On the Beat in Bluffton

Monday, February 23, 2015

‘A Child’s Journey through Ellis Island’ By Jance Sullivan

          ‘A Child’s Journey through Ellis Island’ By Jance Sullivan

                                                         January 1, 1902
Dear Slevin,

My dear cousin, I write this to you on the tenth anniversary of my arrival at Ellis Island. I know you will not understand what is written in this letter, and I hope your mother will hold onto it until you learn how to read and write.
We boarded the S.S. Nevada in Queenstown. Our neighbor, Annie Moore, was there. She was with her two younger brothers. Her cheeks were rosy, and her green eyes sparkled with hope and joy.
The journey lasted two arduous weeks. The ship was crowded, and smelled of death, sickness, and sweat. Most of us did get seasick. In spite of all of these atrocious conditions, we sang, danced, and played games to create the illusion of time moving faster.
After this time period, on January 1st, 1892, we had finally arrived. We all gathered at the edge of the ship to get our glimpses of the Statue of Liberty. She was beautiful, a mostly bronze color with tinges of  green here and there. We were all in awe of the magnificence of her.
Annie was the first passenger to step foot on Ellis Island. I watched her be given a gold coin almost as soon as she touched the ground. The rest of us exited the ship after her.
Upon arrival, officials at the bottom of the ramp were sending men one way and women and children another. They sent us to the baggage area, but I decided to keep my suitcase with me. I was afraid to check it in because I didn’t want someone to steal it. I wasn’t comfortable, but it was a good enough seat to sit on while waiting in line. There was mass chaos in the luggage section. I could hear many people shouting in English and Gaelic. Everyone was panicking. I could tell by the tone of their voices. What could I say, though? I was panicking as well because I was by myself. Many other kids about the same age as I was were also alone.
We had to go upstairs in a single file manner. There were men watching me, and I felt uneasy with so many eyes starring at me at once. While I was going up, I saw someone get marked with white chalk. The marking an X scribbled on her shoulder. I watched her  be sent in a different direction. After that, I never saw her again. I wasn’t sure if I should be more worried about the people with chalk marks, or the people turning their coats inside out to hide the chalk markings.
Next, we were herded to a really big room. There were more men asking me questions about my origin, myself, my fiances, and where I was going. I could not remember my mother’s address because my mind went blank with fear, so I dug into my suitcase for my most prized possessions, my letters from her and my prepaid train tickets. This seemed to greatly mollify the officials and make the interview run along faster, so remember to bring letters from us with you! They also inquired about my health. I replied, “I am hungry, tired, cold, and cranky, but otherwise okay.” He chuckled and sent me on my way to the ferry which would take me to the train station.
This experience really changed my life for the better. If you are coming this way, you will be entering through a different building that I did ten years ago. The original Georgia Pine building burned to the ground only five years later. The new building looks like a railroad station.
My advice to you is to eat heavily before you board the ship. Also, have a prepaid train ticket, along with letters from us. I hope you arrive soon. If you are coming that is. If not I hope you have a wonderful life back in Ireland.
                                                         Best regards.
                                                          Shannon Sullivan

Author Janice Sullivan also included a list of six sources she had used to secure the facts for her letter.

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