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The following is a poem written by Paul Petersen shortly before he suddenly passed away in June of 1999.


by Paul Petersen
They were =big= ships, larger than anything people had seen in their entire lifefime. and they actually moved ....slow...lumbering...unstopable. The Dreadnaughts plowed the wild Irish sea and ordinary men stood at the rail and dreamed about having a farm, their =own= farm. America, in the 1850s was a place of free-land giveaway's, of homesteads and hearths.... and all you had to do was get there.

and get there they did, in great waves of humanity, millions and millions of them.

And it all started with ships.

There was a bubbling mass of energy and excitement in America in the 1850s, most of it brought on by the invention of technology. Indeed, the Columbia Exposition of 1890 was a showcase of technology for the masses. There was a steam engine on display as big as a 4 story building, it worked! and it dazzled everyone. But just as impressive was the electric light, the telephone, and the telegraph. It was an age of possibilities, of things that =could= be done, of dreams that seemed reachable, BIG dreams that matched a big, brave new world, a world where anything and everything was possible, a world where streets were paved with gold. It was a new start, a new beginning, and it started with the words "We're Going To America"

and it started with ships.

Before Ellis island there was Castle Garden, a big old barn of a building pictured as being shingled.... they got off the boat en masse' and walked (1st class rode in horse carriages) to the processing center under the watchful eye of many guards.... inside the processing center they sat on wooden bench's awaiting their name to be called for a physical exam and again for an immigration interview, one tried not to cough too much... the central hall was a hodge-podge of noise, kids crying and different languages being spoken.... they huddled on the bench's saying prayers and hoping against hope they would be was faith and hope that got them this far.... they had braved wind tossed seas on so-called 'cattle-boats' with poor food, drinking water and sanitation.

After the INS interview, several hours later, if they were accepted, they gathered up their meager belongings, the old suitcase and the box's and went through the 'out' door onto the street... ...where they were pounced on by a multitude of thieves, union army recruiters, salvation army evangelists, ethnic organization representatives, and hawker's of all sorts...If the inside of the building was a mass of confusion the outside street was pandemonium and a circus all at once.

If it was raining they got wet, and many ships arrived in the dead of winter... the immigrant was on their own to find help or directions. Bewildered, poorly clothed for the miserable new York weather, and often alone in a strange new world, they somehow made their way to a new life...

though many did not...there was a public outcry in the 1860s over the "deplorable" conditions on the docks where newly arrived immigrants were often robbed and killed.

Our ancestors did for themselves...and their children, they made it through the rain and got a point of view.... They gave to us the gift of hope, of life in a new world, a new beginning, and a remembrance of times past when life held little or no hope... ...They did it on faith alone (and the echo's of the shipping line boy's who ran through the streets back in the old country extolling the glory's of the new world, of America, where men lived free, where land was given to all who wanted it...simply for the asking...) ...They did it because they wanted better....and they left to you and me a legacy that yearns to breath free, a circle of people, events, and promise that somehow strains to be known....It is, to this knowledge, that we all work with diligence and patience in seeking out our family history....and somewhere along the way of our search we too have hope....hope that they, as yet unnamed and unknown, will know that we remembered, that their struggle was not in vain, that we know and appreciate what they did....which was, after all, done for us.

cheers, paul


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