18 December 2007

If Someone Had Said That I Would…

liberty in window
Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
If someone had said that
I would one day leave my Island,
the rocky islets, the sunrises on the sea,
the olive groves, the caper fields and the vineyards;
and I would no longer hear
the singing of cicadas during the summer heat,
or wasps buzzing around the pergola
or lizards hiding
In the cracks of walls, but…
I don’t know.
I have brought along with me so many things,
but the dearest and the most precious things
I have left on that Island,
and they appear in my thoughts,
when my misty memory
clears away.
Planted in the islands,
we have uprooted out children
Only to have them grow elsewhere.
In the vineyards now there are only weeds.

Antonia Famularo

Why Did They Leave?

Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
Before leaving Ellis Island, there was one last thing I needed to check. I had been told that my great-grandfather's name was inscribed on the Wall of Honor that runs along the north side of the museum.

And yes, near the bottom of Panel 399 was his name: Salvatore Seminatore.

Is your ancestor commemorated on the wall? You can check here.

searching the wall

16 December 2007

From Island to Island

front entrance
Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
I don't know how an empty building can capture one's fascination for four hours, but that's exactly what happened.

A couple of months ago I learned about a special exhibit titled, "Sicilian Crossings," that would be showing at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum for only three months.

Visiting New York City has long been on my personal travel list, and when coupled with low air fare and generous friends who provided a bed for me to sleep on -- how could I pass on the opportunity?

Ellis Island has significant meaning to me because my great-grandparents immigrated from Sicily to Pennsylvania via this port of entry. So in the forefront of my mind during my time there was the experience Angela Marie, her three children, and her brother may have had as they were processed among thousands of other immigrants.

The baggage room was on the main level just beyond the entrance. New arrivals were instructed to leave their trunks here while they continued upstairs to the Grand Hall on the second floor.


The Grand Hall was often referred to as the Hall of Babel due to the cacophony of foreign tongues that filled this space, all vying to be heard and understood during a process that could often be fraught with uncertainties.

grand hall

The floor of the Grand Hall was lined with row after row of wooden benches, where immigrants would sit and wait for medical inspections.


full hall

Following their clearance, they would exit the Grand Hall down one of three stairways. The door on the left lead to the ticket counter for passage to New York City. The door on the right was for those leaving for other destinations. And those who were filed through the center door were being detained on the island.

three doors

If you were a single woman, or a married woman traveling solo or without a chaperone, you could not leave the island until your husband or another male relative came to claim you.

14 December 2007

The Heart in a Suitcase

27 November 1908

It is a Friday in the chill of winter, and a 37-year-old woman arrives in New York Harbor for the first time. Her name is Angela Marie. She is short of stature with a dark complexion, brown hair, and grey eyes. Three of her children are at her side: Maddalena, age 13; Giacomo, age 9; and Gregorio, age 3. Her youngest brother, Cateno, has also made the journey.

She has come to join her husband, who is working in the coal mines in western Pennsylvania. He first left their home in 1902, recruited by a sub-agent of a steamship company promising economic opportunities abroad.

It is the first time they have seen or touched land for several weeks. They left their small village in the Sicilian countryside by two-wheeled, horse-drawn carts for the capital city of Palermo. There they boarded the San Giovanni and endured weeks among 1,800 other 3rd class passengers bound for America.

They are hoping to leave behind them harsh economic conditions: the destruction of the vineyards by a root-eating aphid, foreign competition in the tuna industry, a crisis in the local sea-salt mines, antiquated sulphur mining practices, and difficulties exporting citrus fruit.

One month after their arrival, an earthquake hits Messina on December 28th, further devastating the island. It kills 60,000 residents and displaces another 80,000 people. An estimated 20,000 of those rendered homeless will find their way to the USA.

Angela Marie is also leaving behind two children, Lucia and Mariangelica, who died in infancy. Her parents, two brothers, and a sister will also anchor her heartstrings to Sicily while her sights are on a future in America.

13 December 2007

Saint America

from a distance
Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
When the ship passed close by
I saw that she was a woman.
Below her there were so many boats
that I thought it was
the Madonna of Porto Salvo.
She was dressed like the statue
of my mother church;
at least it seemed to me.
It didn’t matter that she had
a stern face and a strange crown
on her head with threatening spikes.
I knelt down and started to pray.

A barber from Palermo who arrived
in America for the second time told me:
“Get up stupid. It is not a Saint.
It is Liberty.”
But I was unable to understand.

I cried like a baby at the thought that
soon I would be reunited
with my husband and children.

By now Sicily was faraway
and also her Saints.
I decided that she was my new Saint.
It was America. Saint America!

I remained on my knees
and continued to pray.”

(From the diary of an immigrant woman, 1907)

Miss Liberty

10 December 2007

New York State of Mind

Lady Liberty stencil
Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
One week ago, I was awaiting my first trip to New York City. And today I'm back and reflecting on my whirlwind tour of a city that moves at breakneck speed. I have much to share, but that will have to come in bits and pieces.

In the meantime, here's a stencil of Lady Liberty from one of the walls at the Ellis Island Musem.