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
The whole floor is thoroughly washed twice every day, and,
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
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:
[Through an interpreter.]
"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
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.
replied the German, blushing.
"Is she your
across together, didn't you?"
hadn't you better marry her?"
man hung his head and twirled his hat in his hands.
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.