Continued from October 16, 2016
At last, after a sea voyage that seemed as if it would never end, a deafening hush came over the passengers. Engine sounds had changed. They were at the end of their almost intolerable two weeks at sea. Rosalia and her shipmates could see New York.
“There it is! Over there! Look!” Rosalia, Joasia, and the rest of the steerage passengers crowded four deep along the ship’s railings as the ship moved slowly north through the Narrows leading to Upper New York and into the harbor. The first thing that came into view was the tip of Manhattan, and the first object to be seen was the Status of Liberty. No one spoke a word. Rosalia’s heart pounded. She grabbed Joasia’s arm and shook it.
“We made it, Joasia! There she is! She must be one of the seven wonders of the world!”
“Tak!” agreed a gentleman who overheard her. “She’s like a goddess, no?” And he knelt on the deck and blessed himself.
After the ship docked in Manhattan, while cabin passengers were disembarking, steerage passengers bumped and jostled each other as they poured across the pier to a waiting area. Like everyone else, Rosalia wore a name tag with her manifest number written in large figures. Officials assembled them into groups of 30 according to their manifest numbers. Then it was on to the top decks of barges while their luggage…most of it not much more than bundles tied with twine…was piled on the lower decks.
But what looked like the end of their long journey was only the beginning
As many as 4000 people at a time had to be processed. Overworked translators scurried in kindly but frustrated attempts to attend to everyone’s needs, and everyone’s needs seemed overwhelming.
Worried cries of “where are we going?” and “what’s happening to us?” could be heard among the anxious passengers.
After they were processed, each immigrant was issued a number. “This is how you’ll find the bunk bed that’s been assigned to you,” an official said.
“Bunk bed?” Rosalia said. “You mean we are to sleep here?”
“Only for a day or two,” was the response. Then it was off to line up in the huge dining hall.
“My entire village could fit in here and there would still be room,” Joasia whispered to Rosalia.
The food they were fed was unfamiliar. “Is this cake?” someone to Rosalia’s left asked when they were given white bread. But after a few bites, the “cake” was declared palatable.
And of course, there was one more round of medical examinations to be passed, the greatest fear of which was trachoma which doctors treated with copper sulfate, even though it destroyed tissues. Trachoma meant a return to the old country.