THE MUSEUM OF FAMILY HISTORY presents

 
From the Pale to the Golden Land
Castle Garden: Port of Immigration

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About Castle Garden...
as reported by the Sun, a New York City newspaper

 

The Battery and the old Castle Garden in 1900

The Battery and Old Castle Garden, New York (1900)
Courtesy of  the New York Public Library's Digital Gallery.
 

NOTED AT CASTLE GARDEN.


A HALF HOUR AMONG A SHIP'S LOAD WAITING TO BE LANDED.


Weeding Out the Ailing and the Friendless and the Very Poor
 An Unhappy Russian Family A Marriage in the Rotunda.

From the archives of the Sun, a New York newspaper, dated 
May 8, 1887.
 

America has not yet ceased to be a land of promise to the poor of all nations. The tide of immigration set in more strongly at this port during April than for many years, and the indications are that it will continue to surpass the record for several months. There is not a more interesting spot in the city than Castle Garden, where all immigrants first set foot on American soil, and it is a wonder that it has not become one of the standard sights of the town for visitors. One reason is, perhaps, that one can never tell when to go there, for steamers arrive at all hours, and the idea prevails that there is nothing to see there excepting just after the landing of a load of people. But as a matter of fact there are always immigrants at the Castle, most of them waiting for the departure of a train to take them to their destination in the West, a few waiting for friends to come and call for them, and another few waiting for the Commissioners to decide whether or not they may be admitted to residence in this country. Of late the Commissioners have been strict in this matter, and though the requirements are not severe they are insisted on, and every now and then individuals and families are sent back on the ship by which they came over. But naturally the best time to inspect the Castle is immediately after the arrival of a steamer from abroad, and it was on such an occasion that the reporter found himself in the place.

 

The floor of the garden is railed off into numerous pens, and the immigrants pass from one to another, and eventually outside the building, if they pass examination, by going through alleyways where officers station themselves to ask the necessary questions. When the reporter arrived, one-half the floor was getting its forenoon thrashing with mops and brooms, and the immigrants were confined in the pens on the other side.

photo: Registering names at Castle Garden. Print, 1871. Courtesy of the New York Public Library's Digital Gallery.

The whole floor is thoroughly washed twice every day, and, considering the heterogeneous masses of people who are almost always there, the atmosphere is clean and healthy. Several hundred immigrants had just arrived by a German steamer, and were undergoing registration.

The floor of the garden is railed off into numerous pens, and the immigrants pass from one to another, and eventually outside the building, if they pass examination, by going through alleyways where officers station themselves to ask the necessary questions. When the reporter arrived, one-half the floor was getting its forenoon thrashing with mops and brooms, and the immigrants were confined in the pens on the other side. The whole floor is thoroughly washed twice every day, and, considering the heterogeneous masses of people who are almost always there, the atmosphere is clean and healthy. Several hundred immigrants had just arrived by a German steamer, and were undergoing registration. The castle officials are not inclined to use unseemly haste in their work, and yet the formalities take very little time. Each immigrant, as he passed the clerk's desk, had to show his passport and tell whether he had any family, friends in this country, or money in his pocket. The vast majority of all immigrants answer these questions satisfactorily. That is, they have families and a little money, and they are able-bodied. In such case they are passed without further query. Able-bodied young men are passed if they have friends here who will agree to look out for them, even if they have no money. The reporter stood by the clerk during the registration. A young German presented his passport, and the name was transcribed upon the clerk's book. Then the questions:

            "Have you any money?"

            "No, sir." [Through an interpreter.]

            "Friends in this city?"

            "No, sir."

            "Anywhere in the country?"

            "No sir."

            "What do you expect to do?"

            "I am a baker, and I purpose to look for work here."

            "How are you going to live until you find it?"

The young man hesitated, and the interpreter explained that he would have to satisfy the officials that he would not be compelled to resort to charity. He thereupon pulled from his trousers' pocket a large and heavy gold watch and laid it upon the clerk's desk.

