Saturday, 7 September 2013
Immigrants arrived laden with sacks, carpet bags, small trunks, rolled-up bundles tucked under their arm or balanced on their head. Luggage would be stowed on the ground floor while they proceeded up the stairs.
Everyone must first walk up the stairs to be inspected. Children over two had to walk unaided to prove they weren’t disabled. Anyone limping or short of breath was hauled out of line for further health checks. Anyone too carefully watching their step was suspected of having an eye problem. Fractious children or sulky teenagers could be pulled out of line and given a test for the feeble-minded. These stairs came to be known as ‘the six second exam.’
When they reached the top they would indeed catch their breath in amazement at what they saw. A huge, grand, high-ceilinged hall divided into railed channels along which they were herded like cattle.
After that came the inspections. There would be a long wait in a queue, often for hours. Some would strike up music on an accordion or banjo, and do a little impromptu dance, while waiting. At the end of each line a doctor, dressed in the blue uniform of the US Health Service, carefully scrutinised every man, woman and child for physical or mental defects. Hair, face, neck and hands were closely examined, including the scalp for ringworm. Coats were unbuttoned to check for a goitre or tumour, or pregnancy.
Rosie Belsfield feels as if her life has ended when she is rejected from Ellis Island and has to return alone to England leaving her family behind. But having boarded the ship with one identity, fate decrees that she leave it with another. The promise of a new life beckons, one of riches and even a title in beautiful Cornwall, but it is also one fraught with danger as she becomes caught up in a web of lies not of her making.
Published by Allison & Busby