“Never fear quarrels, but seek hazardous adventures.”
― Alexandre Dumas
Now, this is the story all about how a girl from Missouri traveled to Ellis Island.
I set my alarm for 5:00 PM. By accident. It was supposed to be set twelve hours earlier, but somehow I screwed up. I woke up ten minutes before my flight was supposed to take off. The airport is about 45 minutes away. I can only reason that I really needed the sleep.
I drove to the airport and called Randall, who did everything in his power to help me get placed on a stand-by list.
“You’ve got a great chance of getting there. By tomorrow,” he said.
I felt equal parts embarrassed and frustrated and had no one to blame but myself.
Nothing like a little technological stupidity to serve as a refresher course in humility.
The airport in Springfield, Missouri is nice, small, and easy to navigate, which is another way of saying there is nothing to do when you’re spending all day in its nice, small, and easy-to-navigate facility, hoping and praying to catch a plane.
My original New York arrival time came and went and Nick texted, because I was so wrapped up in my own mess and disparaging internal dialogue I forgot to alert him.
“Where are you at?”
“In Missouri. I missed my flight.”
“I’m so sorry. Last plane leaves in an hour. I’m first for stand-by.”
I did, in fact, get on the last plane of the day, which was further delayed due to some computer malfunction. Instead of an hour layover to switch planes, I had about fifteen minutes to navigate Chicago’s O’Hare International. In my rush, I ran into a man whose un-lidded coffee — what kind of person walks around a crowded airport, where people are not paying attention to anything, carrying a cup of coffee with no lid!? — decided my hair needed a new scent and style.
He apologized profusely but did nothing wrong. I tried to let him know it was my fault, but couldn’t say anything without tears accompanying, so I said nothing. I should have at least given him money for another coffee.
The gracious flight attendant did what she could to help my hair conundrum, but the damage was already done. I looked horrible, and fate decided a middle seat would be the perfect end to the day. Before take-off, I texted Nick to let him know of the ridiculously late arrival.
“No worries. This city never sleeps.”
“New York seems to bring out my worst.”
“Perfect. You’ll fit in with everyone else.”
Clear blue skies and a light breeze greeted me when I stepped off the ferry and on to Ellis Island. I walked under a glass-covered portico toward the massive two-tone brick building, delighted to listen to the languages and accents of those walking nearby.
Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration
I read the directions posted on the hanging sign in the massive open lobby and had to stop. To rush in search of Dad’s clue would be doing a grave disservice to the stories of millions who walked on this island. I was drawn to the interactive display on a massive globe, the World Migration Globe, detailing migration patterns all over the world.
“All journeys begin by leaving one place to venture to another,” the display read. Then I saw pictures and stories of those who bravely left the known in search of a hopeful future. Like Abram from the Old Testament. Like Bilbo and the Shire. And kinda like me.
The stories of people from around the world who courageously dreamed of a new beginning, who sought their own new adventures in this young country, were beyond inspiring. War. Drought. Famine. Religious and economic and political persecution. Each had their own reason for taking the 3,000-mile journey across the Atlantic to create a new home in America.
I loved the Word Tree and was frozen by the statue of the young child in rags undergoing a medical examination. I took a few pictures of the Registry Room and couldn’t imagine tens of thousands of people passing through day after day. The black and white photos were haunting and stunning, weary eyes and worn bodies still pressing on.
“Between 1880 and 1930, more than 12 million immigrants entered America through the golden door of Ellis Island. Their descendants account for half of all the American people.”
I first wondered what made Frederick come to the United States. And then I learned that Frederick never came to Ellis Island proper. He immigrated before the Ellis Island Immigration Station officially opened. He beat famous Annie Moore, the first immigrant through Ellis Island, by 12 years to the day. He came to America before the Statue of Liberty and probably arrived near Manhattan. Most likely, he experienced much the same overwhelmed confusion I did when I landed last-night-this-morning-just-a-few-hours ago.
Nick walked with me to the Family History Center and helped me search the Passenger Record Archive.
On January 1, 1880, 18-year old Frederick Gordon landed in New York. His name was listed on Manifest Line Number 22 in a beautiful slanted cursive script we don’t see or appreciate anymore.
I paid $20 for a printed and framed copy of his name.
Tears streamed down my face as I considered what he had to go through just to step on these shores.
Nick and I spent almost all day on the island, talking about the ideals of freedom compared to the governed reality, where skin color and country of origin determine how quickly and how easily one will enter this country. We befriended a family of six from Croatia who told us their story, as well as the story of their family. After getting a picture with them, Nick and I went to the information desk in search of Dad’s next clue.