Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Benvenuti Nella Terra d'America

The Registry Hall
 Ellis Island Immigration Station
 New York, May 2004
These days the Registry Hall at Ellis Island Immigration Station stands empty except for a few National Park Service Rangers who await the completion of post-Hurricane Sandy repairs which will allow the 113 year old building to receive visitors again. Standing in the hall, as my daughter and I did in the spring of 2004, is an experience I will not forget. It was quiet on that day as well. Just a few people roaming around, taking in the vast Hall and, maybe, like us, trying to envision the day that their ancestor arrived at this most coveted destination. My grandfather and his mother and siblings arrived at Ellis Island Station to be processed for admission into America on April 22, 1909, a story right out of the history books. Let's go back a few years, 104 years to be exact, and imagine how it all must have appeared to Luigia Forte Abbate and her five children.

Luigia Forte Abbate
circa. 1897
Luigia is strong. For the last three years she has, alone, endured pregnancy, managed the raising of five children, run the family business, and prepared herself to leave the rest of her family to join her husband Angelo in America. On April 8, 1909, 36 year old Luigia Forte Abbate gathers her five children, the eldest, Agata is 13 years old and the youngest, Amalia is just three years old, to leave their home in Salemi, Sicily for the last time. Their plan is to board the Lloyd Sabaudo steamship, the Principe di Piemonte in Palermo, sail to America and be reunited with their husband and father after three long years apart.  Destination: Brooklyn, New York...a new life and new dreams.

The Principe di Piemonte
As Luigia and children board the ship they are taken into the very depths of the vessel to their quarters in third class. Below the waterline, no windows, no privacy, and few amenities. Unlike their fellow passengers in first and second class, there will be no fine dining, no walks on along the deck and little to keep them occupied for the two week crossing. Almost immediately after the ship sails the children begin to experience sea-sickness.  Soon, Luigia herself is ill.
"Our mother and the children (except me!) were all very sick on the voyage to the USA, especially Maria".  -Salvatore Abbate, eldest son who was 8 years old at the time.
The Principe di  Piemonte arrives in New York Harbor on April 22, 1909 after 14 days at sea, with a total of 2,336 passengers. As passengers disembark, the first and second class guests are escorted to awaiting family and friends at the pier, no need for the wealthy to endure the processing at Ellis Island, they have been pre-screened and released long before arriving in the harbor. The third class passengers or "aliens in steerage" as they are classified on the manifest are shuttled by ferries to the Ellis Island Immigration Station. I find myself thinking that this must have been a day of immensely conflicting emotions for Luigia. She must have been both terrified and excited at the same time.  History remarks of the crowds of people who were lined up for processing in the Registry Hall. Imagine standing among thousands of men, women, and children, keeping five children and your belongings together, trying to follow directions given in a language that you don't understand, and  trying to wrap your head around one of the most significant moments in your life amid such turmoil. The immigrants received physicals that would often separate families if one was found to be ill or "unfit" to be processed. Four of the five had been sick aboard the ship, what if? Would she be able to keep the children all together? Would they be allowed to move through the lines together? Would they receive the paperwork they needed to stay in the US?  Would she know the answers to all the questions the officials would ask? Her heart and mind must have been racing!  The ship's manifest recorded their names, ages, birth years, race, gender, distinguishing marks, their next of kin in the port of departure, the name and address of their sponsor in America.* Was the information that was recorded correct? Just one misstep and they could be sent back to Sicily or separated from each other.

The Registry Hall
Ellis Island Immigration Station
circa. 1907

The answers were all YES! Luigia, Agata, Salvatore, Maria, Vito, and Amalia were now well on the way to their new lives and new dreams...benvenuti nella terra d'America, welcome to the land of America!

And there you have it, the end of one journey and the beginning of another, all on the same day!

Copies of this photograph have been in my family for as long as I can remember.
La famiglia nel paese vecchio...The family, in the old country!

Standing (L to R): Luigia Forte Abbate, Crocifissia Forte Scalisi, Pietro Scalisi, Anna Forte
Seated (L to R): Maria Lombardo Forte, Angelo Abbate, Vito Forte
Baby: Agata Abbate, born March 6, 1897

Luigia, Crocifissia, and Anna were sisters, the children of Maria and Vito Forte,
Angelo and Pietro, sons-in-law, and Agata, the first child of Luigia and Angelo.

Luigia and Angelo Abbate
New York

Sarah Mood Lyons (great-great granddaughter of Angelo and Luigia)
Angela Abbate Mood (great granddaughter of Angelo and Luigia)
The Registry Hall, Ellis Island Immigration Station
May 2004

The Principe di Piemonte was sold to the Cunard Steamship Company in May 1916
and was used to carry general cargo from Bristol, England to New York. 
Early in the morning on March 1, 1917, the ship was hit with a torpedo from a
German U-Boat and sunk off the coast of Waterford, Ireland. 
 Seven lives were lost, the unarmed ship became a casualty of World War I.

*To view a copy of the ship manifest go to  Use the drop down menu on the left:  passenger search, select search by ship, select the letter "P" and then find the Principe di Piemonte in the listing of ships.  Select the year 1909 and then then date April 22, 1909-Palermo. The children are listed with the last name misspelled Akkate, Luigia is listed under her maiden name, Forte.

No comments:

Post a Comment