Peace For A Time

Christmas 1914

The candle for the Second Sunday of Advent is the Peace candle.  In the past few years what became known as the Christmas Truce of 1914  has been the topic of  songs, movies, documentaries and an opera.  It is a moving and strange moment of peace in the midst of what was to be five years of hell.  There were Christmas truces in 1915 and a few in 1916 but as the war dragged on and death tools mounted the bitterness and hatred won the day.

Peter Capaldi reads this letter from December 24, 1914:

All the movies, music, documents and stories I have read did not prepared me for this.  Dare we even pray for “peace for our time”?

I realize this clip is not a short one but please take the time to play it all.

On this day in 1911:  Delhi replaces Calcutta as the capital of India.

A Brand New World

In which a post began last September is finally completed.

Looking across the Buttermilk Channel from Brooklyn to New York City from our stateroom on our arrival from Southampton on September 27, 2016. (A left click with enlarge the photo.)

After six days at sea last September the light house at Sandy Hook was a welcome sight. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have meant for early travellers, particularly immigrants, to see land after far longer, stormier, and less luxurious voyages across the Atlantic.  Throughout the Queen Mary 2 the origins and stories of Sam Cunard’s ships are traced in paintings of former liners, quotes, old photos, newspaper articles, portraits of famous voyagers, and potted histories of the Company’s successes.  However at the entrance to the Britannia Dining Room the panels trace the trials, successes and, sadly, failures of  their less famous passengers.  A reminder of what Trans-Atlantic travel meant for many of our parent, grandparents or great-grandparents – it followed an immigrant’s voyage from the Old World to the New.

At one end of the elevator concourse on the Queen Mary 2 this gigantic mosaic of Halifax born Samuel Cunard welcomed us aboard and bid us goodbye.  A left click will reveal what was on the tesserae that make up this impressive portrait.

It’s estimated that over 100,000 immigrants came to the shores of North America on one of the many Cunard ships that made the crossing on regular schedules. The process often began in the offices of Cunard agents throughout Europe who arranged travel to the company’s ports of departure and onward to New York, Boston, Halifax or Quebec City. The class most of these hopeful – often desperate – passengers travelled in was called “steerage”.  In the early days of sailing ships the name was apt – the area that had carried cargo from the New World to the Old served as sleeping quarters, dining room and bathroom for as many as 500 people crowded together like cattle for voyages that took up to 40 days.

A “guinea” was monetary value to denote charges to the gentry.  It was equivalent to £1-05s-0d.  Professionals were paid in guineas, labourers in Pounds.

Eventually wooden wind-powered ships were replaced by steel hulled steam ships which cut the longest journey to 12 days.  The United States government took the lead in demanding a standard for passenger carriage – the United Kingdom reluctantly followed suit and by the later half of the 19th and into the early 20th century standards had improved for what was often now called “Third Class”.  Sleeping quarters were segregated, sanitary conditions vastly improved, basic food provided and a promenade deck provided fresh air.  The Captain was now being held responsible for the cleanliness, health, and discipline on board his ship and fines were severe for non-compliance.

The Cunard agents booked the emigrants passage to the departure port, arranged accommodation (in hostels affiliated with the line) and transportation to the ship. Ofttimes it was  here that the change of names took place not as erroneously thought on New Yorks’ Ellis Island, Halifax’s Pier 21 or Quebec City’s Grosse Isle and Louise Basin.  The agents were dealing with people who’s language or even alphabet was not their own and names would be shortened or Anglicized and appeared in their new form on the ships’s manifest.  More often than not immigration officers in the receiving ports were recent immigrants or sons of immigrants themselves and spoke several languages.  New York’s mayor Fiorello LaGuardia was an officer at Ellis Island for several years and spoke Italian, Yiddish, German, French, Hungarian, and Croatian as well as English.  And he was not unusual for that.

The Manifest of Alien Passengers on the HMS Luciana which set sail from Liverpool on September 19th, 1903 and arrived New York on September 26th.

