“Huddled Masses Yearning to Breathe Free”

On January 1, 1892, a fifteen-year old Irish girl named Annie Moore became the first of the more than twelve million immigrants who would pass through the doors of the Ellis Island Immigration Station in its sixty-two years of operation. This small island off the New Jersey coast in the New York Harbor lies in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. Together, these two landmarks have welcomed millions of immigrants to America.

Emigrants [i.e. immigrants] Landing at Ellis Island. Alfred C. Abadie, camera; filmed, July 9, 1903; United States: Thomas A. Edison, Inc., 1903. The Life of a City: Early Films of New York, 1898 to 1906. Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Division

The film opens with a view of the steam ferryboat William Myers laden with passengers approaching a dock at the Ellis Island Immigration Station. The vessel is docked, the gangway is placed, and the immigrant passengers are seen coming up the gangway and onto the dock where they cross in front of the camera.

Immigrants who had just completed their journeys across the Atlantic Ocean would dock at Ellis Island, where they disembarked. The passengers were screened by doctors for obvious physical ailments and by officers who reviewed their legal documents. If they were in reasonably good health and their papers were in order, immigrants were allowed into the United States within a few hours of their arrival.

Inspection Room, Ellis Island, New York, N.Y. between 1900 and 1915. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division.

“At seven o’clock our boat lifted anchor and we glided up the still waters of the harbour. The whole prow was a black mass of passengers staring at the ferry-boats, the distant factories, and sky-scrapers. Every point of vantage was seized, and some scores of emigrants were clinging to the rigging. At length we came into sight of the green-grey Statue of Liberty, far away and diminutive at first, but later on, a celestial figure in a blaze of sunlight. An American waved a starry flag in greeting, and some emigrants were disposed to cheer, some shed silent tears. Many, however, did not know what the statue was. I heard one Russian telling another that it was the tombstone of Columbus.

We carried our luggage out at eight, and in a pushing crowd prepared to disembark…. At a quarter to ten we steamed for Ellis Island. We were then marched to another ferry-boat, and expected to be transported somewhere else, but this second vessel was simply a floating waiting-room. We were crushed and almost suffocated upon it. A hot sun beat upon its wooden roof; the windows in the sides were fixed; we could not move an inch from the places where we were awkwardly standing, for the boxes and baskets were so thick about our feet; babies kept crying sadly, and irritated emigrants swore at the sound of them. All were thinking–“Shall I get through?”

With Poor Immigrants to America, by Stephen Graham. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1914. p. 42-43. American Notes: Travels in America, 1750 to 1920. General Collections

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Happy New Year!

The Leonard and Felicia Bernstein family sent New Year’s Day, January 1, greeting cards to extended family and friends during the holiday season. Holiday card pictures are among the eighty-five photographs from the 1960s available online in the Leonard Bernstein Collection, held by the Library of Congress Music Division.

Bernstein with Felicia, Jamie, Alexander and Nina. Photographer Unidentified. Leonard Bernstein Collection. Music Division
Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story. Holograph Piano-Vocal Score, 1957. Copyright renewed. Used by permission of the Leonard Bernstein Music Publishing Company. Imagination Gallery A. American Treasures of the Library of Congress. Music Division

With more than 400,000 items including music and literary manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, audio and video recordings, fan mail, and other materials, this collection, donated by the Bernstein family in 1992, is one of the largest and most varied special collections in the Music Division.

During the 1960s, Leonard Bernstein donated the sketches and piano-vocal scores from West Side Story to the Library of Congress. The holograph piano-vocal score of the song, “Something’s Coming” composed by Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim for the character of Tony, is one of the items on display in the Imagination section of the exhibition American Treasures of the Library of Congress.

Could it be? Yes it could!
Something’s coming, something good!
Maybe tonight…

“Something’s Coming” from West Side Story. Composed by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.

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