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Out of the Balkans

Appendix B
 
Third Class Travel (Steerage)

Third Class ship travel was the mass transportation of its day, designed specifically to bring hundreds of thousands of poor immigrants from Europe to the shores of the United States.

The following is a partially fictional but reasonable account of Eleni and Evangelia's journey to America.

* * * * * * *

On a hot day in July of 1912, at the port of Piraeus, Eleni and Evangelia waited to board their ship to America. In a processing room next to the wharf where the S.S. Macedonia was being loaded they were given a rudimentary physical examination, for if found unhealthy at Ellis Island they would be shipped back to Greece at the ship owner's expense.

After the medical examination, Eleni and Evangelia were segregated into the Third Class Women's Group. Single men and women were separated into their respective gender groups, and married couples with or without children formed the third group.

Once on board, Eleni and Evangelia were taken down into the bottom of the ship, below the water line. There they found a large hold filled with bunks, three or four high, that had pseudo-mattresses of stretched canvass. A single blanket (no pillow) was on each bunk.

Eleni selected two bunks and crammed what few possessions they had into them, leaving enough room for them to stretch out to sleep.

The ship left its mooring and entered the Bay of Salamis in what was a gentle sea. Nonetheless, within a very few minutes, the ships motion, stale air, noise and fear nauseated several passengers. There was one communal toilette with no privacy. Slop buckets were provided for emergency use; elimination or nausea. There were no bathing facilities; only a cold water tap and sink.

Dank, cold moisture condensed on the bare metal hull of the ship.

Meals were self-served from huge tureens; generally stews made with the least expensive meats and vegetables. There were few stewards serving Third Class. But the ship owners had reason to feed the passengers well enough to assure their good health on arrival at Ellis Island.

Days passed. The ship left the Straits of Gibraltar behind and entered the Atlantic. Seas roughened. The noise of the hull as it ploughed through the water and the pounding of the engines and groan of the turn screws created such noise that sleep was almost impossible. There was no entertainment. The passengers played cards, sang songs, and if there were a musician on board with a clarinet or a bouzouki or mandolin, they might even have danced.

The smell of unwashed bodies, slop buckets, and vomit was near unbearable. On days that weather permitted, Eleni and Evangelia huddled close together on the Third Class deck and breathed fresh, cold sea air for the hour or two they were permitted the luxury.

After seventeen nightmarish days and nights, Eleni and Evangelia debarked at Ellis Island. Herded along through one processing station after another they were confused and fearful. Evangelia did not have enough money to buy rail tickets to St. Paul. Officials helped her send a telegram to Christos, who, in three days time, wired funds back to her at Ellis Island. Eleni purchased the railroad tickets, and with Evangelia was on her way, sitting up in a coach without any knowledge of the language, how to purchase food, or where she and Evangelia were going.

Eleni had never in her life seen so much land. The train rumbled past vast forested mountains in Pennsylvania, and miles of farmland in Indiana and Ohio. The rail yard in Chicago frightened them as their car was disconnected from one engine and connected to another for the trip across the plains of Wisconsin to Minnesota.

Three hard days passed before the conductor motioned for them to get off the train. They had arrived in St. Paul and found Christos waiting.

Ship owners made fortunes in Third Class passenger transportation until the immigration gates closed in the early 1920's. The ships were then either quickly converted to serve a new "Tourist" class with modest but far more comfortable accommodations than Third Class had been, or scrapped for the value of the metal remains.


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