As Cunard was subject to fines for anyone deemed inadmissible the Company set aside sheds at their ports where doctors examined all the steerage passengers prior to boarding.  They were then given an antiseptic bath, a haircut and their luggage subject to disinfecting by steam – a process which often destroyed their worldly belongings as well as germs and vermin.  They would then be quarantined for several days before boarding their ship.

Cunard’s SS Lucania served the Liverpool, Queenstown, New York corridor from her launching in 1893 until 1907 when she was replaced by RMS Lusitania.

The Queen Mary displays centred on immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, but the experience was much the same in Boston, Halifax or Quebec City.  The Commanding Officers would present the passenger manifests and the required paper work to an Immigration Official who had boarded the ship with the pilot.   As well as the manifest affidavits addressing the health of those on board were required.

The following transcript is taken from the  Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild* entry for the arrival Manifest of the Cunard liner SS Lucania from Liverpool, England and Queenstown, Ireland into New York City on July 28, 1902.

Affidavit of the Master or Commanding Officer, or First or Second Officer.

I, Jas. B. Watt, Master of the Lucania from Queenstown do solemnly, sincerely, and truly swear that I have caused the surgeon of said vessel sailing therewith, or the surgeon employed by the owners thereof, to make a physical and oral examination of each and all of the aliens names in the foregoing lists or Manifest sheets, 9 in number, and that from the report of said surgeon and from my own investigation, I believe that no one of said aliens is an idiot, or insane person, or is a pauper, or is likely to become a public charge, or is suffering from a loathsome or a dangerous contagious disease, or is a person who has been convicted of a felony or other crime or misdemeanour involving moral turpitude, or a polygamist, or an anarchist, or under promise or agreement, express or implied to perform labour in the United States, or a prostitute, and also, according to my knowledge and belief, the information in said Lists or Manifest concerning each of said aliens named therein is correct and true in every respect.

(signed) J. B. Watt, Commanding Officer

Sworn to before me this 28th day of July, 1906 at New York
(signed) (illegible) Immigration Officer

Affidavit of Surgeon

I, B. Sydney Jones, Surgeon of the Lucania, Sailing Herewith, do solemnly, sincerely, and truly swear that I have had 9 years’ experience as a Physician and Surgeon and that I am entitled to practice as such by and under the authority of RCP London & RCS, Eng., and that I have made a personal examination of each of the aliens named herein, and that the foregoing Lists or Manifest Sheets, 9 in number, are, according to the best of my knowledge and belief, full, correct, and true in all particulars, relative to the mental and physical condition of such aliens.
(Signed) B.Jones.

Sworn to before me this 28th day of July, 1906, at New York.

(Signed) (illegible), Immigration Officer.

After the Immigration Officials had been reassured that indeed the Commanding Officer and Surgeon of the Lucania  had personally checked all the people on the 9 pages of the Manifest who were not citizens of the United States the process of verifying the suitability of said aliens to reside in the United States began.  Of the 970 passengers on board 570 were in steerage, though not all of them were immigrants, passenger #869 was author Sinclair Lewis who was returning home to continue his schooling at Yale.

Upon docking at either the Hudson or East River pier the cabin class passengers would disembark and proceed through what were lax procedures even for those who were immigrants.  Often people who otherwise would have been “excludable” would spend the extra money on a cabin knowing that their chances of avoiding being deported were better as “cabin class” passengers.

The Princzess Irene was a North German Lloyd steamship that did the Genoa-Napoli-New York run until the outbreak of the Great War.  Stranded in New York Harbour it was seized by the US and was rechristened the USS Pocahontas.

It was not so easy for those in steerage.  Wearing tags bearing their manifest number they would be hurried along to board barges and then wait for hours for transport to Ellis Island for processing.  Even then a type of segregation was practised and passengers would be lined up according to their appearance with the prosperous-looking in the front of the line.  Those who Cunard officials felt would possibly hold up the process – poorly or unusually dressed passengers – were kept to the last.

