Vignettes: Ellis Island

by Alan Louis Smith

Live Performance in Alfred Newman Recital Hall

April 16, 2023

Seoyon MacDonald, piano

Christine Marie Li, mezzo-soprano



2. Emma Schmid Schawarz, born 1907, emigrated from Germany in 1926, age 18. 

The morning that I left, my mother was already sitting on my bed at five o’clock, telling me to be always nice and decent, clean and do the right thing. Work hard, as good as you can, the best is not too much. And she says, “Always see to it that people look up to you, not down to you. And be a good worker…” And my mother always kept saying, “I know I’ll always have you. You are my youngest. I’ll always have you with me.” And it didn’t happen. I was the one that left, that went away the furthest. 

3. Anna Zagar Klarich, born 1902, emigrated from Yugoslavia in 1920, age 18. 

I really didn’t have too much to pack. I had a new pair of shoes, and I was walking barefoot because I wanted to save my new shoes for America. And I had a new dress but I just wore my skirt and blouse because I was saving my new dress for America. 

4. Manny Steen, born 1906, emigrated from Ireland in 1925, age 19. 

I bought a suitcase, a second-hand cardboard suitcase for two dollars… and I didn’t have enough stuff to fill it. All I had was the suit of clothes I wore… and an extra handkerchief and a pair of socks. I also had my stamp collection, a little crummy collection of stamps and a few family souvenirs and a few little things. I didn’t fill the suitcase… I didn’t have enough stuff to put in there. 

5. Martha Kallens Reininger, born 1911, emigrated from Germany in 1924, age 13. 

The stories I heard about America! They have roast ducks and roast pigeons that fly through the air. All you have to do is pick them out of the sky. And the streets run full of milk and honey. That’s how beautiful it is…

6. Clara Storz Schmidt, born 1905, emigrated from Germany in 1923, age 18. 

My mother was sick when I left. And when I left, she went part ways with me. We had no clinic in our hometown and she had to go to the clinic. She went with me when I left for America and went to the clinic on the same day that I left. And she said, “Oh, kiss me, because I’m not going to see you anymore…” I should have never left her…


7. Theresa Gavin Duffy, born 1892, emigrated from Ireland in 1912, age 19. 

The next day we were supposed to sail on the Titanic but we didn’t get on… because it was overcrowded… We got into the small boat to go out to the big ship, to the Titanic. When we got to the door, the captain opened it and said, “No one. Overloaded.” We were kind of disappointed, so we went back to the hotel. The next day it went down. 

8. Kaj Sorenson, born in 1909, emigrated from Denmark in 1923, age 14. 

The day I sailed my father said to me, “Remember this, if you smile and laugh, everybody will smile and laugh with you. But if you cry, you cry alone…” After I boarded the ship I was looking out over the gangplank. I looked out and my family was there. I saw my mother crying and I remember a lump coming up in my throat. But I was determined not to cry.

9. Angelo Vacca, born in 1896, emigrated from Italy in 1909, approximately age 12. 

When I saw the boat, I had never seen a boat before. I had never seen the ocean… Then I was separated from my mother and put in the men’s section. I didn’t like that…


10. Max Mason, born 1912, emigrated from the Ukraine in 1921, age 8. 

On the boat that we took to America I had occasion to use the men’s room and for the first time I flushed a toilet and water started gushing and I ran. I ran because I was positive that I was drowning that boat. I never told anybody about it and I was waiting for that boat to sink. 

11. Mary Cox Harney, born 1896, emigrated from Ireland in 1925, age 22. 

Up on the deck was a great place to go dancing. We had a great time. We used to go up there and dance all the Irish dances, the old fashioned dances… We saw that captain and shook hands with him… Yeah, we were greenhorns from Ireland! We didn’t know anything… I didn’t want to get off because I loved the blue waters…and the fog and the mist. I hated to get off. I said, “Oh, couldn’t we stay another couple of days…”

12. Regina Sass Tepper, born 1908, emigrated from Poland in 1923, age 14. 

Out in the middle of the ocean in January. Can you imagine the waves? We were sick, sick like dogs. Oh, we were sick. And when you are seasick, you wish you were dead. You absolutely do. Were you ever seasick? The most horrible feeling in the world is to be seasick. 

13. Elizabeth Coyle Scott, born 1892, emigrated from Ireland in 1915, age 22. 

On the boat, I remember this one woman, an old woman, and she was standing there by the side saying the rosary… And she was standing there and she was getting thrown back and forth. She was old, very old I thought in them days, and she died on the boat because it was too much for her… I don’t know what they did with her. They didn’t let you see anything. 


