Steerage Class - VIII. Arrival and Inspection at Castle Garden - 1888
The Hazel Kirke took us from the dock to Castle Garden. As we entered the great circular building, plastered with notices in all languages, with Yankee Doodle in effigy looking down from the top of the restaurant stand, the Irishwoman with five children stepped to my side. She thought she was on New York streets and wanted me to direct her to the best of the stores. She had just $10 and she wanted to buy provisions for the journey to Cincinnati where she was as likely to arrive with six children as five.
"What's your name?"
"How old are you?"
"Where were you born?"
"Where are you going?"
"Got a railroad ticket to get there?"
"Ever been there before?"
"What do you do for a living?"
"That your wife there?"
None of the Aurania's people were turned back or very sharply cross-questioned. Once past the scratching pens hurrying over big books the charge of the cheap boarding house brigade was upon us.
The runners came in with a jump. It seemed as if they would capture us by force and hurry us to the rear. Most of us were going West, and though confused and bewildered resisted their assaults as best we could.
Four steamers had arrived since morning bringing 1,000 emigrants. We were a weary and disconsolate band as we waited for the night trains. We sat about on wooden benches and ate doughnuts. I wanted a dinner and left my satchel with the parcel man while I went outside after it.
"I shall be gone about an hour," I said.
"That's not long," he rejoined.
When I came back the parcel office was shut ; although not one of the Western trains had gone, and though it was before five o'clock, the parcel man had gone for the day. One of my fellow-travelers with the aid of a small boy and some silver hunted up another man who had a key just in season to enable me to catch my train.
At five o'clock the Aurania's passengers separated, the railroad tugs ferrying us to our several stations in Hoboken and Jersey City. We had been ten nights on the water, and in that time I had slept less than six hours. It was a hot day and the privacy of the washrooms at Castle Garden was not sufficiently respected by hangers on and loungers to enable me to exchange the heavy clothes I had worn on the voyage for lighter ones. I was faint and sick, and as we stepped from the boat and were formed in rude procession to march to the Baltimore and Ohio cars, I placed myself at the head of the line, resolved on getting a seat to myself, if there was anything in being first aboard.
A train had just come in and we were halted to allow the passengers to pass to the ferry boats. They looked at us, shabby and tired. We looked at them, cool, fresh, unruffled.
"They're the swell folks."
"Never thee mind, lad; we'll be swell folk soon." This was the spirit in which most of us had emigrated.
We were not allowed to seat ourselves in the emigrant cars. The train hands placed us two by two, so as to utilize every seat. My policy of hurry had been a bad one. It had brought me into a car occupied almost wholly by men. When they began to smoke, as they all did immediately, the air was blue with cheap tobacco. I felt my head beginning to swim, but the window beside me stuck fast. I could not open it. A young Scotchman just landed from the Anchoria sat beside me.
"Do ye mind the pipe, lass ?" he asked, pulling out his.
"No; or at least, one more makes no difference."
He smoked. So did the train hands who lighted the lamps. So, as I remember it, did the conductor. The car was of the usual pattern employed for emigrants east of the Mississippi, in general appearance and arrangement like an ordinary car, but apparently springless, jolting from side to side, and stopping with a series of bumps like a freight train. It was clean and comfortably cushioned.
"Are ye o' this country, lass?" asked my companion.
I told him I was.
"Ye dinna look blithe; tak' a sup o' this, ye canna get the like this side the water."
He passed his whisky bottle to me. When I refused he shared its contents with neighbors who were appreciative. He was a quick-witted, intelligent fellow, going West to seek his fortune and keenly interested in everything to be seen on the route. He leaned across me, with eyes fixed on the moving panorama outside. It was an early autumn night with white mist hanging low and trees rising strange and black out of it. He cross-examined me about every station as we passed it and communicated my scanty budget of information to the rest of the Anchoria's passengers. There were people in the car from the Fulda, the Arizona, the Anchoria, and the Aurania, which had all come into port together. We compared notes about the boats and the storm.
An emigrant train makes no connections. It runs till it gets in the way of another train. Then it lies by till the track is clear and scurries like a hunted hare for its next siding. We had not started till nearly eight o'clock. It was now nearing eleven. For half an hour I had fought desperately to keep my senses from reeling. By and by the man who had seated us came through the car settling us for the night. He interfered with cases of overcrowding where parents and children had huddled too many in a seat.