"I was intending," he said, "to call on the German Consul and ask him to take it as surety for my board at some house he should recommend until such time as I should receive my first wages. It's mine by rights," he continued quickly: "you will find my father's name inscribed inside the case. It was his only legacy, and I would not sell it for anything."

He was held for further examination by the Commissioners, but was "allowed to land," as the saying is, when an officer of a Germany society agreed to assure the community that the young man would not become a charge upon it for a year. It should be said that in the eyes of the law no immigrant is supposed to have landed in America until he shall have passed the necessary examination at the Castle. Sometimes doubtful cases have to be detained for days, or even weeks, until the Commissioners can get time to investigate. In such event the immigrants are taken up to Ward's Island and cared for, and if permission to land is refused they are transferred to a steamer of the company that brought them over.

 In the garden at the time of the reporter's visit was a family of Russian Jews who had arrived the night before. They had been detained until the Commission should render a formal decision upon them. Not one of them could be called able-bodied. They were infirm, knew no trade, had been at the best but peddlers in Russia, which meant beggars, were ragged, dirty, wretched to the last degree, had not as much as a cent of money, and were without relatives or friends here. The representative of the Hebrew Immigrants' Aid Society had talked with them, but even he, with all the race devotion which characterizes the Jews, could not bring himself to say that he would see that they became self-supporting members of the community. A decision had been quickly reached and presently it was communicated officially to the group. They could not understand a word of English, but they had been told that there was great doubt of their being allowed to land, and they sought to glean from the official's tones and facial expression the purport of his report. They watched the reading with the most painful interest, mouths open, hands upraised, and when it had been concluded and the interpreter had told them in one word its meaning, they fell into the most extravagant lamentation. The leader of the party, an old man whose toes protruded from his boots, fell upon the floor and tried to embrace the official's knees while supplicating him in unintelligible jargon to let them remain. They were sternly told to make no disturbance, and were left to themselves until the barge should come to take them back to the steamer. Their moaning and wailing continued for hours, the men making all the noise, while the one or two women with pinched and long-drawn faces rocked their infants to and fro and said nothing. It was altogether a most pitiful spectacle.

Among the officials of the Castle is a shrewd, observing woman. She devotes her attention to the young women who pass the Inspector's desk. Occasionally she picks out one who seems to need further questioning than that by the clerk. On this day a German girl of about twenty, whose flaxen hair was innocent of any kind of covering, was called aside, and as she went with the woman examiner, a stalwart young man, who wore a conical hat, short jacket, and knee breeches, was observed to watch her narrowly. When his turn for examination came, he said to the clerk, in answer to the questions that he was twenty-five years old, a farmer, bound for Minnesota, where he had friends, that he had money, and was unmarried. Just as the examination was concluded the observing woman came forward and said something to the Inspector, who turned at once to the young man, asking:

            "Do you know that young woman over there?" pointing to the flaxen haired girl just referred to.

            "Yes," replied the German, blushing.

            "Is she your wife?"

            "No."

            "You came across together, didn't you?"

            "Yes, sir."

            "Well, hadn't you better marry her?"

            The young man hung his head and twirled his hat in his hands.

            "I was intending to when we got settled," he finally said.

"Better have it done now," returned the Inspector shortly. The young woman was summoned and a brief conference ensued. Then a messenger was dispatched to a house in the neighborhood where Father Riordan, a priest of the Catholic Church, lives. He was at home and came over promptly. One of the officials of the Castle has a ring that has served in upward of 400 wedding ceremonies, and it was produced for this occasion. A few immigrants gathered around, and two clerks were present to sign the marriage certificate as witnesses. The ceremony took place directly in the centre of the rotunda, and was speedily concluded. When it was over the young woman looked ineffably happy, and the young man seemed to feel as if he had submitted to an operation that was good for him.   next ►►

 

 


 



 

 


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