14. Dora Heller Rich, born 1896, emigrated from Austria-Hungary in 1909, age 13. 

We all ran out to see the Statue. Nobody knew about it… So one man says, “What is that?” Another man says, “Don’t you know? That’s Columbus!” So we thought it was Columbus. Who knows?!

15. Estelle Schwartz Belford, born 1900, emigrated from Roumania in 1905, age 5. 

All of a sudden we heard a big commotion… and everybody started yelling that they see “the Lady ,” the Statue of Liberty, and we all ran upstairs… Everybody started screaming and crying, kissing one another. People that you didn’t even know before were alongside of you… Everybody was so excited to see America and see the Lady with her hand up. 

16. Max Schnapp, born 1904, emigrated from Romania in 1923, age 19. 

We looked at the Statue of Liberty. When we saw it, we were surprised. Number one, who did it? Who put it up there? That was the first question that came to a person’s mind. But outstretched, I mean the whole thing gave you a feeling of relaxation, of something good… all our life we didn’t see that. Nobody stretched out a hand to you. Nobody said a good word to you. We came from a war-torn… country….

17. Martha Kallens Reininger, born 1911, emigrated from Germany in 1924, age 13. 

That was a beautiful day. I woke up during the night, towards morning, and I thought, “What is wrong?” We had just gone through a storm and now everything seemed so quiet. I got dressed and ran up on the deck. It was my birthday. I was thirteen years old that morning and the first thing I see is the Statue of Liberty. What a beautiful sight. 


18. Kaj Sorenson, born 1909, emigrated from Denmark in 1923, age 14.

We had to take a smaller boat to Ellis Island. Now as I was going down the gangplank there is a fellow coming up on the other side. He was my next door neighbor in Denmark! And I said, “Hello!” Oh my God, it was like a letter from home when I saw him. And we just said, “Hello.”

19. Allan Gunn, born 1916, emigrated from Scotland in 1925, age 9. 

Is my daddy going to find us? …A big place like this, how is he ever going to find us? How will he know where we are?!

20. Irena Leonidoff Spross, born in 1920, emigrated from Russia via France in 1929, age 8. 

I didn’t know what my father looked like. And I remember sitting on that bench and my feet couldn’t touch the floor, and I’m just sitting there in my new outfit and there was an officer’s sleeve… and he said, “Here comes your father.” And this man is twelve feet tall and he picked me up and hugged me. 

21. Max Schnapp, born 1904, emigrated from Roumania in 1923, age 19.

Ellis Island was packed, packed with people. And there was a table where a commissioner sat. He was a very nice man and anyone he talked to he tried to relax them. He made a joke with them… He was very easy going… and anybody that came back from him came with a smile on their face because before they were all scared, scared, scared! …The doctor was joking with me… He said, “It is Prohibition. Your name is Schnapps. You’re not supposed to come in!”


22. Morris Schneider, born in 1910, emigrated from Poland in 1920, age 10. 

New York looked like what I knew a fairy land was supposed to look like… It looked like something I had never dreamt of. I could never picture it... I had no knowledge. I had no schooling. I didn’t read books. I had no pictures to look at… I had nothing to compare it to. So it was all a fairy land, a make-believe world. If my eyes could have popped, I guess they would have popped at the sight. 

23. Jack Tellalian, born 1913, an Armenian who emigrated from Turkey in 1921, age 7. 

When we were coming to America… one old lady came to my grandmother and said, “I understand in America they shovel gold off the sidewalks. Will you please send me a shovelful? But when we came to America, we didn’t find any shovels of gold on the sidewalk. 

24. Catherine Gaetano Gallippi, born 1914, emigrated from Italy in 1922, age 8. 

When we came here to America, my mother complained, “My God, I thought America was supposed to be something great. They have gaslights here. We had electric lights in Italy.

25. Anna Zagar Klarich, born 1902, emigrated from Yugoslavia in 1920, age 18. 

I came in my mother’s apartment and she had lace curtains. We didn’t have that in Europe. And I was just admiring these lace curtains. They were so beautiful. And my mother said, “There are cookies in the kitchen. When you want, you just go and help yourself…” And she gave me her nightgown, a big nightgown and I put it on… I got up at six o’clock in the morning and then went into the kitchen and I got myself four big cookies and I put them on my lap… And I’m eating my cookies and admiring those curtains and my mother peeked in my bedroom… And I was so embarrassed that I had these cookies in my lap and I was so hungry for cookies. She said, “Don’t be embarrassed. Just eat them. Eat all that you want…” I was in Heaven. 


26. Anna Zagar Klarich, born 1902, emigrated from Yugoslavia in 1920, age 18. 

This is my life and that’s how I lived it and that’s how I came here and that’s it.



Seoyon MacDonald. All Rights reserved



Seoyon MacDonald. All Rights reserved



Seoyon MacDonald. All Rights reserved