Land of Opportunity: Family Emigrates, Machinist Father Leaves

Visitor to Germany convinces family to emigrate, and the family settles in Enterprise Kansas.

| Good Old Days

My husband's family came to the United States, the land of opportunity, from Germany in 1912, which was during Ellis Island's peak years. The Dingler family consisted of father; mother; two daughters, ages 12 and 6; and twin sons, 9 years old. The father had learned the locksmith and machinist trades and was employed in a shop in Durlach, Baden. Descendants of the family do not know whether the parents were contemplating and intending to emigrate from Germany to far-off America.

However, an acquaintance of the family entertained a guest from Abilene, Kansas, who portrayed to her host family and the Dinglers a picture of opportunity and potential in the United States. Perhaps she described to these families the Swiss-German town of Enterprise, southeast of Abilene, with a flourishing flour mill and a large, progressive machine shop. Both industries were owned and managed by German-speaking Swiss immigrants.

It is believed the visitor encouraged both families to accompany her to America, which they did. She served as their escort and guide, since she could speak and understand both German and English.

In all probability there were mixed emotions as the two families prepared to leave kinfolk and friends, as well as familiar surroundings – likely never to return – to make a new life in a strange and unknown world. Good-byes were painful and difficult. Clothing, a few dishes, some personal items, and the family Bible were all the belongings they could carry with them. They traveled by train from Durlach to the departure port, Hamburg, where they boarded the ocean liner, President Grant.

One of the 9-year-old twins had a vivid memory of delicious fresh-baked bread rolls coming out of the oven and cooling near the deck. He and other children aboard helped themselves but were reprimanded by the ship's baker. After 11 days of viewing only sky and water, the sight of the Statue of Liberty and New York Harbor left an everlasting impression on these travelers. The ship docked the evening they arrived, but not until the following morning were the passengers permitted to disembark.

Ellis Island's huge Registry Room was the nation's primary reception depot for immigrants awaiting questioning by inspectors. These families were among the great majority of steerage passengers, and the New World was uncertain and unpredictable to them. After the group passed the Ellis Island scrutiny, they found their way to another room of the Registry Building, where they purchased railroad tickets for the long overland train ride to Abilene. The 6-year-old daughter recalled arriving in Abilene during the night. They stayed a week or so. The father got a job at the shops, and the family moved to the village of Enterprise.

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