Sunday, 25 September 2016

Portuguese Immigrant Roberta Estobar

"I certainly feel like I'm very much a part of the American dream." (Roberta Estobar)

Alto Douro wine region of Portugal courtesy

Roberta Estobar was born and raised in Portugal where her father ran a rubber plantation.  Her mother taught school to the children of the plantation workers in a building with a dirt floor and tin roof.  Living in a subtropical country, they constantly battled mosquitoes.  Roberta contracted malaria and was treated with quinine.  Feverish, she alternated between hot flashes and cold sweats, on the verge of a coma.  The doctor recommended that she, along with her father who had also contracted the disease, leave the country.

Roberta's mother nursed her and her father on the boat ride to Portugal.  They settled in a suburb of Porto,  Once Roberta and her father's health returned, they used to dance in the kitchen to the church chimes.   Roberta played with her pet rabbits that she kept on their property.  The countryside surrounding Porto had lots of vineyards.  They would wash down the men's feet and legs and then the men would climb into giant vats and crush the grapes.

Wine treaders in Alto Douro region of Portugal courtesy 

Roberta's father commuted two hours to work in the bank in the city.  After three years, he realized there was no future in Portugal.  His brother in law kept urging him to come to America.  The family booked a cabin on the S. S. Olympic in 1925.  At Ellis Island, they gave Roberta biscuits and milk.  After a few months, her father found work at a New York City factory.  That day, he played the violin, an instrument he had first learned when he was seven years old.  Her mother was hired at the Ansonia Clock Factory.  The family settled in Brooklyn.

While they did live in an immigrant neighbourhood, Roberta's mother shopped at English speaking stores in order to learn the language.  Roberta quickly picked up English once she started school.  Mrs. Osley would look after Roberta when her parents were at work.  Mrs. Osley was the first one to pull Roberta in a sled; it was the native Brazilian's first snowfall.

At 21, Roberta voted for the first time, giving her father's citizenship number.  However, after hearing about a woman from Cuba denied the vote because she had been born in another country, she decided to pursue American citizenship.  "I certainly feel like I'm very  much a part of the American dream," explained Roberta.

Ansonia Clock made at the Brooklyn Factory which operated from 1851 to 2006 courtesy

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Scottish Immigrant Marge Glasgow

"The nurse was still taking care of me.  She took me outside to sit and see all the boats go by.  I sat there and I wondered, 'Will they let me into the United States, or will they send me back?'  I so much wanted to live here in the United States." (Marge Glasgow)

Motherwell, Scotland circa early 1900's courtesy

Marge Glasgow was born and raised in Motherwell, Scotland to a Catholic family.  In her hometown, the Catholics and Protestants were always fighting.  Her father worked as a puddler at the local steel furnace.  On Friday nights, he would head from work straight to the pub.  Several hours later, he would sing as he stumbled down the street to home.  "Of course, my mother was ready to beat him over the head with something," explained Marge.

Marge excelled at Highland dancing for which she received many medals.  By 15, she was already working, but she felt like there were many more opportunities in America.  Marge's neighbour's girls were working at a factory in New Jersey and sending money home to their parents.  Marge thought she could do the same.

In 1922, after much convincing, Marge convince her parents to let her make the trip to America.  The voyage took ten days during which Marge helped a sick mother care for her baby.  Marge was apprehensive when she reached Ellis Island remembering her mother's warnings about how they checked your hair for bugs.  "I remember the Great Hall, and at the desks there with men.  I don't know if they were doctors, judges or what, questioning the people..."

A list of codes and their corresponding medical diseases/issues used at Ellis Island courtesy

All alone, Marge started to cry hysterically.  An official explained to her that they were simply checking her eyes to determine if she had the disease trachoma.  Marge stayed in the Ellis Island hospital for ten days.  "The nurse was still taking care of me.  She took me outside to sit and see all the boats go by.  I sat there and I wondered, 'Will they let me into the United States, or will they send me back?'  I so much wanted to live here in the United States."

When Marge reached the mainland, she discovered that at 15, she was too young to work in a factory.  She was hired as a domestic for a family in Newark, New Jersey.  Sticking to her promise, she saved up enough money to bring her father and mother over.  Marge married a German electrician.  She owned two successful dress boutiques which put her six children through college.  In 1997, she was 101 years old and living in rural New Jersey.

