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Departure of Emigrants

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This is an interesting description of events in the late 1800s as emigrants waited to board their ship on their last day in Finland.

DEPARTURE OF EMIGRANTS

Written by K. A. Järvi

Shadows darkened into the darkness and the day’s voices quieted a little at a time. Even there in the straits, in the city’s outer port, it was now quiet and still, compared to the day’s noises, where the steam vessels whistled, the porters loudly clanged the luggage and the sawmill’s saws had their own peculiar, dry sound.

The levers of the machinery on the tar boiler hang still and barrels, while rolling have splashed their tar, which during the day was soft, boiled in the hot June sun and which had stuck to everything that it touched, now had solidified and hardened. Still, it gave its own fresh smell.

The tar man, who had during the night, brought his tar down the last rapids, could not get it delivered in time, but had to leave his loaded riverboat at the pier, waiting for the rise of day.

The channel quickly but peacefully flows to the sea unaware now of steam vessels or the wave tops breaking on the silly looking cargo vessel. There was no sound or sight of men working, but northern Finland’s main city’s outer harbor was silent and as if sleeping.

Some Danish schooner and Norwegian brig lay tied beside the pier. Even they were calmed and the clothing washed by the sailors in the evening, hung still on the ships ropes, where they had been placed to dry. Due to the emptying of the sand freight from foreign countries the ship was beside the pier and there was still half of the cargo (sand) left after the day’s work. The ship’s passengers and crew slept in their cabins and all doors and openings were tightly shut. On one ship’s deck, lingered only a watchman, a weathered Scandinavian, and narrow smoke billows from a slim whitish smoke stack. Even the streamers on the rear mast did not move.

Lower, was another steam boat, which in the early evening had arrived from its travels from St. Petersburg and south Finland. It gently released its last steam and in doing so, made a nice racket.

The sun had not yet quite disappeared, but spread a bloody color on Pateniemi’s saw and its nearby dark forest. The cheery, lighted summer night of northern Finland was about to begin and its quiet peace fell on all of nature, which slept with its eyes open. The dim and the dark did not come, instead it spread a twilight whenever the sun peaked through the clouds in the summer-like landscape.

But all did not sleep this night. There, at the beginning of the channel, pushed the “Norra Finland”, fully loaded, with its tremendous power and the engine running, squirted water from small holes from both sides. The propeller once in a while sounded angry turns and a dense smoke billow (monument) fell from the stack with light steam. The holds were still loaded with cargo and in that process the winch squeaked without a tune.

Every now and then a bare headed pale buffet table waitress, or some other female server, carried a full load of glasses to the rear salon, where several gentlemen, travelers and city folk were sitting. More people were on the piers during the ships departure, than on the ship. Young and happy people they were and more came on the crowded streets from the city. They could no longer get on the small steam vessels, those that had overnighted on the city’s shores. Instead they came by boats, girls and boys, playing tunes on their accordions. Those, who had to wake up early, now sacrificed the best part of the short night, as they had to be there to see the departure of the “Norra Finland”, which again took a large migrating group to the other side of the Atlantic. And all were dressed in their Sunday-best to honor this solemn last moment of those departing their land of birth.

The air in the steerage deck, where emigrants were supposed to stay, was heavy and damp, as the engine room would blow a hot, oily breath. There on benches was their place, where they spread their wool clothing and travelling gear. But the area was still empty of people. There was only an aged rural woman in cotton and dark streaked scarf and short ankled banded shoes, under which, showed thick home knitted gray wool socks. Some middle aged woman with a small child, also slept her first night on the iron ship. A couple of intoxicated rural men with their bottles made a racket, trying to assure each other how good life is in America.

Outside, the young frolicked. Soon started the dancing in a ring or to polka tunes of the accordion with the emigrants for the last time on the mainland of Finland. There danced a weathered sailor, broad breasted, in a sweater and tasseled hat with a reddish country girl, and a city laborer kicked his skinny legs with some seamstress. Their movements were quick and fluent, as a country boy, who in a new suit, watch chain showing, and a stylish felt hat on his head showed off with the others. He had sampled a bit of the spirits, which had warmed his blood and his mind proud, that to America, this boy is going. He often extended his hands briskly while dancing.

While the dancing briefly paused, the young started to walk slowly in small groups in the area. There the engaged couples moved in pairs and hand-in-hand, discussed their departure, which had been forgotten a little during the dancing; there friends talked apparently in more serious way than usually. The longing for those who stay and the homeland started gnawing in the heart, some discussed it between themselves, with tears in their eyes.

The sadness did not bother the young city folk, those who had come here only to celebrate, their cheerfulness even diminished it among the departing. Soon some youngster started playing the accordion and then again many pairs started dancing under the loading deck, where it was fun to dance the polka. But the closer the departure came, the fewer dancers there were and finally only the city folk danced alone, those who remained here in old Finland. Others joined with their friends and familiar people talked before the Atlantic’s voice disrupted it.

What was it, that attached those middle aged, crouched rural men to Finland, those who preoccupied, sat dazzled on their flashy travelling chests or occasionally exchanged words among themselves. The departure made men contemplate.

