Sunday, October 23, 2011

Arrival at Last

If you haven't already read the last two posts, you may want to read those before continuing here.

Elisabeth and Barend did indeed leave Loosdrecht the day after their wedding. They traveled by train to Rotterdam, from whence they embarked on the SS Potsdam, one of the Holland America Line's huge passenger ships. Finding the correct quay among the vast maze of docks and ships must have been a challenge. At that time, and for many years after, Rotterdam was the world's largest seaport, with thousands of ships jockeying for position among its waves and wharves.

SS Potsdam 1900
I have only vague memories of Grandma and Grandpa Vanden Bergh from my earliest childhood, when they were both in their 60's. So it is difficult for me to imagine how they must have felt as a pair of twenty-somethings just beginning their life together as they searched for their ship among the floating behemoths at Rotterdam's seaport. Did they trudge along slowly with apprehension? Or trip gaily and giddily, finally out from under the watchful eyes and intrusive thumbs of parents, siblings, and employers?

Did they stride up the gangplank with nary a look back over their shoulders, or with heavy hearts and a lump in their throats as they thought of family, friends, and the fatherland they were leaving behind? We may never know for sure, but I believe that they must have had mixed feelings, perhaps a stew of apprehension and exuberance common to many who leave their countries of birth behind to seek a fresh beginning in a foreign land.

In any case, once aboard the crowded ship, Barend and Elisabeth must have felt some satisfaction that their frugality and good luck had enabled them to purchase second class tickets. In fact, in later years, Grandma Elisabeth always wanted people to know that they had traveled second class, not steerage!

The passage across the Atlantic Ocean took ten days. The ship's manifest lists their last name as v.d.Bergh, and in the far right column under Destination, "New York" is crossed out and "Hoboken" (New Jersey) is inserted, apparently the port at which immigrants who did not travel as steerage were processed. Although Barend and Elisabeth did not pass through the doors of Ellis Island, they were indeed part of the Great Immigration that took place between 1892 and 1924, when 22 million immigrants came through the ports of New York and New Jersey.  Their names are inscribed with 700,000 others on the Wall of Honor at the site of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum.

Ellis Island as seen from Staten Island Ferry

From Hoboken, Elisabeth and Barend must have gone by ferry across the river to New York City, where they found their way to Grand Central Station, which was undergoing a ten-year-long construction project during this era. The new terminal, that which we know today, would not open until 1913.

The New York Central Railroad took them the 150 miles (240 kilometers) north to Albany, the capital of New York State, where they had decided to settle.The train would have left them off at Albany's Union Station, an imposing granite structure completed in 1900. The station, now vacant, stands on Broadway in downtown Albany, across from a quiet park where government employees enjoy the autumn sun on their lunch breaks. But a hundred years ago, the area was far from quiet. Albany was a major hub for travelers, with a hundred trains a day arriving at the station from all points of the compass. Barend and Elisabeth must have stepped out into the spring sunlight dazzled by the chaos of trolleys, cars, and horse-drawn wagons competing for space along the street lined with hotels and restaurants.

Union Station in Albany, NY


Looking left and right, they caught sight of a policeman and showed him a crumpled piece of paper with a name scrawled on it -- Schij, a family from Loosdrecht who had emigrated earlier  -- and an address in Albany's South End. The officer directed them to which trolley they should board to find their friends' neighborhood, which would soon be their neighborhood as well.

To be continued . . .

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