Dresses circa 1940 courtesy

Friday, 23 September 2016

Welsh Immigrant Randall Peat

"God gave me every inch of the United States of America to live in.  And I have lived here now eighty two years.  I wouldn't want to live no place else." (Randall Peat)

Postcard of Colwyn Bay where wealthy English tourists used to vacation circa 1900 courtesy

Born and raised in Colwyn Bay, Wales on the Irish Sea, Randall Peat was the son of a miner.  When he was only one year old, his father was crushed to death in an avalanche of limestones in the mine. His mother became a live in maid at one of the mansions in town.  Little Randall was raised by his grandparents. His grandfather worked on a farm where he raised cows, pigs and horses and grew barley and wheat.  "[He] didn't live to make money; [he] lived to exist."

Randall's grandfather rented the land at one English pound per acre.  The area in which he lived had originally been owned by the farmers; however, the British government later took it and gave it to the wealthy who in turn rented it out to the same farmers.  Surprisingly, no bitterness existed between the tenants and the landowners according to Randall.  The latter knew that they depended on the former for a livelihood.  "That's why I'm in the United States...'with Liberty and justice for all,' explained Randall, referring to Britain's class system.

Randall worked on the farm sowing seeds by hand and pulling a team of horses to bury the seed.  Often, he and his siblings would eat bread crusts doused in pig's fat for flavour or an egg with tea for supper.  Randall would wear his brother's hand me down shirts which his grandmother patched up  At school, Welsh was forbidden; only English was spoken.  If you misspelled a word, you were flogged with a big stick.  "Despite this, we only had one one to live and that was happy."

To Randall, three things were important;  home, work and church.  The English only recognized one church, the Episcopalian or Anglican Church.  The Welsh in the area belonged to the Baptist church which was taxed heavily by the English.  "The practice of it was very hushed up, secretive."  Marriages in the Baptist church were not recognized by the English.  

It was at church that Randall first got the idea to immigrate to America.  He met a teenage boy who had just returned from New York where he had earned good money as a stable hand.  With only twenty pounds to his name, Randall didn't think he had enough money for his passage but the other boy said yes.  He recommended second rather than third class (steerage) ticket so that at Ellis Island, they would be questioned on board the ship rather than in the immigration station.  "It's worth the extra five pounds," he explained.

In 1914, Randall and his new friend, Dave, took a train from Colwyn Bay to Liverpool where they boarded the S.S. Baltic.  They were joined by immigrants from Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Ethiopia, Egypt and Germany.  Overcome by seasickness, Randall just wanted to jump into the water.  Dave recommended a dose of whisky which seemed to do the trick.  At Ellis Island, officials boarded the ship and inquired if Randall and Dave had money in their pockets once they reached the mainland:  "You're not going to live on no relief."

Randall and Dave arrived in New York City where they took the Delaware and Lackawanna Railroad to Utica, New York.  Randall rode in an automobile for the first time when Dave's uncle picked them up at the train station.  Randall was hired immediately to work at Borden's Condensery in Waterville where he shovelled coal.  Later he was promoted to the milk plant where he capped bottles.

Randall's boss gave him Sunday off so he could attend church, informing him about a Welsh congregation nearby.  When Randall arrived at the church, a friendly man introduced himself.  The minister was absent that Sunday and before Randall knew it, he was up at the front leading the congregation in a hymn.  Urged to continue, he read a chapter of Pilgrim's Progress to the congregation in Welsh.  Afterwards, people rushed up to shake his hand.  

A young girl from Colwyn Bay followed Randall to America.  Within six months they were married. They had a daughter and lived together for sixty two years.  To this day, Randall gets called upon to deliver a sermon once in a while.  He often recites the 23rd Psalm at funerals.  "The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want..."

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Romanian Immigrant Carl Bellapp

"Everybody got to one side of the ship to see the Statue of Liberty.  There were howls and screams and "America, I love you."  Everybody in his own language.  It was a celebration." (Carl Bellapp)

Bucharest, Romania circa 1930 courtesy 

Carl Bellapp was born and raised in Romania, the son of a barber and homemaker.  His father's barbershop had three mirrors.  His mother, a "saint", used to feed people who didn't have enough to eat.  Carl's house did not have indoor plumbing; walking to the outhouse in the wintertime was chilling.  

