Eager to interact with the newcomers, Dr. Stafford is quickly intrigued by their personal stories of struggles, courage, and determination. Soon though, everything is about to change on the island; major conflicts unfold, immigrants are exploited, and a riot takes place. Becoming entangled in a secret passionate relationship, Dr. Stafford witnesses President McKinley's assassination and a societal backlash against the rising tide of immigration. As he valiantly struggles to find emotional fulfillment, a series of events will lead to dramatic changes-both at Ellis Island and in his own life.
Based on actual events, Guardians of the Gate shares the intriguing tale of the people and provocative occurrences that occurred at Ellis Island during the 1890s and 1900s-through the eyes of a dedicated physician on a compelling quest for fulfillment.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.81(d)|
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Guardians of the Gate
By VINCENT N. PARRILLO
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Vincent N. Parrillo
All right reserved.
Chapter OneApril 1893
Slow, steady rain fell, dimpling the otherwise smooth, dark river waters. Visibility was so poor that the pilot of the motor launch strained his eyes through the rain and mist to detect his still-unseen island destination.
Standing next to the pilot, a stocky, scholarly-looking man—with gray hair and a stubby gray brush mustache—also peered intently ahead. Unfamiliar with his surroundings, he even more eagerly searched ahead for some sign of safe harbor. Though no wind stirred, he shivered in the dampness. Ignoring his own discomfort, forty-six-year-old Joseph Henry Senner, a German Austrian by birth, kept gazing ahead, searching for a glimpse of anything but the damp curtain before him.
The pilot confidently steered his boat to where he knew the island would be. He knew every inch of this river in all of its manifestations. To him, it was a liquid mirror, always revealing nature's moods. Its blue waters reflected the brightness of sunny days, giving a rich border to the adjoining land, while its dark waters suggested the somber mood of an overcast sky. Even blacker were its waters on a moonless night. When moonlight danced upon its surface, however, the shimmering beauty was a perfect companion to the romantic orb above. Today, though, under a cheerless, early morning sky, the river suggested a dismal, dreary world.
He remembered other times when turbulent spring storms thrashed, forcing soil into the swollen streams and tributaries emptying into the river, making its muddied and agitated waters flow more quickly. Severe winters brought ice floes and a ragged appearance to the river, making crossings hazardous, if not impossible. Winds would occasionally churn the waters, creating whitecaps that challenged any navigator venturing forth. Mostly though, as today, the river was calm and gently flowed to the waiting sea.
He knew that once, long before he was born, the waters of this river harbor teemed with salmon, mullet, and a variety of other fish. Large beds of oysters, clams, and mussels abounded just a few yards away from the small river islands. The shoreline then contained only marshland, woodlands, and small rocky cliffs. Slightly upstream on the western shore, magnificent palisades arose, their cliffs stretching forty miles northward along the riverbank.
Except for the palisades, all was now gone. The encroachment of civilization had eliminated most of nature's abundance. Landfill development altered the shoreline. Raw-sewage dumping polluted the water, making it unfit for most marine life. Although enshrouded today in mist and rain, the shoreline was now dotted with buildings, warehouses, piers, and docks, with only an occasional tree as an inadequate reminder of what once was a common sight.
His silent reverie ended because at last, just as he knew he would, he had piloted the boat close enough to the island to reveal vague building shapes, which became more distinct with each passing second.
"Here we come, sir," he said, satisfied with the accuracy of his approach.
"Ja, I zee," replied his passenger in relief, even though the buildings appeared somber and uninviting.
One large building loomed prominently among the island's structures. Although it was only two stories high, its four gables thrust the building upward yet another story, creating a cross-shaped cathedral ceiling on the second level. On each side of the two roof arches, standing at midpoint along the length of the building, stood small square towers, their sharp-peaked, four-sided roofs extending above the main roof of the building. At each corner of the building itself, other picturesque towers—twice the height and size of the middle towers—rose majestically.
On a sunny day, the rows of windows of this large building gleamed. Today they were dark, offering their solemn contribution to the dreary harbor scene. Even so, the building—built of Georgia pine and covered with a thin coating of galvanized iron, topped with a blue slate roof—was an impressive sight. Its elegance suggested a Victorian seaside resort, but no vacationer had ever booked a reservation here.
