When you arrive in New York for the first time, you can be more than a little astonished at the tall, narrow buildings you see from the harbor, as well as all of the traffic.C. Albin Jacobsson, 1902
Carl Albin Jacobsson got his first look at New York City on Saturday, May 3, 1902. Right in front of us we see Brooklyn, with the Brooklyn Bridge just to the left. . . . There, a bit behind us, we see a clear, strong light rather high up in the sky. This comes from “The Statue of Liberty” . . . the statue stretches its right hand toward the heavens holding a torch with large flames. Albin’s viewpoint was the deck of RMS Celtic, at dock 4 or 5 on the East River (likely in Brooklyn). That Saturday night was to be his last on board, in a cabin he had shared with five Swedish friends on their seven-day passage from Liverpool. The 1st- and 2nd-class passengers had already disembarked, but the rest of us had to stay onboard overnight until the following day, Sunday, May 4, when we were sent to an island called Ellis Island.1
As a new immigrant to America, with no family here, Albin needed a place to stay. Aboard the Celtic, he and his friend Ahlström had decided that they would go together to the Methodist immigrant home. Then, they and their other friends from home lost each other in the shuffle of getting to Ellis Island. Finding himself alone after being processed as an immigrant Albin determined, there was no sense in losing my courage now. . . . I continued on my way. A representative from the Swedish Lutheran Church Immigrant Home soon offered assistance and Albin accepted. They headed toward a ferry bound for New York’s Castle Garden.
Albin found Ahlström down in an alley that led to the ferry. He had also entrusted himself to the same representative. It goes without saying that we were both happy. A few minutes walk after the ferry landed, Albin and Ahlström arrived at No. 5 Water Street, the Lutheran Home, where they discovered their other friends. They had also come to the wrong place, and so that is how our group met up again completely by accident.
The Swedish Lutheran Immigrant Home was started in 1873 to serve Swedish seafarers, and had added Swedish immigrants to their ministry by 1902.2 It was not expensive: 25 cents for a room shared by six men and 25 cents for each meal. But, Albin found it neither clean nor pleasant and they spent only one night. He and Ahlström took a streetcar the next day to Brooklyn, where their friend Sandkvist had found lodging. Here there were about 20 boarders, all Swedes—six were acquaintances from the city of Eskilstuna, where Albin had been living in Sweden. He called this boarding house in Brookkyn, Eskilstuna in miniature.
We arrived at our new residence and found it to be exceptionally good, very good food and nice rooms. Mrs. Lundin, the woman we took our meals with, is Swedish, however she has been in America for about 30 years, Swedish traditions are maintained there and Swedish is always spoken. She is a very good woman, fair in every way, and kind and helpful toward her countrymen. We immediately felt just like her own children, so to say. We stayed there during the days, for the most part, though our room was actually a little way up the street, a few doors, as they say here.
In 2016, I located what I believe to be the two houses “a few doors” away from each other in Brooklyn, at 670 and 662 Warren Street.3 The stoop was gone from No. 670, but No. 662 appeared much as it must have when Mrs. Lundin took in boarders. Just a few blocks away is Frederick Law Olmsted’s Prospect Park. It pleases me to know that on his first Sunday in America my grandfather, Albin, visited Olmsted’s creation (as I did 114 years later) declaring, Prospect Park takes first place among parks. Shortly thereafter Albin went twice to Coney Island where he found all kinds of entertainment, both believable and unbelievable. What an adventure for a 26-year-old!
In 2018, I visited Norberg train station in Sweden where young Albin had begun his journey among family. Photos of the town, including the station, are posted at: Norberg, 2018.
I have now stood at the beginning and end of my grandfather’s 1902 journey.
This work by Bruce Jacobson is licensed under Creative Commons 4.0 International License—Attribution-ShareAlike.
Header Image – Section of 1909 “Birds Eye View Map Of New York And Vicinity” by C. S. Hammond & Co., New York, is part of the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection (http://www.davidrumsey.com/maps2134.html : accessed 22 May 2019) used under a Creative Commons 2.0 License.
Birds-eye panorama, “The City of New York,” by Currier and Ives, 1870, courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington (https://www.loc.gov/item/75694809/ : accessed 26 May 2019); call number/physical location: G3804.N4A3 1870 .C8.
Photo of Swedish Lutheran Immigrant Home at No. 5 Water Street courtesy of Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois.
Photo of Bruce Jacobson at 670 Warren Street, Brooklyn, New York, by Ian Daniel Smith, 2016.
- All quoted material is from: Cynthia Wentland, transl., “To America by Carl Albin Jacobsson: An Emigrant’s 1902 Journey from Norberg, Sweden,” Bruce Jacobson, ed. (2019); privately held by Jacobson (Beacon Street, Boston).
- “The History of Seafarers International House” at Seafarers International House, (https://www.sihnyc.org/history : accessed 20 May 2019).
- Victor Arvidson and Dorothy Helen Phillips included the addresses in a 1989 translation of C. A. Jacobsson’s account, but as of this writing their source is unknown.