Rough Journey From Poland, Russia, to America

Grandparents’ endured minor ship wreck and one violent storm after another on trip to United States.

| Good Old Days

My grandpa was born in Poland Russia in 1852. He met his spouse in a village where he went for a haircut. She was taking care of children there for $9 a year. At 19, Grandpa married Grandma, 16, and they left for America.

They left Antwerp, Belgium, November 24, 1874. There were 628 Mennonites aboard their ship, the SS Vaterland. This group had an unusually rough journey. The ship was badly damaged due to violent storms. It lost three propeller blades. The first in the English Channel, the second halfway across. They kept limping along till they neared the United States, where the last one was lost. The ship's voyage took 21 days.

When they started out the weather was nice. Everything went fine until midnight, when they collided with another ship. The ship wasn't damaged seriously but needed repairs. They returned to London. After six days the ship was ready to go, but smallpox broke out among the children in eight families. They were ordered to leave harbor at once. The sick children were transferred to a hospital ship, where two lost their lives in the transfer. They sailed out five miles from the harbor and remained there till they were released.

En route the seas became so boisterous and the waves so violent that they clapped together above the ship. The machinery was damaged to the extent they could not continue. Word was sent to London, Liverpool and Antwerp. The damaged ship turned around and started limping back to Liverpool. An American liner came to their rescue. While transferring passengers from the damaged ship to the American, water rushed in to where they thought the ship would sink. The lifeboats were filled. Thirty-five passengers did not find room in the lifeboats and had to remain on the sinking ship.

They cried to God to have mercy on them and receive their souls. During their greatest distress a sailor went down into the ship to see how far they were from filling with water. The sailor came back up and said the ship would not sink. There was another wall that prevented the water from filling the entire bottom of the ship. Their ship was towed back to Queenstown.

Grandma and Grandpa arrived at Hutchinson, Kansas, at 11:00 on a cold wintry night when the temperature was 12 below zero. They wandered about the streets of a strange country-penniless, hungry and homeless-until a man came along and opened an empty store building for their whole party to crowd into.

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