Carl's father and older brother immigrated to America in 1927.  Carl was left to act as the family's chief breadwinner.  Later, his father sent money for Carl and his sister to immigrate.  They took a train to Bucharest and caught a second train which travelled through Yugoslavia.  In Italy, they boarded an Italian ship called the Conte Grande.  They passed nine days in steerage, during which Carl's sister was seasick.  

In New York Harbor:  "Everybody got to one side of the ship to see the Statue of Liberty.  There were howls and screams and 'America, I love you.'  Everybody in his own language."  Language became a stumbling block on Ellis Island, each immigrant was given a tag. Carl's said E.I.  "Am I considered a criminal?" he wondered.  But E.I. simply stood for Ellis Island.

Carl and his sister settled in their father's apartment in New York City.  Their father had found work as a barber in the Big Apple.  The highlight of the new place was the indoor toilet.  "It was heaven."

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Czech Immigrant Estelle Zeller

"And there were two thousand of us, all young women.  They used us to unload brick from ships.  We would make a human chain and pass the brick one to the other all day long until the tips of our fingers bled." (Estelle Zeller)

Estelle Zeller grew up in a Jewish family in Ushorod, Czechoslovakia.  Her father operated a bakery in town.  On the night of November 10, 1938, her father was searching for the midwife to tend to her mother who was in labour.  At the same time, his bakery was being vandalized, part of Kristallnacht, or The Night of Broken Glass (
Occupied by the Germans, all of the Jewish bakeries in Ushorod were either denied licences or denied their flour allocations.  Estelle's father was drafted into the military.

In 1943, with Jews being rounded up across Europe by the Nazis, Estelle's mother suggested she go into hiding with a Christian family.  However, Estelle watned to remain with her family.  Soon, all of the jews in Ushorod were rounded up and put into a ghetto.  Later, they were stuffed in cattle cars and taken to the infamous Auschwitz where Estelle was separated from her parents and siblings.  

While many of the Jews were sent directly to the gas chambers, Estelle was sent to Germany to work as a slave labourer.  "And there were two thousand of us, all young women.  They used us to unload brick from ships.  We would make a human chain and pass the brick one to the other all day long until the tips of our fingers bled."  While the days were draining, the nights were equally difficult:  bombs were flying overhead.  

Later, Estelle was one of 500 young women to be transported to Essen to work in a munitions factory.  They had a long walk to the factory.  In winter time, they used to wear wooden shoes and the snow would stick to the soles of their shoes.  The German soldiers would use their bayonets to scrape the snow off.  

Towards the end of the war, Estelle was transferred to another concentration camp, this time Bergen Belsen.  "People were dying like flies" as a result of malnutrition and disease.  On April 15, 1945, the guards suddently disappeared.  They were liberated.  

Sweden welcomed some of the Jewish refugees.  That is where Estelle ended up in the years after the war.  Estelle's father returned to his hometown only to find that his family was not there.  He escaped Czechoslovakia before the Communists had a chance to take over, and fled to Germany where he stayed in a displaced persons camp for three years, then joined Estelle in Sweden.

Estelle had the opportunity to immigrate to America in 1952.  She sailed across the Atlantic on the Gripsholm.  "It was New Years Eve.  I was wearing a beautiful dress.  There was a great party on the ship and I was dancing and having a great time.  Suddenly, I had terrible stomach pains and went back to my cabin.  I ha an attack of appendicitis."  Because medical bills were high in the United States, Estelle had the ship's doctor perform an appendectomy on board the Swedish ship.  

Estelle said that her greatest shock occurred once she reached Ellis Island.  "It was a scary experience, because when I arrived at Ellis Island, I saw the same guard stands with guards I remembered at Bergen Belsen  It brought back terrible memories and I really didn't know what the outcome of my stay would be.'

Estelle's father and stepmother followed her to America and the three of them rented an apartment in Brooklyn behind a butcher shop.  Her father was hired at Ebbinger's Bakery in Brooklyn and her stepmother as a seamstress.  Estelle met her husband that June and married in September.  The couple raised two daughters.  

