[This is a continuation of last week’s blog, which you may want to read first. Jordan’s story comes from my oral history collection.]
“When we were taken to Ellis Island, naturally, there were hundreds of us and we were led, almost like sheep, here and there, and we didn’t know where we were going. Each of us, tried to hold onto one another, of course, because we didn’t want to be separated. The seven of us were going together to the same place in Pennsylvania and we thought it would be better if we stayed together, then we would be safe in numbers. Nevertheless, three of us were separated from the other four, who stayed together. I don’t know why, because we were all going to the same town in Pennsylvania. But, somehow, the authorities thought that it was the proper thing to do for what they had.
“Ellis Island was a place you come into where you don’t know where you’re going and you see that everybody there don’t know where they’re going either. Each was trying to stay together and to find out where we were going. Most were looking to see if they could see somebody that they knew there. They were somehow expecting to find someone to receive them there. None of us realized that they were not allowed to come in this area.
“Then, after we passed our inspection, we went to another place where they asked us to hand in our money in order to exchange it into the American dollars. We all took our money and we didn’t know what they give us. We didn’t know what the money was or how we could compare it with what we exchanged. But most of us were actually surprised and delighted when they handed us some new pennies. We thought the new pennies were half Napoleons, those French gold pieces that we used to show back home. Of course, these new coins weren’t worth that much.
“Anyway, one of the things that happened in Ellis Island was that they handed us some sandwiches wrapped up in paper and we were so hungry that one of the boys grabbed the sandwich and tried to eat it, and realized that the skin was too tough. He was eating all of the paper. We had never had such a thing as sandwiches in Greece at the time when I was a youngster.
Immigrants buying railroad tickets at Ellis Island Jersey Central Railroad Terminal
“Next, we were given railroad tickets and all four of us were put on a boat to the nearby train station in New Jersey [Jersey Central Railroad Terminal] and then put on a train for Pennsylvania. After about an hour, the boys were saying that they thought we had gone too far, that it was taking too long to reach the place. You see, we never realized how big the United States was and now we thought we were going to the end of the world. To subside our fears, I went to the conductor, showed him a paper in my hand with the address to where we were going, and I knew how to count to ten in English. I point to the address, and I show with my fingers the four of us, and again to the address where we are going. The conductor motioned me to sit down. After another hour and another stop, I did the same thing again. Practically at every stop, from New York to Pittsburgh, I went to the conductor and showed him the address, pointed to the four of us, and requested him if we had reached our destination. Again, each time he told me to sit down.
“Well, it got so that when we actually reached our destination, I did not ask the conductor that time because I was ashamed and afraid to go and be asking at every station. As a result, we passed our station in Farrell and they let us out at the next station in Sharon, Pennsylvania, because I went and asked the conductor and he let us out.
“The train was so long and we must have been so far back that when we got out, we were not at the station but at the station yards. So we looked around and we couldn’t see a human being except a young fellow who was looking around the tracks there for something. We didn’t know what he was looking for, but they asked me to go and ask him if we know where we are. Otherwise, we stay here and get on the next train in order to take us to our destination. He asked me what nationality we were and if I spoke French. When I said, ‘Oui,’ and told him,” he said, “Allons, Grec [Come on, Greek],” and motioned with his hand. So we followed him, but most of us were leery and so three of us stayed farther back and not follow him too close, so in case he tried to attack us or rob us, we’d have a chance to overpower him.
“We were actually shaking from top to toes because we were in an unknown and we met a person that we didn’t know. We weren’t used to somebody helping us. We thought he was trying to help us, but still we didn’t trust him. We didn’t know what his intentions were, although we understood there was some Greek where he was and we would go there, speak our language, and try to understand where we were. As we were walking and following this young man on the main street of Sharon, lo and behold, I saw this man crossing the street and I recognized him as my second cousin from home. I was so sure that it was him that I ran up to him, spoke to him in Greek, and he answered me and I grabbed him and I didn’t want to let go. The others couldn’t understand why I was holding this stranger in the street. He was asking me questions who I was, and I had to tell him my father’s name, my mother’s name, and the relationship we had until he recognized who I was.
“He had a grocery store in Farrell and he was in Sharon to buy food to sell. So we never went into the diner where the one Greek was, because he said he would take us in his car. All of us wound up hugging my second cousin in the middle of the street. We thought God had sent him to us. So he took us to where all the Greeks were living. The people there who worked a different shift rushed to see us to learn all the news from home. We were no longer lost, no longer alone. We were with our countrymen.”
[You can read more about Ellis Island, its immigrants and staff, in my historical novel, Guardians of the Gate.]