After partially circling the island, the pilot steered the motor launch into the channel to the landing dock, and Joseph could see people moving. Although the damp morning chill continued its onslaught, it could not dash his spirits. Behind his gold-rimmed spectacles, Joseph's blue eyes excitedly watched the scene unfolding before him, his face reflecting his anticipation of stepping onto his island domain as the new commissioner of immigration for the Port of New York.
His arrival was expected, and from the entrance of the main building, twenty-nine-year-old Ed McSweeney intently watched the approach of the motor launch. Hands stuffed into his overcoat pockets, his black hair complemented his dark clothes and derby. Adjusting the round, wire-framed glasses resting on his nose, he waited under the shed roof running the length and width of the building. As the launch reached the landing dock, this Irish American—one of many working at the immigrant station—opened his umbrella and walked into the mist and drizzle to greet his new boss.
"Welcome to Ellis Island, Dr. Senner. I'm Assistant Commissioner Edward McSweeney. I'm delighted to meet you."
As McSweeney spoke, Joseph searched the man's eyes for any clue about him and noted that McSweeney's eyes looked away a bit too quickly.
"Tank you, Mr. McSveeney. Dis zertainly is not day to be on boat, is it?"
McSweeney maintained his outward composure as he inwardly cringed at the heavy German accent that he would now have to endure. With a pleasantry that belied his thoughts, he replied, "No, it's not, sir. You'll find it much more pleasant inside though, I'm sure of that."
Under their umbrellas the two men strode up to the entrance of the main building, Ed's taller, lanky frame contrasting with Joseph's thickset body. When he closed his umbrella and removed his derby, Ed's slightly receding hairline also set him apart from Joseph and his full head of hair.
"This level contains the baggage rooms," Ed explained. "The immigrants check their belongings here and then go upstairs to the Registry Hall. Our offices are upstairs also, so if you'll follow me?"
Joseph nodded and followed his assistant up the broad stairway and into the large hall.
"Impressive, isn't it?" smiled Ed, noticing the look on his superior's face. "Most of the immigrants come here from small towns and villages. They're overwhelmed by this grandeur."
Joseph nodded. The impact of this grand hall was striking. The hall was virtually the full size of the building itself. Its vastness was enhanced by the cathedral ceiling and the light— even on this overcast day—that filtered through the tall, eave-high windows. A wide-planked pine floor, resembling a sailing ship's deck so familiar to the arriving ocean voyagers, set off the woodwork. The place even seemed to have the scent of a ship. Ten parallel aisles, framed by railings, marked where the immigrants began the screening process. Potted plants, American flags, and red, white, and blue bunting festooned the hall.
As Senner gazed about the hall, Ed studied his face, trying to assess his new boss. Ed was already scheming. Senner was as much a greenhorn as the new immigrants and knew nothing of how Ellis Island functioned. If he could keep Senner a figurehead, or busy in public relations activities, the real power in the day-to-day operations would still be his.
"Your office is in this corner, Dr. Senner. Let me show you."
With false cheerfulness, Ed guided the commissioner to his office. The room was pleasant but not richly appointed, with a large mahogany desk and chair, two other wingback upholstered chairs in front of the desk, a large bookcase behind it, and an empty table off to the side. On better days the windows offered a delightful view of the river and New York City skyline.
"Ja, tank you," said Joseph, taking a cigar from the humidor Ed held before him, who then lit both their cigars.
After savoring the first puff of the mild, aromatic tobacco, Joseph said in his heavy accent, "I must say dot I am very much impressed by dis building."
"It's handsome, indeed it is. And, think about it, it was designed by the lowest-bid architect!"
Joseph chuckled. He drew on his cigar again, simultaneously studying his assistant. McSweeney was certainly a likeable fellow, but Joseph was wary, wondering if McSweeney was trustworthy, someone on whom he could depend. The man's shifting eyes troubled him.
"Did you know this building is almost as large as the original size of this island?"
