On Following the Titanic

Image from Wikipedia

Although everyone knows the its story is legendary, we were surprised how much we encountered the RMS Titanic on our recent cruise around the British Isles.

We visited Liverpool, the home of White Star Line and the location of Titanic’s registry.

Liverpool from the departing ship

We traveled on Princess Cruise Lines, which is one division within Carnival Cruise Lines – that includes Cunard Line, the company that White Star merged with following the disaster.

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We visited Belfast where the Titanic was built (the actual site is on this side of the silver building – Titanic Belfast, a museum dedicated to honoring Belfast’s shipbuilding industry that is located on the former Harland and Wolff shipyard that built Titanic)

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Our cruise started in Southampton, the same city that Titanic started.

We stopped in Cobh, Ireland (then called Queenstown) – which was Titanic’s last stop where 125 people boarded. (More about Cobh in a future post.)

Several years ago we had a cruise stop in Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada) where 150 passengers are buried in three cemeteries

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… and I imagine many readers remember this in 1997 …

… but for me, the images of this video is what strikes me.

On a Dream

Whether in the United States, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, or most other countries, each country has a story about European immigrants that began their new roots in the new land.

Before 1890, individual U.S. states handled immigration. (New York had EllisIslandOneCastle Garden.) After the Federal government took control of that process, Ellis Island became an important gateway to a new life.

From 15-year-old Irish girl Annie Moore on January 2, 1892 until 1924, the Ellis Island Immigration Center processed 12 million immigrants who serve as the foundation for over 100 million Americans today – including me – and all in the shadows of Lady Liberty’s words:

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Ellis Island processed famous names as Bob Hope, Bela Lugosi, Max Factor, and Rudolph Valentino – and my paternal grandparents who passed through EllisIslandTwoits gates in 1919. While this Island of Hope served as a start for a new life for many, it was also the Island of Tears for the rejected 2% wanting to enter.

Once inside the country, many immigrants formed communities in their new world. For me, I enjoy visiting the ethnic neighborhoods (especially Italian) that remain today. Immigration dispersal is a story in itself as my city of Cincinnati has German and Irish heritage, while the roots in cross-state Cleveland are eastern European and Italian. Besides, I still don’t know the entire story of how a pocket of Italians ended in rural southeastern Ohio where I grew up.

Although Ellis Island served other purposes for its last 30 years (1924-1954), different immigration centers processed immigrants, including my mother in 1953, who (at the time) did not know English. Today, Ellis Island is a national monument serving as a national museum of immigration.

EllisIslandToday

The video below sparked this short reflection on immigration that actually deserves more than I’ve given. Not only does Peter Boyer’s music capture the feeling while celebrating of an important part of American history, the images reminded me of the stories of many that repeated across the country – including in my own family, which sought a dream in America.

Thank You Elsa for Your Trieste Story

Note: With the anniversary of VE Day approaching, remember those who fought in WW II.

Several years ago I took my dad to an army reunion in St. Louis. Attending were the men serving Trieste (Italy) following WW II. With the September passing of my father, I discovered this yet-to-be-posted essay.

For those that don’t know, Trieste was part of Italy during WW II. Before that, it was Austria-Hungary’s only port. Besides, as a pivotal port city at the northern tip of the Adriatic Sea, Trieste’s history is filled with conflict.

After Mussolini’s regime fell, Nazi Germany quickly moved in.  As the war was winding down, Tito’s Communistic Yugoslavian forces were engaging the Nazis in their pursuit of Trieste. With all this in mind, Trieste contained partisans Fascists, Nazis, Communists, and many native Italians who inconspicuously worked above ground for one of the sides, yet were ready for a return to normalcy.

Eventually, the Allies pushed into Trieste. Winston Churchill stated in a March 1946 speech,

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.”

Trieste was again at a pivot point in history: the start of the Cold War.

WW II ends with Trieste as a free territory divided into zones patrolled by the Allies and the Yugoslavs. This time period is where my life begins. My dad had re-enlisted into the Army and was assigned to Trieste. During this time he met my mother, they eventually married and I was born.

In 1954, the land is divided between Italy and Yugoslavia. I last visited Trieste in 1964 as part of a family vacation.

During that weekend in St. Louis I met many of the soldiers protecting Trieste. Remarkably, many of them also married Triestine women – some knew my mother (who died in 1987).

This is where I met Elsa Spencer: a gracious woman full of both American and Italian pride. When first introduced, she was signing a copy of her book to a friend. Given the title – Good-Bye Trieste – it caught my eye. Dad bought a copy, thus I spent time reading with anticipation.

Good-Bye Trieste is her story about life. It starts with a young Triestine school girl consumed by Fascism, which served as the focal point for her family history.  As the war continues, she experiences bombings, being shot at, public hangings, executions, family trauma, and eventually discovering (on her own) Fascism’s deceit.

The war ended, but her roller-coaster life continued. Eventually, she married an American soldier, and then came to the U.S. and started a new life. As I was reading, I suddenly realized not only was she telling her story, but also the story for the similar Italian women who met and married American soldiers. Oh my God – she’s also telling Mom’s story.

There’s much I didn’t know (or possibly understood) about my mother. Suddenly, 21 years after her passing, I was drawn and touched to her life through Elsa because I could relate too many of her stories. Other women in attendance confirmed the thoughts.

Good-Bye Trieste is an easy and enchanting read. It’s also an important read for anyone who grew up as I did with an Italian mother who came to America during the 1950s as a military wife. But I can’t stop there because anyone who lived in a multicultural home can relate to Elsa’s story.

So to Elsa I want to say “Thank you.” Thank you for your gracious personality. Thank you for sharing your story to help me understand Mom’s story. Thank you for giving me a better understanding of my birthplace. Thank you for renewing my tie to the region and my birthplace.

My last visit was long ago for a variety of reasons. So Elsa, because of you, I can now say, Hello Trieste – I look forward to visiting again; hopefully sooner than later. Meanwhile, I can enjoy these videos and the distant memories.

Photo courtesy of Monocle