A button-hook was used to lift the immigrant’s eyelids to check for trachoma.

On arriving the passengers, who were allowed to enter the main shed in groups of thirty, would face their first challenge:  a wide steep staircase to the Registry Room.  Most were unaware that they were being watched by medical inspectors as they struggled to reach the top carrying the possessions they had brought with them.   Anyone showing difficulty – gasping, stopping – had a large “H” marked on their back in chalk, a signal for a further medical check.  They were eyed quickly from head to toe and further chalk marks could be added – “G” for goitre, “L” for lame, “B” for back.  Elaborate hairdos were suspected of camouflaging possible scalp diseases, a child of an age to walk who was being carried was examined for infantile paralysis, signs of mental weakness were looked for; the inspectors had it down to a science and the process was quick and over in less than three minutes.  The final check was the dreaded “eye” men; using button-hooks they would lift the eye-lids of each passenger looking for signs of highly infectious trachoma.  A large chalk “X” could lead to further examinations, possibly hospitalization, and in many cases deportation.

If the immigrant passed the medical there was still the Immigration Inspector to see – the final arbiter with many questions about you: Who you were?  Where you came from? Why you were immigrating?  Were you an anarchist? Were you a polygamist?  Did you have relatives in the United States?  Many of the same questions Cunard had asked you on their manifest.  The inspecting officer would make notations on the manifest and indications of their decision.

Four to five hours after their arrival at Ellis Island almost 98% of the immigrants were free to leave.  The sad unlucky few who had been refused would be held on Ellis Island (sometimes for a lengthy period in the detention hospital there), deported on the next ship back to England or Ireland and an unknown fate. Such was the case of Frum Churchin who had made the trip to be reunited with her husband, who had no doubt come ahead to get settled and then send for his wife.  This transcript is taken from the documentation from the arrival of the SS Lucania on July 28, 1902.

882* Churchin, Frum? 46y; female; married (stamped over: “In Hospital”); HWife;
Contract 43236; can read/write; Nationality: Russia; Race-Hebrew; Last Resi-(“Russia” heavily written over something else); Final Dest: New York
City; tkt?-yes; Pd by Self; Has $10; In US before?-no; Joining Husband, N. Churchin, 282 Monroe St, New York City, NY; In prison-no; Polygamist-no;
Anarchist-no; Promise of Labor-no; Health-?; Crippled/Deformed-no.

“Deported” stamped over passenger number on Manifest.

Amongst the standard information – literacy, nationality, race, funds, anarchist (?) is the dreaded question mark following “Health”.  Mrs Churchin had been subjected to the button-hook and according to the deportation record below (though the name is spelled differently the passenger number is identical) trachoma had been detected rendering her inadmissible.  She had been given one meal – a dinner – at the Island facility and then boarded on the RMS Carmania (another Cunard liner) for return three days after her arrival.

*Chinejin, Fruine 46y; female; Grp 5, Pg. 1; 1 person (Pass 882); Cause of
Detention-Dr.Cert. Trachome; Insp-Rotz; Def: 7/30, Pg (unclear); Secy-Lor;
Deported: 10:30 7/31/06, Carmain, Officer: Kennedy; Meals: 1-Dinner.

It is hard to imagine the emotion after such a long voyage – which according to the records started in Russia – to be so close and yet so far. What would happen to her? Where and what was she headed for when she returned to Liverpool? What of her husband who was no doubt waiting for her? Trachoma was largely untreatable and repeated infections lead to blindness.  Unfortunately though much has been done in transcribing passenger list from to the New World very little seems to have been done to record the return voyage.  I’ve been unable to trace anything about Frum Churchin (Fruine Chinejin) after she left New York on July 31, 1906.  Sadly this was often the fate of those who were turned back.

