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Angelo’s Journey to the United States

Angelo first made the journey in 1905, when he was 22 years old.

Saying goodbye to his family would have been an emotional experience not easily forgotten, writes Tyler Anbinder in City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York.

“For many, a hearty, festive farewell meal or going-away party would be held on the night before the date of departure. The following morning, an entourage of dozens or even hundreds of family members, neighbors, acquaintances, or merely curious onlookers would accompany the emigrant to the train station, sometimes a journey of many miles.

“Few emigrants forgot the moment when the train began approaching the station, for tears would start to flow in abundance. Since it was the younger generation that typically emigrated, most mothers and grandmothers expected that they would never see their offspring again.

‘The scene at the station was one of undescribable confusion, lamentation and exclamation,” recounted [Pascal] D’Angelo of his departure from Introdacqua in the Abruzzi region in 1910. ‘Everything was obscured by a mist of tears.’ Marcus Ravage’s Romanian Jewish mother at first ‘seemed calm and resigned’ to his departure, but when his train approached the station, ‘she lost control of her feelings. As she embraced me for the last time,’ he wrote, ‘her sobs became violent and father had to separate us. There was a despair in her way of clinging to me which I could not then understand. I understand it now. I never saw her again.’

“The wailing as the emigrant departed was very much like the heartfelt sobbing one found at a funeral, and with good reason. ‘A person gone to America,’ Ravage recalled, ‘was exactly like a person dead,’ and the procession to the station very much like a funeral, with the train station replacing the cemetery. ‘The whole community turned out, and marched in slow time to the station, and wept loudly and copiously, and remembered the unfortunates in its prayer on the next Saturday,’ or the next Sunday in the case of the Italians, whose memoirs recount similar scenes.”

– Tyler Anbinder, City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York

After saying goodbye to his family, Angelo sailed third class (also known as steerage) from Naples to New York with $25 in his pocket.

 

Anbinder has also written extensively about the conditions many poor immigrants faced when they boarded a ship for America in the early 1900s. His descriptions provide some idea of what Angelo may have faced in 1905. The other ancestors on other family lines who immigrated in the late 19th century and early 20th century would have found similar conditions on their voyages.

 

“In some ways, steerage in the early twentieth century was a far cry from steerage during the age of sail. Floors and bunks were now made of metal instead of hard-to-clean wood. There were toilets and sinks with running water, luxurious conveniences beyond the wildest dreams of the famine Irish. There was even electric lighting, though not much of it.”

“Yet the essence of steerage—the crowding, the indignities, and above all the pandemonium—had not changed at all. ‘Steerage was a horror; to this day I can feel the smell, the nausea, the crowding,’ recalled one Jewish immigrant. ‘We were huddled together in the steerage literally like cattle,’ recounted another. Congressional investigators agreed that despite decades of reform efforts, steerage was still ‘disgusting and demoralizing,’ its inhabitants overwhelmed by ‘filth and stench.’

“Seasickness was one of the most vivid memories of steerage passengers in the early twentieth century. ‘Nine days on the boat…Nine days I was sick. Nine days I don’t eat nothing,’ recounted Rosa Vartone, who moved to New York from Calabria, [Italy], in 1928. ‘Hundreds of people had vomiting fits, throwing up even their mother’s milk,’ a Jewish immigrant likewise recalled. ‘As all were crossing the ocean for the first time, they thought their end had come. The confusion of cries became unbearable…I wanted to escape from that inferno, but no sooner had I thrust my head forward from the lower bunk I lay on than someone above me vomited straight upon my head. I wiped the vomit away, dragged myself onto the deck, leaned against the railing and vomited my share into the sea, then lay down half-dead upon the deck.’

 

After one to two weeks at sea, Angelo arrived in America. Before he could connect with relatives in the Bronx, he first had to navigate the streets of Manhattan.

 

What went through Angelo’s mind as he glimpsed the Big Apple for the first time? Anbinder reports that many new immigrants were completely taken by surprise at the enormity and busyness of the city:

 

“When the immigrants headed for New York City landed in lower Manhattan, their senses were bombarded with strange new sights, sounds, and smells. ‘I could hardly believe my eyes, it was so wonderful at first,’ recounted an Italian immigrant of his initial impression of New York. ‘I was bewildered,’ Russian immigrant Morris Shapiro told an interviewer of his arrival in 1923, ‘at the sight of trains running overhead, under my very feet, trolleys clanging, thousands upon thousands of taxis tearing around corners, and millions of people rushing and pushing through the screaming noise day in and day out. To me this city appeared as a tremendous overstuffed roar, where people just burst with a desire to live.’ The city blazed with light even at night, an amazing phenomenon to immigrants from the countryside. The noise was deafening. People moved so fast. The air smelled bad. Where was the sky? Where were the stars? As a German immigrant who arrived in 1910 recalled, ‘It was just overwhelming.'”

“But eventually, after a few hours or a few days, the enormity of what they had just been through would sink in, and the immigrants would realize that after years of planning, saving, convincing, organizing, and arranging, and after weeks or months of travel by foot, cart, train, and ship, their long-held dream had finally become a reality: ‘I was in America!'”

 

 

<figure class=”wp-block-table”><table class=”has-subtle-light-gray-background-color has-background”><tbody><tr><td style=”border:0;”>What went through Angelo’s mind as he glimpsed the Big Apple for the first time? Anbinder reports that many new immigrants were completely taken by surprise at the enormity and busyness of the city:<br></td></tr>

<tr><td style=”border:0;”>“When the immigrants headed for New York City landed in lower Manhattan, their senses were bombarded with strange new sights, sounds, and smells. ‘I could hardly believe my eyes, it was so wonderful at first,’ recounted an Italian immigrant of his initial impression of New York. ‘I was bewildered,’ Russian immigrant Morris Shapiro told an interviewer of his arrival in 1923, ‘at the sight of trains running overhead, under my very feet, trolleys clanging, thousands upon thousands of taxis tearing around corners, and millions of people rushing and pushing through the screaming noise day in and day out. To me this city appeared as a tremendous overstuffed roar, where people just burst with a desire to live.’ The city blazed with light even at night, an amazing phenomenon to immigrants from the countryside. The noise was deafening. People moved so fast. The air smelled bad. Where was the sky? Where were the stars? As a German immigrant who arrived in 1910 recalled, ‘It was just overwhelming.’”</td></tr>

<tr><td style=”border:0;”>

“But eventually, after a few hours or a few days, the enormity of what they had just been through would sink in, and the immigrants would realize that after years of planning, saving, convincing, organizing, and arranging, and after weeks or months of travel by foot, cart, train, and ship, their long-held dream had finally become a reality: ‘I was in America!'”
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