"It's a fact. The original island was little more than a mud flat. Back in the seventeenth century, there were large oyster beds just offshore, and the Dutch settlers came here on Sundays and had oyster roasts. A century later the English executed pirates here, leaving their bodies hanging from the gibbet as a warning to other would-be pirates. To make this place suitable for an immigrant station, the government spent half a million dollars. They doubled the area with landfill, dredged a channel, and constructed new docks so that the ferryboats could approach and unload passengers. Of course, they also built this and the other buildings on the island."
"You know many tings about dis place, Mr. McSveeney."
"I like to know the history of a place. The shadows of the past often linger in the present."
"It zounds like you are philosopher too."
"Ha! Perhaps so. You know, the reason we're on this island is that no one wanted the immigration station elsewhere. Joseph Pulitzer led a fierce campaign against us locating at Bedloe's Island where that French statue is."
"Ja, I know, Mr. McSveeney. You forget dot I am journalist also."
"Yes, of course. As you know then, Pulitzer was very effective. He had raised the money for the statue's pedestal, so he succeeded in getting its sculptor, Bartholdi, to speak against our using that site for the processing center. Then the army opposed our using Governor's Island. So, here we are, an unwanted immigrant station at a place no one else wanted, admitting foreigners many Americans don't want here in the first place. It's a thankless job."
"Den vy do you do it, Mr. McSveeney?"
Startled by the question, Ed looked back at Senner, his mind racing to find the motive for the question; was it simply asked out of curiosity or was there more to it?
"Why—I suppose—I guess I like the challenge and the opportunity."
"Yes, opportunity," replied Ed, now recovering from his initial loss for words. "There's an opportunity here to help people get a new start in life. This place is their first experience in America. It shouldn't be unpleasant, and I think I can help make the necessary processing a less stressful one."
"Noble zentiments, Mr. McSveeney. I agree mit dem. Now, may I zee de rest of de facilities?"
"Of course," replied Ed, smiling, as he opened the office door, gesturing to Dr. Senner. Instead Joseph held out his arm to indicate Ed should leave first. Together the two men visited the hospital, doctors' quarters, bath house, laundry, electric power plant, kitchens, and dining hall.
"These are dormitories for detained immigrants," Ed next pointed out, showing some old brick-and-stone buildings.
"Dey are much older dan de other buildings. Vaht ver dey before?"
"This island was once Fort Gibson, set up just before the War of 1812 to defend the harbor against the British. The fort had a battery of twenty cannons aimed in a circular pattern out across the harbor, but they never fired a shot. The British never sailed in here. The army dismantled the fort in the 1860s, leaving these buildings. We've remodeled them inside."
Joseph found the dormitories clean and neat. Their wooden floors, glass windows, and slate roofs were no doubt much better than the living quarters that many of the immigrants had left behind in their old countries. Outside again, Ed brought Joseph to some other old buildings, constructed of even heavier masonry.
"These were magazines for the navy's munitions," he explained. "The navy once shared the island with the army, keeping just a small squad on guard here. They're our buildings now. Because they're the most secure, we use them to store all our records. We even have the records from Castle Garden, the old immigration station that New York ran for decades over at the Battery."
"De records may be secure, but are de people?"
"What do you mean?"
"Mein God, man! Most of dese buildings are made of vood! If un fire comes, dere vood be no stopping it! Vere is de firefighting equipment? How vood ve fight fire here?"
"I'm—I'm not certain of that."
"You mean dere is no plan for evacuation? No vater pumps? No alarms or fire hoses?"
Shaking his head, Joseph continued. "I cannot believe dot no vun realized de enormous fire dangers! Just tink of de possible property damage und—und loss of life!"
Joseph did not see the brief, resentful frown before Ed turned around and, in an outwardly calm and deferential manner, replied, "You're right, sir. We need to take precautions. We do have the fireboats though. They can come to our assistance if needed."
Joseph instinctively sensed the real impact of his words on McSweeney. He liked that effect, for he wanted to assert his power early over his more experienced assistant. With his authoritarian leadership style, he preferred to maintain efficiency through intimidation. Besides, he felt keenly about what he was saying.
"Dey vill not be of much help if de fire is on un side of de island avay from de dredged channel. My boat had to circle half de island to approach de dock. De vater all around de rest of de island is too shallow for de fireboats to get close to shore."
"That's true, sir."
"Someting vill have to be done about dis und quickly. I vill make my recommendations to de Treasury Department."
