Author Mark Lamster interviews 97-year-old Morris Moel, who might possibly be the oldest surviving immigrant to come to America on the Red Star Line, whose ships brought thousands and thousands of immigrants to the USA. (Although my Grandpa Rudroff was a Hamburg American Line guy himself.)
Moel’s memories of his 1922 odyssey make it clear that the immigrant’s journey could be not only uncomfortable, but downright hair-raising. He remembers reaching the Russian-Polish border:
“The Russian part of the border was all forest. And we were stopped. I heard rifles being cocked while we were walking. Russian soldiers. And the soldiers searched everyone and took everything that was valuable and said you’ve got to go back, and I guess they [the guides] knew another route so we got through. And the Polish border was absolutely free, but it was all snow. I was so little and my older brother dragged me across that border.”
And this was only the beginning! Read the whole thing, along with Lamster’s Wall Street Journal article on the formation of a Red Star Line museum in Antwerp.
My grandfather, John [Johann Georg] Rudroff, is the one on the right. We are not certain about the identity of the buddy on the left. I believe this picture was taken at some point in the 1930s near the Socony (Standard Oil Company of New York) plant in Greenpoint, where my grandfather worked from shortly after his arrival in America from Germany to the time of his retirement. I like this picture because it’s a nice counterbalance to my childhood memories of Grandpa, who was not the playful, humorous sort around little kids. Not mean, just not a laugh riot.
P.S. Standard Oil Company of New York was born out of the 1911 breakup of the gigantic Standard Oil monopoly. It later became Mobil, which became Exxon. There’s a little corporate genealogy for you.
P.P.S.: Apparently the Greenpoint Socony plant was the locale of one of the biggest oil spills in U.S. history. Sigh.
The Library of Congress recently made available for online viewing a vivid set of historic films of New York City. The collection, “The Life of a City: Early Films of New York, 1898-1906,” can be viewed at the Library of Congress YouTube channel. You can also download some or all of the 43 films for repeat viewing (I did it using iTunesU).
The clips are black-and-white, and silent, naturally. While the longest clip clocks in at just over 11 minutes, most are only one or two minutes long. But the brevity doesn’t spoil the joy of seeing New York as it looked at the turn of the century, when my dad’s ancestors were moving there from the Capital District. (And also when my German ancestors began arriving, too!).
The gems include the arrival of immigrants to the Ellis Island depot, taken by the Biograph Company in 1906.
Here is an Edison Company clip of a so-called “Street Arab,” a young street performer doing his thing in 1898:
The second clip is noteworthy in that it shows a child. For the most part, women and children are scarce in these clips. There are exceptions: a lovely skating scene, for example. But most of the clips show Events of Note: skyscrapers a-building, war heroes’ funerals, bridge openings in which mostly male dignitaries parade the span.
This is hardly surprising, if frustrating to the family historian who’d like to see more of the city’s entire population. But the filmmakers weren’t really documentarians — they were pioneers in an infant industry, flexing their muscles by training their cameras on a busy, crowded city. And we certainly benefit from the record.
(h/t to the Open Culture blog.)
Fresh from the Department of Neat Ideas comes something called Historypin, best described as Google street view with vintage photos thrown in. The Flowing Data blog explains that it is the brainchild of the organization We Are What We Do, built in conjunction with Google and intended as an Internet experience through which older and younger generations can connect.
The idea is you can look up an address and see both the current street view plus a vintage street view of the same area, assuming somebody has uploaded one. The site seems to be in the beta stage, and there aren’t terribly many photos yet. But the potential fun and potential educational value are obvious, especially as more people upload photos. (Thanks to Actuarial Opinions for forwarding the item!)