At Pier 6, a Day of Judgment

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Unlike the vast majority of U.S. immigrants who came through Ellis Island, the passengers on board the Hawaii Maru in January 1918 would not be greeted by the majestic Lady Liberty as they approached America. Leaving behind the open, blue waters of the Pacific, they would enter a long, narrow strait with Vancouver Island on one side and the Olympic Mountains on the other. After navigating past a series of peninsulas and islands, the ship would enter Puget Sound as it approached its destination.

[For years, vessels sailing from foreign ports had been required to stop at the Diamond Point Quarantine Station, located at about this spot in the journey. It’s unclear whether the Hawaii Maru stopped there, but recent shifts in immigration policy (read this aside to learn more) as well as evidence from the ship manifest (described below) suggest they did not.]

Rising above the shoreline, passengers would glimpse the city of Seattle perched on a series of hills, with the Cascade Mountains, including Mount Rainier, as a backdrop. Thanks to its geographic location, Seattle had thrived since the turn of the century, first as a launchpad for prospectors after the discovery of gold in Canada and Alaska and later as a center for trade and shipping. New, imposing structures dominated the skyline, including the 17-story Hoge Building built in 1911 and the 42-story Smith Tower completed in 1914, all evidence of the city’s growing prosperity.

The ship carrying Mariasia and her daughters, along with 70 other passengers, would pull into Pier 6, in the heart of Seattle, on Friday, Jan. 25, 1918. The pier served as the terminal for the McCormick Steamship Line, the Munson McCormick Line and the Osaka Shosen Kaisha, owners of the Hawaii Maru. Built in 1902, the pier was located at the foot of University Street, adjacent to the Pike Place Market, which already had been in operation for more than a decade by the time of the Naginskys’ arrival.

The immigration station at Seattle was not set up to handle large numbers of people. There was no single building physically separated from the mainland to process thousands of immigrants, as there was at Ellis Island. According to guidance prepared for the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society representative who would meet arriving ships, it appears that passengers were processed right at the pier (although the Immigration Building was located just a couple blocks away, at 84 Union Street).

As at Ellis Island, processing in Seattle likely involved multiple physical examinations and interviews. According to Irving Howe’s “World of Our Fathers,” passengers would stand in lines to undergo basic medical evaluations, and those with obvious issues would be marked with chalk to indicate they needed further inspection in a certain area. Through an interpreter, immigrants would be asked questions to determine if they were alert or “dull-witted.” The inspectors also would make sure children could walk and were not deaf or dumb, which, of course, was an issue for Mariasia’s daughter Zepora. A second medical specialist would evaluate the passengers for “contagious and loathsome diseases,” and a third doctor — “often feared the most” — would conduct eye examinations looking for trachoma, responsible for half of all medical detentions. As Howe wrote: “It is a torment hard to understand, this first taste of America, with its poking of flesh and prying into private parts and mysterious chalking of clothes.”

The ship manifestSeattleWashingtonPassengerandCrewLists2 Hawaii Maru Ship Manifest reveals some interesting facts about the Naginskys gathered from a final interview with an immigration inspector. Either John Wyckoff or J. McCullough, the two document signatories, asked Mariasia questions about things such as character, family and money. She revealed that the closest relative she left behind was her father, Shlomo Balotin, in Potzib, Russia [Pochep]. She indicated that she would be joining her husband, A. Naginsky, at #422 Blake Avenue in Brooklyn, N.Y., but she didn’t yet have a ticket to her destination. Fortunately, the inspector indicated that she was not a polygamist, anarchist, or deformed or crippled. It noted that she arrived with 70 rubles, which appears to be converted to the dollar amount of $90.

The manifest also has some notations that indicated the Naginskys encountered some difficulties in the immigration station. The medical examiner signed his name to the following statement: “Seattle, Wash., 1/25/18: I hereby certify that the above named aliens are not suffering from any physical or mental defect or disease excepting — 3, 5, 17.” Mariasia’s oldest daughter, Jhina, was listed on line 17. The immigration inspectors signed their names to additional information stating that those individuals listed on lines 8, 9, 10, 13, 14, 15-22, 25-27 of the manifest, including the entire Naginsky family on lines 16-22, were “Held B.S.I. Lines” — in other words, they needed to be evaluated by the Board of Supervising Inspectors.

Whatever issues may have arisen before the Board of Supervising Inspectors — whether they involved Jhina, Zepora or something else entirely — would be resolved quickly. On Jan. 25, 1918 — 95 years ago yesterday — the Naginsky family was cleared by immigration. Next to each of their names on the final manifest is a single, faded stamp of the word they had awaited for years: “Admitted.”

6 comments on “At Pier 6, a Day of Judgment

  1. Neil "Nick" Friedman says:

    Naomi-This is really thrilling. Reading your blog and the manifests really makes our history come to life. Clearly they landed in 1918. My mother used 1912 as her births year. This would make her 6 years old when they landed. Most probably the journey, or at least its latter portion, would be within her memory yet she never acknowledged any recollection of the trip. Grandma would recall to us the difficulty she had with the immigration officers who threatened to send Sylvia (Zepora) back due to her disability. As Grandma told it she demanded that they all be sent back if Sylvia wasrefused entry.

    • nsgreer says:

      Glad you enjoyed it! I had 1912 as your mother’s birth year as well (it must have been on some document), but the manifest and her HIAS arrival cards (coming in next post) say she was 4 years old when she arrived, which would account for her lack of memory of the event. That’s the frustrating thing about public documents — they are often in conflict. I also remember hearing the story about Sylvia/Zepora, but the documents suggest the immigration officers had a problem with Janet. Maybe they just marked the wrong girl!

  2. Neil "Nick" Friedman says:

    (continued)My understanding is that the steamship line would then be billed for thereturn passage making this option not viable. At this point the immigration officer relented and Grandma and her children were admitted (yay)! I note that the 4 younger daughters were born in Alexandrovsky whereas Grandma and Janet (Jhina) were born in Cherginoff. I find this interesting. What a fascinating story

    • nsgreer says:

      Yes, that is my understanding as well. You may recall that I mentioned in a recent post that steamship companies required passengers to pass a medical exam before they could purchase tickets. Also, as I said in this post, the U.S. started conducting exams at the foreign ports as another safeguard against the spread of contagious diseases.

  3. […] July preparing to depart for Seattle. Some of those cases were fatal. This incident is cited in the 1917 Annual Report of the Surgeon General as the impetus behind new rules requiring all steerage passengers traveling on foreign ships from […]

  4. […] house of the Seattle branch of the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society, about 2 miles from Pier 6. As described in the HIAS representative’s instructions, the immigrants were to be […]

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