America's Open Gate: Castle Garden May Cease To Be The Immigrant's Landing

Exterior View of Castle Garden from the Battery.

Exterior View of Castle Garden from the Battery. Harper's New Monthly Magazine, March 1871. GGA Image ID # 14b44093f9

Something About the History of the Old Building -- Real Life Comedies and Tragedies Enacted on Its Big Floor -- Interesting Statistics.

WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 1890 — Governor's Island will replace Castle Garden, New York, as the landing place of immigrants arriving in this country at the port of New York.

It may take several days yet to determine the legal status of Governor's Island. Secretory Proctor is entirely willing to permit a portion of Governor's Inland to bo used as an immigrant station, and if be possesses the power under the law to transfer the control of the Island or a part of it to the secretary of the treasury, he is prepared to do so as soon as the necessary papers can be made out.

Opinion is expressed in some quarters that action by Congress may be required before the transfer can be made. In some quarters it is stated that the president possesses the power to direct the transfer.

All those questions are now under consideration and until the deeds are carefully examined, under which the government acquired the title to the island, and the lawn under which it was transferred to the war department no final and conclusive step will be taken.

At the lower end of Broadway in New York city is Battery park, and the most interesting and picturesque place in Battery park is Castle Garden. A new interest attaches to the old building just now, for it has lately been considered not impossible that before many months have gone it will have been torn down or permanently closed, at least as a landing depot for immigrants to the United States, because of a disagreement between the New York state and federal governments.

History of Castle Garden

Castle Garden was originally a fort and the chief defense of New York city. The massive masonry of its first walls still stands, and the deep port holes, although for many years no dark browed cannon have frowned through them, still gaze sinisterly, like great square eyes, over New York bay.

But the historical interest of the building is not wholly centered on its connection with military matters. After it ceased to be occupied as a fort it was turned into a place of amusement, and under its roof Jenny Lind's voice was first heard in America.

The building was utilized as a landing depot for immigrants in 1855, eight years after the establishment of the emigration commission. In that year 136,233 alien foreigners round through it an entrance to the new country for which they bad deserted their own.

Since the day of its opening as a landing depot, there has been hardly a break in the stream of human beings flowing from it to all parts of America.

According to the reports of the commissioners of emigration total number of foreigners who had passed before its registry desks previous to Dec. 31, 1889, was 9,639,635, or almost a seventh as many people as the nation is supposed to contain today.

There is not a civilized country on the globe which has not had its representatives on this vast horde. 3,425,208 were from Germany; 2,541,148 from Ireland; 1,178,157 from England; 317,193 from Italy; 234,559 from Russia, and so on down. Only 3,151 Chinamen have landed at Castle Garden.

The Destinations of the Immigrants

Although the proposed destinations of all immigrants have not been recorded, the books tell of 24,574 who started for Illinois; 46,612 for Pennsylvania; 12,107 for Michigan; 10,667 for Minnesota; 11,049 for Massachusetts; 5,029 for Nebraska.

The smallest number with which any state is credited is North Carolina, 50, and the largest, New York, 96,901. Three hundred and thirty of those recorded declared their intention of going to the District of Columbia. In 1889 there were 185,483 pieces of baggage landed at Castle Garden, of which 182,315 pieces were delivered.

Of course, a place which has marked the Beginning of practically new lives for so many people is full of romance for any one who cares to search for it. Tragedy and comedy each have had their share in the thousands of dramas of real life which have been enacted under its old dome.

The sparrows who fly chirping and chattering about among its rafters have seen many a bright face and heard a deal of hearty laughter and cheery talk; but, alas the tears and the grief dried eyes, the sobs and the hoarse chuckle of despair, have not been wanting.

Several times since the desertion of the building as a fort, it has been besieged by howling mobs. But their cries have told of woe, not of war. The ships that were to spring their loved ones—their mothers and fathers, their sons and daughters, their wives and sweethearts—from former homes in far away lands had gone down, with their precious freight.

Waiting for the Ship to Come In

At first the ship, perhaps, had failed to arrive on the specified day. It has been delayed, they thought. We will come again tomorrow. And on the morrow they were there, and on the next day and the next; but the ship did not come in. It had been delayed indeed—and forever!