Reading over what I have written since that day in September when we stood in line for the longest time to go through Immigration at the Brooklyn Cruise dock after seven days on a luxury liner I question how I would have fared as an immigrant over a century ago.  And I think back to my mother in 1919 – a 17 year old girl who had never been outside of Crumlin coming to a strange country to be with family she had never met.  I can only imagine the courage, and often the desperation, that it took for her and all those others to take that step.  And I think how lucky for me and so many of us that that step was taken.

On this day in 1900:  The German liner SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse becomes the first ship to send wireless signals to shore.

Words From the Front

In the trenches ….

A recent film festival at City Cinema, our local (and I do mean local it’s two blocks away from us) art film venue, showed several films made by Island directors including a short made by two students at Morrell Regional High School in the North East of the Island.  Logan Fulford and Shane Pendergast created this short as part of their school commemoration of Remembrance Day last year.

In an interview with CBC Pendergast explained that he and Fulford had discovered an recording of a World War I veteran describing life in the trenches and they wanted to take the viewer into the scene he so vividly paints.  “We went out to this big dirt pit. It was raining that day, pouring rain, and we were out there for four or five hours,” explained Pendergast. “We dug our own trenches, my buddy was dressed up as a soldier. We got an actual helmet from World War I.”

Pendergast is now studying film at York University and will also be taking part in the November 11 ceremony in Ottawa.    His essay focusing on the music of the trenches made him a national winner in the Royal Canadian Legion’s 2016 Poster and Literary Contest. He will be laying a wreath on behalf of the young people of Canada.

On this day in 1901: Bloody clashes take place in Athens following the translation of the Gospels into demotic Greek.

Ein bisschen Volkskunst – A Baroque Procession

Often when I am in a museum I find myself by-passing something that is a “major” attraction to focus on a more obscure work.  Last month’s visit to the Tiroler Volkskunst Museum was no exception.  They have so many wonderful pieces on display but for some reason one relatively small work caught my attention.

In 1772 in the market town of Tefls – about 40 kms from Innsbruck – the Confraternity of the Scapular celebrated the centenary of the society’s founding in the region.   Though the Vision of the Virgin to Saint Simon Stock is reputed to have happened on July 16, 1251 the laity were not granted the wearing of the miraculous garb until the 1500s. Confraternities sprang up throughout Europe as the pious vowed to faithfully pray to the Madonna and received the small pieces of brown cloth with the promise of salvation that the Virgin had pronounced to St Simon. Though membership in the Confraternity was chiefly from the ruling and merchant classes the poor – as was befitting for the Barefoot Order of the Carmelites – were not excluded from either the benefits of the scapular or the festivities of the celebration.

There would have been any number of events to commemorate the occasion – High Masses, Te Deums, sermons, perhaps even concerts in the homes of the more well-to-do and guild halls – but one event that is carefully documented is a Procession which took place involving the clergy, guilds and people of the surrounding area.  An anonymous artist recorded the procession in detail on a carved wooden plaque and left us a record of a parade typical of the Baroque period.   It was this small oil on wood recording this procession that caught and held my attention.

I took a series of close up photos (without flash and with permission – any reflection is from the overhead lighting) and began to examine the small figures in detail. My curiosity led to an e-mail asking for information about the painting.  I received a very speedy and detailed reply from Herlinde Menardi of the Museum staff; in answer to a further inquiry she went to the added effort of transcribing and translating the Latin-German notations into English. 1000 grazie to Frau Menardi – another reason that the Volkskunst Museum should be proud.

A left click on the photo will lead you to a closer look at this elaborate procession celebrating the centenary of the Confraternity of the Scapular in Telfs. Note that the timing allowed on the slide show doesn’t give sufficient time to read the commentary but it can always be scrolled through manually.