  • Perhaps it would have been best to stay in Finland, think some, who start to regret their departure
  • I don’t know, even if it was, but they only write about good there, answers another loosely and slightly sighing.
  • But go we must, as the house is sold and everything is ready for the move.
  • I am not leaving for good, when I have earned the money I will return here again, thinks another and his eyes are glossy, hoping for a good forthcoming sign.
  • What can I accomplish here anymore, when everyone is poised to rob the son of a farmer, all the civil servants and other small gentlemen.
  • That’s how it is. Here it is quite a difficult time and since they write about such good…

Short and dry was the conversation. No longer was anyone interested in explaining to others, the good side of America, as before, no, we now almost started to doubt it ourselves, when the departure was ahead of us. Still only a few days ago was America in their minds, such a desirable land, that they had to even encourage all their neighbors to go there. But now is otherwise. Why, oh why did I leave, the question is on their lips, but not freely or audibly.

Now the ship whistles for the first time and the older, more steady folk begin to settle in the ship. Life in the middle deck becomes more vivid and changeable. Some single farm hand, who is unaccompanied, fits himself carelessly to lay down on a bench, where one would think he is hoping to bury all the departure regrets. His life has never been without hard and bleak toil for the daily bread and that’s why even his heart has hardened so that he can indifferently, in his sleep, dismiss the land of his birth.

There, a middle aged woman, whose husband is already in America, settles herself on the bench. The juice of life has been squeezed out of her dry face and her eyes are bloodshot. Here a young wife breastfeeds her child, already domiciled in the iron ship. The plumpness is missing from her face and the angularity already fully developed. Beside her stands the father in an attractive intoxication sucking on a pug nosed pipe and staring occasionally at the emigrants.

The young still move about the piers. The dancing has now completely ceased, as now the homeland’s fun has been had and close friends gathered together. Robust young men were walking restlessly beside the ship and he, who had a girl friend, talked with her. Most were the sons of farm owners, and for no reason they moved from their home land, as their minds had been fascinated by those tempting letters, which were exchanged before departure.

A city gentleman, whose business had not fared too well here in the homeland, said his farewells to his family. As soon as he could, he would send a ticket to his family staying here so that they may get over the ocean. His wife’s eyes were teary and even now, she touched them with her handkerchief. The man tried to be more careless encouraging others falsely. But absent mindedly he placed his hand in his pocket touching “Emigrant’s Interpreter”, the booklet which would be his first security in the new world and from where he had, for the days of a month, rigidly learned English. Then he boarded the ship and his wife and children followed to see what type of accommodation, the father received on the ship. A gentle pharmacist graduate, who also started for America, absent mindedly looked around emptily and did not speak much to the procession of people, even though everyone around him appeared to be generous to serve him. He occasionally eyed a bunch of fresh flowers and then to a blooming girl, who stood close by. There another graduate was with the departing, but he was embarrassed about his leaving and soon withdrew to the salon.

The sun had now completely set and nature was now cold and tasteless. The air was filled with the night dew and water drops on the freshly painted handrails were half solidified together in full droplets. The steamship breathed warm steam around, which felt comforting while standing during the departure, more than the chill from the container stiffened the limbs standing in one spot. The engine sprayed still more water out and the smoke billowed more heavy from the smoke stack. The ship whistled and for the second time, longer than the first.

People there on the pier had stiffened, waiting for the departure. Hour by hour they stood more closely together on one spot, even though they were cold. The moment of departure was approaching, and after the second whistle, the majority of the departing moved to the ship. The time between two last whistles was the time for final farewells. Many shook hands with friends for longer than usually, and more sensitive were looking for security in a handkerchief. Then the majority moved to the ship and climbed to the upper deck waiting for the departure.

At the same time nature opened clear, the transparent brilliance and the day’s first light glimpsed twilight on the surface and the outer end of the channel to the sea. That light brightened, spread and warmly took the chill from the cheeks. It brightened the land and waters and played on the steamship’s shining metal. A small ripple started on the surface of the channel from the seaside, it increased and soon rose to full waves. At the rising of the sun, came the wind and the sea started in the morning air. Birds had not yet arisen, and for that reason, predominated that northern Finland’s early summer morning incomplete life, where is one’s own, still tone.

The ship whistled for the third time, long and sharp. The bridge to the pier was removed and started to remove the ropes from the bow side, so that the bow turned to the middle of the current. And so it moved slowly but surely. Even though the waves splashed on the seaside, and the engine did not run at all, they could not move the ship, as the current pushed the bow down. When it was more than half turned, the stern lines were freed and the ship was free of the pier. The engine started slowly and with it, the ship.

The ship’s upper deck was full of people waving their handkerchiefs or otherwise giving farewell signs. The people left on shore, shook their handkerchiefs or hats.

The engine started working harder and the sturdy ship moved forward. Sunshine played on the rear reflector and gilded pretty initials there. Handkerchiefs were waved for a long time. For so long as people knew their own were on the ship, which now cut the first wave of the sea. There it mixed for a while in the shelter of other ships, which rested at anchor, but soon it was alone in the line of sight, in a wavy sea, where in the distance, loomed the first beacon.

There again dwindled another healthy drop of blood from the body of Finnish people, to the foreign lands and strange bodies. Can it strengthen up there and deliver its labors as here in Finland? Was the surplus of the heart responsible for that occasional bloodshed or is it just a sign of weakness?


TO THE EMIGRANT

Why bother to live here
this toilsome life of the poor,
when you can speed past the seas,
start another life in the land of luck.

Remove the dust from the land of the poor from your feet!
So urges the shifting mind but leaves unspoken,
that often back there only dreary weather welcomes you;
but who would like to speak about that?

If, you Finn, hear that voice,
restrain yourself! Many ships
were taken to the unknown
by the winds of the world.

But if you have to leave, for the good
of your family and children,
to the strange countries where you think
you will succeed, then live for Finland!

Niilo E. Wainio



This writing was published in a Finnish calendar in 1895.


June Pelo


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