"Are you this man's wife or are you by yourself ?"
He had stopped by me and he offered to take me to a car where there were more women. The rear car of all had one vacant seat. I seized it. The air was better here but it was too late. With the last ounce of strength I had I handed the man my card, which I had carried in my pocket in case of emergencies, and begged him to keep my secret, but see that I was left to myself.
I do not know whether he understood what I was trying to say, but he promised I should not be disturbed. Then he left me. I lay back in my corner and went from one fainting fit into another, with momentary intervals of consciousness, for perhaps half an hour. I was roused by a rough hand on my shoulder. Mechanically I held up my ticket. The hand shook me.
"Get up! get up, can't you ? Do you want a whole car to yourself? Get up, I say!"
I struggled into a sitting position. Some of my good friends of the Aurania were in seats close by.
"Ain't this a sleeping car?" they asked in chorus.
"Yes, but you sleep sitting up," returned my disturber, who was, I think, a baggage master or had some charge of freight. He wanted a seat in which to spread his waybills, and he bade a woman in black who sat behind me and who also had a seat to herself to get in with me. She was not an emigrant but had taken this train because it was cheap or went at a convenient time. She shrank from actual contact with a passenger.
"I can't. I ain't used to such folks."
I sat, on the brink of another faint, stupid, speechless. The Aurania's passengers rallied gallantly to my defense.
"She's just as clean as you be, every bit !" "She's a right nice gal!"
But the woman was not to be persuaded. "Maybe, maybe. But I ain't used to it. She's sick, any way."
The baggage master -- if he was a baggage master -- took the seat and the woman stood up rather than sit by me. I fainted again.
When I came to my senses it was near midnight and the train was slowing up at Philadelphia. The woman in black had to change cars and turned to leave the train. I was in a state something like somnambulism, where I would have followed, without much responsibility for my actions, any example set me. I followed doglike on her heels. The brakeman spoke to me, and I suppose I answered rationally, for he let me go. I trotted after the woman in black, and in a minute was inside the great gate of the station. The air revived me. I knew that I had blundered. The train waited half an hour, but I was not aware of that. I asked if I might stay till morning, and dropped into an oak chair in a little reception-like room divided from the ladies' waiting parlors by blue plush curtains. It was strange magnificence for an emigrant, but the night porter was very kind. He looked at my white face and offered to draw the curtains.
"Then you can lie on the floor, and that's better than sitting up, anyway."
I was asleep as soon as my face was pillowed on the carpet. I was not sick but exhausted. I awoke in the morning still tired, but well. If I had been a real emigrant I should still have been in sore trouble, but being a sham emigrant, I ate breakfast before worrying. At the ticket office they told me that my ticket, which specified a continuous passage, would probably be accepted, in spite of my involuntary stop over, but I must wait until the emigrant train passed again.
I got out my dust cloak, tried to remember how I looked before I was an emigrant and took a Pennsylvania line express for New York. A second afternoon in Castle Garden was followed by a fresh start for the West. I found acquaintances who had been kept over almost against their will by hotel men, and others who had stayed purposely for a night's rest, exhausted like me by the voyage and storm. Castle Garden was not so full, for only one vessel had come in bringing immigrants. I came upon some helpless girls, whose passage had been prepaid by well-meaning ladies on the other side, and who hardly knew where to turn.
They brought to my mind a circular which was being distributed while I was in London, saying that a gentleman had applications from 15,000 girls who wished to leave Ireland for the colonies and this country, and that half the money needed was available if good people would contribute the remaining £2 a head.
My journey West was not adventurous. To tell the truth, I slept most of the way. I have recollections of bread and cheese and whisky, which my fellow-travelers produced from baskets, and of bad coffee which I drank at railroad restaurants. I have other recollections of drowsy heads which bumped about at night seeking vainly for resting places, of weary and cindery mornings, of eager talk of the new country and the prospects of life in it. The immigrants were looking ahead, not behind.
I left the train at Chicago. I was too sleepy to go farther. I think I shall always be a better American citizen for my emigration. This is still the land of promise.