Story of the First Through Ellis Island Is Rewritten
Annie Moore is memorialized by bronze statues in New York Harbor and Ireland and cited in story and song as the first of 12 million immigrants to arrive at Ellis Island. Her story, as it has been recounted for decades, is that she went west with her family to fulfill the American dream — eventually reaching Texas, where she married a descendant of the Irish liberator Daniel O’Connell and then died accidentally under the wheels of a streetcar at the age of 46.
The first part of the myth seems authentic enough.
Hustled ahead of a burly German by her two younger brothers and by an Irish longshoreman who shouted “Ladies first,” one Annie Moore from County Cork set foot on Ellis Island ahead of the other passengers from the steamship Nevada on Jan. 1, 1892, her 15th birthday. She was officially registered by the former private secretary to the secretary of the treasury and was presented with a $10 gold piece by the superintendent of immigration.
“She says she will never part with it, but will always keep it as a pleasant memento of the occasion,” The New York Times reported in describing the ceremonies inaugurating Ellis Island.
As for what happened next, though, history appears to have embraced the wrong Annie Moore.
“It’s a classic go-West-young-woman tale riddled with tragedy,” said Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, a professional genealogist. “If only it were true.”
In fact, according to Mrs. Smolenyak Smolenyak’s research, the Annie Moore of Ellis Island fame settled on the Lower East Side, married a bakery clerk and had 11 children. She lived a poor immigrant’s life, but her descendants multiplied and many prospered.
The story of the immigrant girl who went west, however, became so commonly accepted that even descendants of the Annie Moore who died in Texas came to believe it. Over the years, several have been invited to participate at ceremonies on Ellis Island and in Ireland.
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