Happy New Year! Today is the 125th anniversary of the opening of the Ellis Island immigration center in New York. Cork teenager Annie Moore, joined by two younger brothers, was the first immigrant to enter this busy portal to America. She stepped off a steamship gangplank and into the massive building, where she was greeted by U.S. government officials.
The “rosy-cheeked Irish girl” was handed a $10 gold piece in a brief ceremony scaled back from earlier plans for a “pretentious opening,” The New York Times reported. Her arrival in America also was noted a few days later in a one-paragraph brief on page 2 of the Irish Examiner.
The attention didn’t last long.
“Annie may have stepped off the boat and into American legend—the first of 12 million to pass through Ellis Island in its 62 years of operation—but as an actual person she seemed to dissolve the minute she reached Manhattan,” Jesse Green wrote in this 2010 New York magazine piece that explores the fact and fiction of the popular immigration story.
The Times story that helped make Annie a legend also reported that Ellen King, “on her way from Waterford, Ireland, to a small town in Minnesota,” was the first to purchase a railroad ticket at Ellis Island. And it hinted ominously of detained immigrants placed “in a wire-screened inclosure (sic).”
The arrival of these immigrants at Ellis Island was not the only Ireland-related news reported by the Times in the first days of January 1892. Other stories included:
- The wreck of the schooner Catherine Richards off the coast of county Kerry on 29 December 1891, killing six crew. The sailing vessel was carrying a cargo of grain from Africa to Limerick.
- The 31 December 1891, explosion at Dublin Castle, two months after the death of Charles Stuart Parnell, which stirred “whisperings that the ‘physical force’ party were tired of their enforced inactivity and had given up all hope of Ireland gaining her independence through Parliamentary agitation.”
- The pending U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn the Supreme Court of Nebraska and allow James E. Boyd to become governor of the state. Boyd was born county Tyrone in 1834 and emigrated to America 10 years later with his family. Boyd’s father applied for U.S. citizenship in Ohio but never completed the process, later moving the family to Nebraska, where his son become involved in business and politics. Once Boyd won the 1890 governor’s contest, outgoing Gov. John M. Thayer challenged his citizenship and refused to yield the office. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that Boyd and other residents of Nebraska gained citizenship when the state joined the union in 1867.
Five years after opening, the Ellis Island center that welcomed Annie Moore burned to the ground in a massive fire that also consumed 40 year of federal and state immigration records. It is the replacement building opened in December 1900 that became the iconic symbol of U.S. immigration through 1954. This is where my Kerry-born maternal grandmother and grandfather arrived in 1912 and 1913, respectively. Today, it operates as the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration.