Ellis Island: The Island Of Disenchantment

Registry Hall at Ellis Island

The Author wrote short stories about many of the immigrants who passed through Ellis Island at the turn of the twentieth-century and the hardships they faced getting through the immigrant processing.


A sad-faced Madonna. One would think the woman had never known what it was to smile. Dry, shiny eyes that refuse to shed more tears. Tragic despair pictured in every feature.

Eight days now she has waited at Ellis Island for her husband who is no farther away than Jersey City, but who as yet remains unreachable by letters or telegrams. People who can neither read nor write, easily make mistakes in giving or understanding addresses.

Telegrams have been sent to Jan Beth nth. and to Jans Hals Beals, and to Beals Hals Jans, and so on. As yet no response.

The woman strides up and down like a tragedy queen. her little boy by her side.

On a bench sits huddled the golden-haired, blue-eyed little daughter, whose fat cheeks are literally blistered by the scalding tears still flowing down her face to be mopped away with a handkerchief already dripping.

A hasty call from an official! Good news! The husband is found! He will be here to-morrow morning. The overstrained woman faints in the arms of the missionary.


Loquacity is relief in time of trouble. The foreigner shut into herself by the strangeness of her tongue, suffers more than do those of English speakers who can more readily relate their sufferings to sympathetic ears and hearts.

An Irish woman "with 100 pounds in the bank at home, mum," has waited a week without being permitted to land. She has with her, five children and the address of her husband "in Culluraydo, mum." The innocent soul brought only a little more than enough of her fortune to buy tickets for herself and children as far as New York, supposing it was but a short distance to her ultimate destination.

"Sure, I have cousins in the city. Couldn't I find them and stay until me man sends the money?"

Meanwhile, her husband having received the telegrams sent by the officials determines to come to New York himself and waiting to settle up his affairs delays matters a few days longer. In his impatience, however, he sends telegram after telegram to his wife.

"'Is your husband crazy?' they ask her, `that he keeps wiring and wiring!' "Indade he's not crazy at all. No! But it shows that he pays me some attention.' "

She and her children with their large, soft, lustrous blue eyes and black hair, look neat and tidy. She laments being shut in "with the likes o' them," as she designates the other occupants of the cell-like room.

"Me heart is squeezin' up in me, lest something happen to the childer and they get sick," she frets. "But we'll be out o' here by Monday."

"And then you have to take the long journey to Colorado?"

"Oh, no, mum. Me husband not be going back. It's all Chinaze, it out there. He'll stay here with me and the childer."

"Going to live here in New York ?"

'Yes, here or in Brooklyn. Me husband can find work there, anyway."' "What does your husband do?"

"Sure, he's a miner, mum."


Charley left home with his steamship ticket and five dollars. When he declared his financial standing and his intention of going to Winnipeg to join his brother, naturally he was detained.

He was bright, ambitious, energetic, and expected to go immediately to work when he reached this country. Of the distance to Winnipeg and of the expense of such a journey he had no idea. It was two weeks after his arrival, before a letter and check reached him in reply to a letter sent to his brother.


Timmy had two hundred dollars besides his steamship ticket when he left his home with the definite purpose of going to his uncle in Texas.

But Timmy awoke one day at the end of a severe attack of seasickness on the voyage, to and his two hundred dollars gone.

Of course, his story met with little credence among the officials. His straightforward appearance, however, was in his favor and won the good graces of at least one person in authority.

Telegrams and letters were sent to Timmy's uncle in Texas, but no replies were forthcoming. Timmy was detained and his case deferred for a whole long mouth. People then lost faith in Timmy and his story, and he was about to be deported, when there came from Texas a telegram, "What do you know of the whereabouts of Timothy Donalds?'

The uncle had been absent from his ranch on a long trip, and on his return found the accumulation of letters and telegrams. Faith in Timmy was restored, and in due season he was sent on his way rejoicing.


Katie landed in this country with fifty cents and her sister's address Boston. The sister was written to, and replied, promising to find Katie "a place" and to send her money for a railroad ticket out of "next week's wages."

"How did you expect to get to your sister with so little money she was asked. "Oh," she replied ingenuously, "I thought I'd go up the road and knock at the first door, and ask the folks to let me stay until I could find Norah."


Francisco had come to the New World to begin a new life. The shadow of an early 'misdeed had followed him up to manhood, and he had fled across the seas thinking to be free.

When a little boy, he with several other urchins made a raid on the Poor-Box of the Church. Not because the boys needed or desired the money, but simply as a mischievous prank. A custodian discovered them in time to catch Francisco. The other lads escaped. He was arrested and sent to jail for three months.

The story of this escapade and of its punishment clung to him. Although he grew up to 6e a good, honest, truthful boy, perhaps the more so for his bitter experience, he was aware of the atmosphere of mistrust continually surround, in him, and he found it hard to obtain a situation where he could earn a living. After many years of struggle, he gave up in desperation and sailed for America where no one knew him or his story.

Arrived at Ellis Island, he passed all examinations satisfactorily until suddenly came the question:

"Were you ever an inmate of a prison?"

Francisco recoiled as if from a blow in the face! His embarrassment was apparent. The question 'was repeated slowly and with significant emphasis.

Francisco threw back his head bravely, and told the whole pitiful little tale truthfully without reservation, but with a plea at the close.

"You won't keep me out for that, will you?" he wailed. Oh, you don't know what this means to me! Do let me stay and make a good name for my self in this country of yours!"

Francisco's case was deferred, and the patient "Board" which has to hear and decide so many cases daily, in spite of Francisco's pleadings and promises, and against the conviction of many of their own number, decided to abide by the letter of the law, and the young man who had set sail with such eager, hopeful ambitions, was deported with a broken heart, anguished soul, and with a prospect of—what?


Thomas wrote to his aunt in New York announcing his anticipated arrival in that city and asking her to meet him.

Thomas was a little chap when his aunt came to the New World to earn her living as a "hired girl." Now she was married to a coachman and wore silk gowns and feathers and high heels, while Thomas was grown into an awkward, clumsy gossoon of twenty-two, all legs and arms, but with a bit of a. fortune.

The aunt was ashamed of him. It was evident to Thomas.

He was ashamed of her for being ashamed of him! His warm Irish heart bumped in his breast. He told her simply that he would not go to her home, he would look out for himself.

When Aunt Ellen crosses Broadway nowadays, isn't she that proud: sure, to be escorted safely across the street by her nephew with his brass buttons and white gloves!

Hyde, Mary Kay, "The Island Of Disenchantment," in The Home Missionary, Vol. LXXX, No. 8, January 1907

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