    You said it!!! Most of the creature comforts we consider essential were luxuries back then, or they didn't even exist.

  6. Before the days of TV and reasonably priced ready made clothes, people spent a great deal of time - especially in Winter - mending and embellishing clothing.
    There are many pictures of Eleanor Roosevelt knitting for the war effort, but it was a habit common to women of past generations: never idle hands. Mrs R had a large workbag for utilitarian projects and a fancy work bag for dainty work.
    Often when clothes were handed down, people would alter them or change the trimmings to personalize the garment. It was a nice way to make over clothes for kids who rarely received NEW garments. I don't think that happens much these days in this country.

  7. Growing up, my mom made a lot of my dresses and blouses out of feed sacks, or flour sacks. She sewed patches on our overalls when we wore holes in the seat or knees. Now days the kids buy their jeans with holes in them and it's the fashion.

  8. The pile of luggage at Ellis Island is "for display only". People were required to leave their luggage when they arrived, but it was retrieved when they left the Island, either for their final destination or to return to their homeland.

  9. Well, there's a sign that says it's original, but maybe they mean original to the era.

    I didn't ask

  10. Very interesting photo! I just released a book titled "Maggie Rose" in which a Michigan girl travels to NYC to work in an orphanage and then as an agent on an "orphan train" to help transport orphans and abandoned and displaced children, most of which migrated with their parents from Europe and Asia, but then their parents couldn't find jobs, grew very ill, in some cases died, and often turned to alcohol. Many precious, destitute children were forced to find their own way. Orphanages started popping up all over the city. Orphan trains ran for 75 years - from the mid-1800s to 1929.

    Thanks for sharing this beautiful site. I have bookmarked it, as I am about to begin writing my 3rd historical series, and these pictures give me so much inspiration.

    Sharlene MacLaren


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