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Scenes from the Emigrant Experience

Port of Entry: Castle Garden, New York, Part Two

By Bruce Weaver II

The subject of arriving emigrants waiting to be admitted into the United States at Castle Garden on the southwest tip of the Battery, Lower Manhattan, was recorded from time to time in the illustrated weeklies of the late 19th century. An article about Castle Garden in the May 29, 1880 number of Harper’s Weekly begins:

“In busy New York perhaps the busiest spot during the spring months of 1880 has been the Rotunda of Castle Garden. It is a polyglot exchange, the meeting place of the tribes of the sons of men. As many as four thousand have been received and dispatched in a single day. The volume of immigration to the United States for 1880 promises to be enormous. In 1879, the number of arrivals of aliens at the port of New York was 179,589…In the first four months of 1880 the number of arrivals has reached 81,262, or nearly half of the total of 1879. In April of this year more foreigners landed at our port then were ever known to arrive in one month…From May 5, 1847 to December 31, 1879,  5,857,025 arrived at the port of  New York alone…Where do they all go? One answer to the question must be made—not to the South. Excepting Texas....Just now Minnesota absorbs the largest proportion of the strangers; then Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas…The immigrants are not by any means an inviting crowd when they arrive. They bear the marks of the rough life of the steerage. They are the world’s poor, but their condition is much above abject poverty. Despite the begrimed and tumbled look of their persons and household goods, they are full of hopefulness.”

 

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Emigrants entering the immigration depot of Castle Garden. The man, “Carrying a large bundle of clothing and bedding on his shoulder with a bag in his other hand and with a kettle and a tin mug slung at his side; the little daughter, with a box and small bundle, walking before him; and a timid wife, hugging her baby following in his steps.” (Illustrated London News December 11, 1886)

“As soon as a ship arrives the luggage of the emigrants is examined by custom house officers, and transferred in barges to the landing depot…When the passengers reach the rotunda…they are carefully registered. Every important particular—birthplace, age, point of departure from Europe, occupation, destination—is noted down.” (May 29, 1880 number of Harper’s Weekly) This image of registration was from Harper’s New Monthly in March 1871

 

Winding their way through the tedious procedure, many emigrants await their turn at Castle Garden. This image showing the interior of the rotunda was from a feature article titled, “A Day in Castle Garden” that appeared in Harper’s New Monthly in March 1871. Reportedly, several thousand aliens could find shelter from the elements within its massive interior.



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A waiting area. (Harper’s Weekly May 29, 1880)

The accompanying text for this image describes the circumstances of emigrants: “The women seem to be consoled by friendly mutual attentions, by the goodwill of their fellow travelers, and by the playfulness of their children; the faces of the poor people are brightening with hope, and better still, with kindness.” (Illustrated London News December 11, 1886)

Our attention is drawn to the image of, “A lonely female emigrant, perhaps going in search of her husband, of her betrothed lover, or of her brother in the Far West, whose pensive attitude and pale face reveal long months of anxiety.” (Illustrated London News December 11, 1886)

 

 

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“They can have shelter here for the night, and can make the necessary refreshments at the cheapest rate but the Castle Garden establishment does not make up beds or furnish regular meals and Sketch 7, showing how those who have no other lodging sleep here upon the bags and boxes, is rather uninviting, though it may seem no great hardship after the experiences of their recent voyage in the steerage department.” (Illustrated London News December 11, 1886)

 

[More Castle Garden] [Hull, England]

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