After more than three decades, Estelle returned to her hometown in 1986 for a visit.  She met an old lady there who talked about remembering her father returning after the war.  Estelle, overcome with emotion, broke down in tears.  Upon returning to the United States, she had a nervous breakdown.

Brooklyn Blackout Cake, served at Ebbinger's Bakery, was famous courtesy

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Dutch Immigrant Doris Fagendam

"People used to do all their travelling on ice.  They had horses and sleighs.  Merchandise would go by sleigh, by canals.  And they had tens all along the way, where they sold hot chocolate." 
(Doris Fagendam)

File:Leeuwarden DeWaag.JPG

Doris Fagendam was born in raised in Friesland, a province of Holland.  She and her many siblings grew up in a brick row house.  Their father was a dairy farmer, their mother a homemaker.  She used to make a delicious soup with buttermilk and barley.  In winter time, Doris and her siblings used to skate on the frozen canal.  When they came home, their mother would have a piece of cake waiting for each of them.  Peddlers used to come up the side streets from the canals peddling their wares.  The Dutch, known for their cleanliness, used to scrub the streets, each neighbour taking a section.

Christmas was celebrated on December 6, St. Nicholas Day.  Doris remembers going to church where they had little footstool warmers, "a square box with hot coal in it."  Her mother used to give her and her siblings peppermints to keep them quiet during the church service.

Doris's family was not poor.  They had food in their tummies and a roof over their heads.  However, her father saw more opportunities in the New World.  Her left for America when Doris was five years old.  

Doris and her family joined her father in 1908, sailing overseas on the Rotterdam.  The journey only took nine days, a quick trip for those days.  While Doris doesn't remember seeing the Statue of Liberty she does remember her experience at Ellis Island.  They were detained because her sister, who suffered from polio, wore leg braces.  Even though her mother made her dress a little longer, the officials still took notice.  However, Doris father was able to convince the immigration officials that she would not be a "burden".  Shortly after settling into their new home, a nurse came to their house and arranged an operation for Doris' sister.  She never wore braces again.

Doris thought that the best part of coming to America was seeing her father again.  He explained:  "Compared to America were sort of a slow nation.  You can't dawdle her.  You have to step on it a little bit."  The family settled in Briarcliff Manor, New York where the father worked at a dairy.  What a treat for Doris, who was used to the flatness of Holland, to be treated to a view of the mountains!  While Doris arrived in America wearing wooden shoes, she soon became accustomed to American fashion.  When she started school, she spoke only Friesian but it was not long before she "conquered the English language beautifully."  She would speak English at school and Friesian at home, her mother never having mastered a second language.  Doris considered herself very fortunate to have come to America.

Boat arrives at Ellis Island courtesy

Monday, 19 September 2016

Greek Immigrant Theodore Spako

"He came to America from a small Greek fishing village with twenty-five dollars in his pocket.  He settled in New Jersey.  Now 102 years old, he lives with his wife of seventy one years in upstate New York.  They have two daughters, four grandchildren and religious faith.  'Even now,' he says, 'I never miss a Sunday.'" 

Dancing in a Greek village circa 1920's courtesy

Theodore Spako grew up in a small Greek fishing village which had "good schools" and "outstanding churches".  When at 16, Theodore announced that he wanted to immigrate to America, his mother, having lost one son already, pleaded with him not to go.  Theodore was determined to go.  His father had tears in his eyes when he said goodbye to his son.  

In 1911, Theodore travelled in third class on the trans-Atlantic trip.  Aboard the Patris, he met a man named Gus and his father.  After 21 days at sea, the ship sailed into New York Harbor.  "What's the statue?" asked Gus.  His father answered:  "That's Christopher Columbus."  Theodore responded:  "Listen, this don't look like Christopher Columbus.  That's a lady there."

At Ellis Island, Theodore, Gus and his father joined the long queue of immigrants.  After their medical exam, Theodore noticed that both Gus and his father had an X marked on their backs in chalk.  Theodore asked if he also had an X on his back, but they said no.  He thought:  Somebody is going back to Greece; it's either Gus and his father or me.  "I just thank God....that I was admitted to the United States, that they didn't put a chalk mark on my back.'