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Journey 1913 - 5

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  • Martin Votruba
    Below is another abridged part of a 42-year-old Slovak wine grower and farmer s account of his immigration to the US in the late summer of 1913. It represents
    Message 1 of 1 , May 15, 2007
      Below is another abridged part of a 42-year-old Slovak wine grower and
      farmer's account of his immigration to the US in the late summer of
      1913. It represents the style of the original written shortly after
      he arrived in the US -- if there's an old-fashioned, awkward, or
      practically non-existent word or phrase in English, that's how unusual
      it is in Slovak, too. Thanks to Joyce and RU for clarifying that the
      immigrants sometimes used "Castle Garden" (corrupted to _Gasigarda_ in
      this memoir), an immigrant processing facility closed in 1890, to
      refer to Ellis Island later, and thanks to Helen for additional advice.

      At the beginning of this passage, he'd been traveling and sweating in
      the same shirt and suit in which he left home on the hot Monday two
      weeks earlier when ran and swam to catch a train at the station
      closest to the Austrian border in order to avoid a possible police
      check. His only baggage was a cardboard box with, it would seem, just
      some food.


      votruba "at" pitt "dot" edu

      x x x

      Monday, September the 1st came, and we were still at sea. But the
      Wave Surge weakened slowly, but it rocked us again and everyone was
      grieved about such sailing. When it was about 8 o'clock, the Sailors
      brought us dishes and Bread. Because it was usually disorderly, One
      Arabian remarked that I should divide the dishes among us. And so I
      did and everyone liked it. And when it was after breakfast, we went
      up to the 3rd-class deck again, and watched for a Ship, but in vain.
      We felt that the Wave Surge was weaker around noon, and it was time
      for lunch, but I didn't feel like eating, because I felt all poisoned.

      We would get a little meat soup for Lunch, but it was just warm water,
      or Fish soup, loks~e [pita-like pancakes] looking as if they were
      smeared with merely snot [instead of a lot of lard] and, moreover,
      unsalted, and about a glass of wine, but that was just colored water.
      And for dinner we got smoked herring and bread, but there was very
      little of that, too. The Sailors didn't divide it [all] out among us,
      but when something remained, then they took it away to their quarters,
      and when they had enough of that, then they offered it to us to buy.
      And they did the same with the wine, but I never fell for that,
      because it was worth nothing. And we had little water to drink, those
      who filled their bottles in the morning did have, those who didn't had
      to hold out.

      We complained to the sailors' boss that they hadn't given us meat
      while they had to others, and it happened twice. And that same person
      told us to be at home! That we would be better off at home. That was
      a crummy answer, if everyone were at home, then he could be at home,
      too, and the Ships could be at home. Around 10 back again to that
      stench and I had to listen to the rumbling of the pump again. That
      wasn't enough, I itched, too, I'm very sensitive about that! I
      reckoned that my body was perhaps itching from sweat, and not
      elsewhere except on my Chest and underarm. Once I took off my shirt
      and washed myself, my chest, too, in order to cool off, and when I
      looked at my shirt, I found a louse there. That saddened me
      enormously, no such thing had ever been on my body before. Oh,
      everything became so repulsive for me then, but there was no help, so
      I had to endure.

      It was already Thursday, September the 4th, when our Ship stopped at
      around 3 AM and sounded the horn every now and then, and didn't move.
      We looked out to see where we were in the morning, but it was so
      foggy that we could barely see a hundred paces in front of us. And
      then around 9 o'clock the ship moved, and we saw that there were some
      poles were on tin drums on the water to the right of us, and there
      were Electrical lights on them. And horns sounded on some of them,
      and Bells clanged on others. Old travelers told us then that those
      were signs that we were near a Harbor, that we were already near
      Nevijork. Around 10 we saw the Nevijork shores. When we were
      opposite the Nevijork fort, our Ship stopped and we waited until about


      And then a small Ship came to meet us and that was the American
      commission, they inspected things to make sure there wasn't any
      disease among people. And when everything was inspected, we sailed
      into the harbor. It was a large Harbor, I could hardly believe my
      eyes. And when we were in the Harbor, we had to wait in a kind of
      large storage (Magazine) till about 3 PM, until everything was
      searched to see whether people had things that needed to be taxed, but
      they forgot about us, that it was noon and we were all hungry, tired.
      I had bread and ate a little of the paprika's~ [chicken in paprika
      cream sauce], but it didn't taste good.


      A small Ship came to get us around 3:30 and carried us to the
      Gasigarda, where we got off and went Before the Doctors for
      examination. As we went there, I noticed a Monument to Christopher
      Columbus, who found America, that stood near the shore to the right of
      the Gasigarda. And when we went inside the Gasigarda, we walked in
      two lines, and the doctor looked everyone in the eyes and only then
      did we go inside. And inside are marked paths, and everyone according
      to the number that he's received, they show him where to go, and there
      they ask him where he is going and whether he has money.
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