JOURNEY’S END and A TOUCH OF SCARLET are set in New York City at the turn of the nineteenth century when the Gilded Age was coming to a close and America was the land of promise. Immigrants from all walks of life journeyed to the United States looking to capture the American Dream for themselves and their descendants. Many of these hope-filled individuals found a home in the West. But they first had to be admitted into this country.
During its heyday, Ellis Island was America’s largest and most active immigration station. 12 million people passed through from 1892 to 1954. The official gateway to America was located in Upper New York Bay in the Port of New York and New Jersey. The building still stands on this tiny island and is considered a monument to America’s rich cultural heritage and diversity.
The immigrants processed at Ellis Island were not rich or well-connected. They arrived to the United States by boat, usually in steerage. They came with few possessions, often little more than what they wore on their backs and/or carried in their hands. To many of these wide-eyed immigrants, this first step onto American soil became known as the “Island of Hope.”
For others, it was the “Island of Tears” or “Heartbreak Island” because entry into America was not guaranteed. Each man, woman and child had to go through a grueling inspection process that could last anywhere from 3-7 hours. Individuals were subjected to a medical exam and then asked a series of 29 questions including name, occupation and the amount of money they carried. This may seem intrusive, or even unnecessary, but it was important to the United States government that these new arrivals could support themselves once allowed on American soil. Put simply, unskilled worker with no prospects or money was rejected admission into the country.
Another reason for denial was visible health problems. A sick immigrant was either detained in the island’s hospital facilities or immediately sent home. Still others were shipped back to their country of origin for having a known criminal background.
If an immigrant passed the medical exam, answered the 29 questions in an acceptable manner, had no mark on their record, then the next step was a stop at the money exchange. With American dollars in their possession and legal acceptance into the country, separated family members met up again at the Kissing Post where tears of joy, hugs and kisses were exchanged.
Many who entered America by way of Ellis Island contributed to the greatness of their new country. Irving Berlin, Al Jolson, Samuel Goldwyn, Frank Capra, Bob Hope, Bela Lugosi, to name but a few.
My heroine in JOURNEY’S END enters America via Ellis Island. You’ll want to read the first chapter to experience the inspection process through her eyes.