Posts Tagged ‘Ellis Island’

This photo caught my eye recently.  It’s a shot of a Romanian piper, most likely a shepherd, taken around 1906.  It was taken by Augustus Francis Sherman, a registry clerk who worked at Ellis Island, the primary processing point for immigrants coming to America around the turn of the early 20th century.  Sherman was an amateur photographer who would sometimes document those would-be immigrants who were detained at the facility as the officials determined whether they would be allowed to enter the country.  Sherman would ask the detainees to don the clothing of their native country so he might document them during their time at the Ellis Island,which might be hours, days or even weeks.   Some of these subjects made it through and others were deported.

Seeing this photo and others taken by Sherman made me wonder about these folks as they posed in their native garb.  If they made it through the  immigrationprocess, how did they make their way in America and where is their family now?  This Romanian man with the flute– what became of him?  What was his new occupation? Was this perhaps the last time he ever wore the clothing of his earlier life?  And what became of this group of Cossacks, shown to the right?  I wonder how their new life here differed from that one they left behind, where they donned such large knives.  Are their descendants aware of these photos?

As I said, some of these portayed by Sherman did not make it into America, at least at that time.  Some had physical ailments or mental illness and some, like the young German man with the multiple tattoos shown to the left, came as illegal stowaways and were immediately deported back to their native land.  I wonder how many of these deportees came back and tried again?

Sherman’s photos have been the subject of a number of exhibits over the years.  Though he was untrained, he had an ability to see the individual humanity that was sometimes lost in the masses that were paraded before him.  He was able to capture the pride and dignity in his subjects at a time when they were under great stress as they awaited the decisions on their futures here.  I find them fascinating, both as a documentation of the many diverse  peoples who built this country and the innate human drama in the process.

Though provoking.

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