Returning by boat to the Battery at the end of his first day, Joseph cast a worried look back at his new realm. Unlike the morning, this time the shiver that coursed through him betrayed his mood. His mind kept returning to the horrible image of flames shooting out through one of the buildings as screams pierced the air.
That day he began an involuntary ritual he would repeat each evening as his boat left Ellis Island. He looked back at the buildings, mentally bidding them farewell, for he fully expected to find them in ashes the next day.
* * *
A few hours later, in an uptown brownstone, Margaret Stafford sat on the bed, coughing slightly, and watching her husband lather the soap in his shaving mug onto the soft-bristled brush. Then he applied it to his face, repeating the process several times until his day's beard was covered with the white lather. Next, he sharpened the unfolded straight razor against the leather strop and began to shave.
She never tired of watching him. It didn't matter what he was doing. Even an everyday ritual like shaving fascinated her. Sometimes when he lay asleep beside her, she would prop her head on one hand and contently gaze at his handsome face.
Matt's good looks turned many a woman's head, and she delighted in that. His hazel eyes, more green than brown, had an intensity that riveted your attention. He had thick and slightly wavy dark brown hair. In an age when most men were shorter, his well-proportioned, six-foot frame only added to his physical appeal.
She watched him place the razor above his lips and, with short, swift strokes, cut away the hair stubbles. He didn't follow the fashion and have a mustache. Although that was his own preference, his wife's telling him that he looked so much better without one reinforced his inclination.
On his last stroke of the razor by his right ear, Matt's peripheral vision caught Margaret watching him. Only partly dressed, her long brunette hair seemed to flow and lay nestled on her ivory-colored chemise. Her breasts moved slightly to the rhythm of her breathing. Her delicate features, creamy flesh, and partly opened mouth gave her an enticing, seductive appearance.
"Have you been watching me the whole time?"
Smiling, he fully turned toward her as he wiped his face with the towel. "Did you like what you saw?"
"I always do, my darling."
Matt came to her, pulled her to her feet, kissed her lips, and embraced her.
Excerpted from Guardians of the Gate by VINCENT N. PARRILLO Copyright © 2011 by Vincent N. Parrillo. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
Vincent Parrillo's Guardians of the Gate weaves together the stories of immigrants, doctors, and government officials associated with Ellis Island. It's a lively and fun read, as well as a compelling historical novel that brings to life New York in the late nineteenth century. (Vincent J. Cannato, author of American Passage: The History of Ellis Island)
Guardians of the Gate packs a one-two punch a love story combined with the riveting but little known story of the hospital at Ellis Island. A compelling novel that is sure to warm your heart. (Lorie Conway, author of Forgotten Ellis Island)
A careful blend of fact and fiction. This novel sheds light on a pivotal period in American history. (Philip Cioffari, author of Jesusville, A History of Things Lost or Broken, and Catholic Boys)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Step back in time to New York City at the turn of the 20th century when masses of immigrants were funneled through Ellis Island under the watchful eye of administrators and medical staff. This book brings it all to life - the excitement of a new life in the new world, the overwhelming task of managing and tending to hordes of diverse peoples, the exploitation of innocent newcomers and the political machinations behind the scenes. It presents a masterful blend of historical fact and fiction, romance and intrigue, joy and despair that will keep you turning the pages. As a visual bonus, it also includes stirring vintage photographs from this unique time and place. It has left me with a vivid imprint that I won't soon forget.
Vincent Parrillo's Guardians of the Gate is an inspirational page turner with lots of action. Takes place at Ellis Island starting in 1893. Three of my grandparents came in through there,so I've always been interested in anything having to do with Ellis. The attempts to exploit our immigrants and the riots which take place increase the excitement of the read. Congratulations Mr. Parrillo
This was a great read. I love historical novels and this one was a lesson on immigration from the beginning of Ellis Island, combined with a story line of romance, greed and corruption. The author included pictures to further give a visualization to his excellent description of the era. Could not put it down.
You will love this book! The author mixes a heart-warming love story with the true events of life as it was for the immigrants and employees of Ellis Island. You will not only be entertained, but amazed at the author's clever integration of fact and fiction which flows smoothly into one great story! You will not want to put it down!