More often than not, as I scroll through microfilmed newspapers looking for information on my ancestors, I get distracted by the other interesting things I find. Even though they have nothing to do with my original task, I find myself engrossed with the articles and ads. Many of them offer a fascinating glimpse into the events and thinking of the day. After all, newspapers are a great source of social history to fill out our family stories.
This article, which was published in the Ohio State Journal on Friday, June 23, 1882, describes the immigrants arriving at Castle Garden in New York City. The story isn’t a local one; it probably came as a wire report, with no indication of the author, as was the practice then. Although it reflects some of the ethnic biases of the times, I thought it made interesting reading. Those with Swedish or Danish ancestors may find it especially helpful.
Scenes and Incidents Among the
Hordes of European Emigrants
Castle Garden, on the whole, is a sad place. Among the myriad of swarthy faces which meet one’s gaze, it is rarely that one encounters a smile or a laugh; the immigrant, though he has just set foot in “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” is still an immigrant, without a home, and among strangers. The Italians, of whom vast numbers are now crowding in upon us, have a pensive look, especially the women, that is especially touching.
The Swedish and Danish immigration this week is beyond all precedent. As a rule, the women are as strong and as sinewy as the men; if poor, they are generally neatly and comfortably dressed, and there is a frank, open expression in their countenances that at once informs one that they have escaped the centuries of serfdom which have taken the spirit of independence from other populations that have been less fortunate. They can look you right straight in the face without being ashamed. Their children, with which every family is liberally provided, look as tough as pine knots and are just the kind of human machinery that is needed to develop a new country. Swedish girls, for domestic service, are in active demand by city people, and all that offer are readily taken at wages ranging from $12 to $16 a month. Their imperfect knowledge of the vernacular is a serious drawback, as it necessitates frequent pantomimic performances in the kitchen, and at the dinner-table, but then as they soon learn, the little difficulties are soon forgotten. The Norwegians are a people of a coarser fiber than the Swedes and Danes. Their industry is almost a match for that of the heathen Chinese, but it is not a skilled industry, and must find its appropriate sphere in the field and the forest rather than in the workshops and manufactory. Hence, the great majority of them push on “out West” as soon as they leave the ship.
Can’t you just imagine those “pantomimic performances in the kitchen”?
I had an ancestor from Germany who may have passed through Castle Garden two years earlier in 1880. Guess I’ll just have to keep looking until I stumble upon an article that describes those immigrants. Does anyone else get sidetracked in old newspapers?
Source: “Castle Garden,” Ohio State Journal (Columbus, Ohio), 23 June 1882, p. 2, col. 4.