A letter from my grandmother details her arduous journey from Germany to the United States, the land of opportunity.
Well, Gloria, you want me to tell you something about my trip over the ocean heading for the land of opportunity. Well, there is not much to tell, you know I was only 13, and children don’t think much. They take things the way they come. We left Germany the first of March, 1868. We were put on the ship in the afternoon, and the steamer lifted anchor right before we were settled in our bunk. When we went on deck, we could see no land any more, but we were not on the Atlantic Ocean but in the North Sea. But the sea was as smooth and as calm as a floor.
There were 900 people on board, and all were afraid to get seasick. They told everybody to walk against the wind, then we would not get seasick. So everybody tried it, and you ought to have seen the people walk. But before long a Russian stepped to the rail and vomited, you know that is the seasickness, and everybody laughed at him. But it didn’t take long – one after another did the same thing, and I did too.
Soon the deck was empty. They all were too sick to stay up. Next morning we were at Liverpool, England. There we stopped 24 hours and took in provisions, and you ought to have seen the stuff people brought on board – whole halves of beef and boatloads of vegetables. If anybody wanted to go on shore, the sailors would take them.
Well, the next day we started on our trip to America. There were larger waves than in the North Sea. Sometimes we could see ships in the distance riding on a high wave. Then all at once it was gone, and a large wave came between that ship and the one we were on.
It was quite interesting to sit and watch the waves and the people. Some were laughing, some were crying (they were homesick already). Some were singing, some played the accordion, some the French harp. Then some were dancing, so you see it was not lonesome, and we were feeling good after the first three day were over (the seasickness lasted three days – but Mother was sick from the first day to the last).
We had better eating than we were use to, but we had to go to the kitchen to get it. And we had no table to eat at. Each one took their plate on their lap. We got supper in a bucket, vegetables and meat in a pan, and pudding in another pan (all the dishes were of tin so they would not break). And we had to get our own dishes and our own bedding before we left Hamburg (Germany). That was in the contract.
Well, the first week went on alright, but then one day men came down with ropes and tied the trunks to the bunks. Someone asked why they did that and they said the trunks slide and someone can get hurt. Then other men came and screwed heavy iron caps over the little round windows and lighted up the lanterns.
Then they were asked what was up. Oh, they said, nothing much, only we expect a pocketful of wind tonight. It sure was more than a pocketful. The wind began to howl something fierce. And the ship rolled from one side to the other.
Sometimes it felt as if it stood on its head, sometimes on its tail end. It was terrible. Some of the women screamed, some prayed, some moaned. No one slept. It was enough to make a person crazy.
That kept on for three days, but at last people quieted down. They got used to it. No one could go on deck. The doors were fastened. Only a small place over the doors was left open for fresh air.
I was smart and went up to take a look and got a spray of rain on my head. A man told me to go down before I got all wet. Well, I did but came down almost head first. The storm tore away some of the banister and did some other damage.
When the storm was over, the men fixed up the damage, and we could go on deck again. It was nice weather until we came to America.
The day before we landed the pilot came in a small boat to pilot us into the harbor. The ship stopped not far from an island, I think it was Staten Island, where they guaranteed people. The doctors came on board, and we were all examined.
Then we went on to the harbor, where we were unloaded and all the trunks and boxes opened and examined. Then they took us to a large round building (it is not standing any more), where they kept us for three days until an immigrant train was ready to take people farther in the country.
Immigrant trains were not so expensive as the regular passenger trains, but the immigrant trains were so slow that it took us over a week to get from New York to Hannibal, Missouri, and we almost died for some sleep.
Well, I could see no difference between here and Germany. Only we couldn’t understand people. But there were German people everywhere to help us along. Most of the train men spoke German.
Well, it took me two days to write this down. I guess you could have done it in a few hours. Ships are larger now. They won’t roll like the one we came over in. The price was $50 for storage, $100 for cabin.
Submitted by Glorietta Rhody King
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then CAPPER’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from CAPPER’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.