As well as this contemporary record the museum holds a wealth of the standards, lanterns and statues that would have been carried in procession. Finely worked banners – some painted, others embroidered – would flutter in the air, portable tableau (many painted, some in plaster) of scenes from the Gospels or stories of the Saints (particularly local favourites or Guild patrons) were carried on the shoulders of the stout men of the town and statues would be processed among groups sometimes of scrubbed boys and girls under the watchful eye of a nun or priest or guild members in their finest. Ornately carved standards would show the passion of a saint, a miracle of Christ or an event from the Old Testament that would illuminate the role of the church in the life of the populace.

These two processional standards are ornately carved representations of the Trinity – a Risen Christ on the left with the Dove of the Holy Spirit hovering over him, a God the Father again with the Dove on the right. They display the craftsmanship of the local wood carver and the fine painting and gilding of the period.

 Though other saints and worthies representing the various groups would be carried the most important were representations of the Madonna and Child.  The figures’ heads, hands and feet were painted wood and the bodies of canvas stuffed with horsehair.  They would be outfitted in elaborate dresses and robes  – studded with faux gems and heavy with embroidery – to fit the feast being celebrated. In fact in many towns and villages the statute of the Madonna had more changes of clothes than some of the local women!

This parade statue of the Madonna would be clothed in robes – even a wig – befitting the event being celebrated. Robes were of the finest materials and would attest to the weaving skills of the area. Behind the statue are more of the elaborate standards – this pair bearing painted scenes of the life of the Virgin.

The local craftsmen would create elaborate cherub bedecked and baroque curlicued thrones to bear the Madonna and Child.  As the cult of the Virgin Mary gained importance her statue with the Christ Child – though as the cult strengthened he would often take a back seat – would become central to any celebration. Orders and parishes would out do each other in the splendid presentation of the Madonna to indicate both the devotional and material wealth of the parish.  For a Procession such as the one on record the robes would have been the finest – if not by our standards the most tasteful – that could be afforded.

This Madonna and Child are crowned and enthroned on a baroque excess of gilt curlicues and adoring cherubs. Poles – equally carved and adorned – were fitted under the ornate base enabling stout fellows of the region to carry the statue through the town and countryside. Depending on the heaviness of the ferculum as many as 12 men could be needed to bear it on its route.

Though the splendour of the baroque has become little more than memories and curiosities in museums it is still possible in parts of the Tirol to see processions moving from town to town on High and Holy days. Less elaborate than those of their ancestors nonetheless these parades continue to show the devotion and the traditional craftsmanship of the Tirol region.

Again many thanks to Herlinde Menardi for her help with information on this fascinating (for me at least) piece of Tirolean history.

01 Marzo – San David del Galles

Trieste – Michez and Jachez

I might get arguments from my friends Simonetta, Marco, Walter or Vincenzo, who after all know the country better than I, but I honestly think that Trieste’s Piazza Unità d’Italia is the loveliest square in all of Italy. Grand buildings and pleasant cafes on three sides and open to the Adriatic on the fourth it has a lightness that I don’t recall in any other piazza so far in my travels.

And it has Michez and Jachez – two sterling chaps, well more bronze than sterling these days – who announce the hour, every hour on the hour, to the good citizens of Trieste. They – or chaps much like them – have been performing that service since the 17th century. The Port clock tower was pulled down in 1838 and the original pair relegated to the junk heap to the very vocal horror of the populace.

When the new city hall was built in 1873 the clock tower was designed to be reminiscent of its ancestor and the new Michez and Jachez (in cast zinc) put into place in January of 1876. They did their job faithfully until, finally worn out by sea salt air and almost a hundred years of non-stop working, they were replaced by bronze replicas in 1972.

The 1876 pair were kept in a warehouse until 2005 when they were restored. After a careful cleaning of the zinc alloy and the iron bearings, all the cracks and holes were filled in and a wax-based protective coating with a a corrosion inhibitor was applied.

Then they were honorably retired to the courtyard of the Castello San Giusto – not required to work but now in peak condition ready at a moments notice to spring into action.

07 giugno – San Candido