Several of the present attaches of the Garden remember all too vividly the time, fifteen or sixteen rears ago, when the White Star line steamer Atlantic was lost off Nova Scotia.

Even now they speak with a shudder of the disappointment, the anxiety and quick succeeding despair of the friends and relatives who appeared day after day, hoping against hope, to meet her passengers.

The meetings were to take place on another shore than that of America, and in another land than the United States.

When I visited the Garden, recently, the steamships delayed by the great Atlantic storms were slowly coming in, several of them being many days overdue.

The immigrants from the Servia and other ships arrived while I was there. The severest weather had occurred during the last portion of the voyage, and the immigrants who had been tightly cooped up in the steerage while the waves buffeted and tossed the ship plainly showed the unpleasant effects of the experience. Many of the faces looked wan and pinched, and the fact that most of them were not over clean added to their appearance of distress.

The Steerage Passengers Come In

But the throbbing life of Castle Garden has its bright side also. When ships which have been spared by the fierce storms of the ocean, or which have battled successfully with them, come into port, and their passengers pour into the great building, the scene is gay and enlivening. Steerage passengers are transferred from the steamers, after they have gone up the bay, to barges, and on them are carried to Castle Garden.

Name, Rank and Serial Number

Before they are allowed in the main part of the building the immigrants have to pass in single file before the officials, who register their names, nationality, age, occupation, starting point and destination, and also ask whether they have any money or not.

In case they are without funds or means of earning a living, they are detained at the Garden for a reasonable length of time. If no one appears to care for them they are eventually sent back across the sea.

Two thousand four hundred and forty-seven have been prohibited from proceeding on their journey for this and other causes, and 3,699 have been returned at charity rates, while 1,618 passages have been paid wholly or in part since the act of Aug. 3, 1883, became a law.

Trains to the Destinations, Boarding House for those Who Remain in New York

After the immigrants have been registered they are allowed to do as they please. Those who have through railroad tickets with which to go to the interior of the country are sorted out by the agents of the different railroad lines, and are soon started on their way.

Others, who decide to stay in New York for a time to look for work or wait for lagging friends, are left to the not altogether tender mercies of the boarding house "runners," who are admitted to the floor of the garden after the registration has been finished. At this period of the proceedings the spectacle to on onlooker is an interesting one.

The queer costumes, many of them brightly colored, and the faces, made doubly expressive by the hopes and fears of their owners, give this crowd an aspect of almost feverish gayety.

As soon as the first excitement of arrival is over, those who for any reason find it necessary to remain at the Garden gather in groups About the kettle topped stoves and discuss the incidents of the voyage or prospects for the future. Sometimes they camp in the Garden for days before starting out, sitting by day on their bags and bundles and sleeping on the hard benches at night.

Love, Romance and Marriage at Castle Garden

Many marriages take place in the Garden every year between immigrants who have come over together, or between the lovers who have sailed to America to earn money and prepare homes and Lave afterwards sent for their sweethearts to join them.

Western farmers of foreign birth, too, have a way of regarding the Garden as a vast matrimonial agency and writing to Superintendent Jackson to find them wives. He receives on an average two hundred such letters a year, but pays no attention to them.

As may be imagined, Castle Garden offers a great field for missionaries. There are seventeen connected in various ways with the place. Of these S. Goldstein, representing the American Tract society, and Ernest Jackson, representing the New York Bible society, deserve especial mention.

Mr. Jackson has testaments in twenty-one different languages, which are distributed free among the immigrants, and Bibles which are sold at cost to those who have money or given to the destitute.

Mr. Goldstein bears the distinction of being the only man about the Garden who can speak Armenian, Arabic and Greek. He adds to his work of distributing Bibles and tracts that of giving clothes to the needy.

He has devoted his life to this labor of love, and while many cost of garments are furnished to him by charitable people (and they could not be sent to a better place) be does not hesitate to spend his own money as well as his time when occasion requires.

EDWARD MARSHALL, "America's Open Gate," in The Winnipeg Free Press Newspaper, 3 February 1890, p. 5.

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