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June 13, 2020

Ellis Island, immigration and Indiana: encore

Early 20th century immigrants on Ellis Island await passage into New York City to begin their new lives in the United States. The immigrant receiving station on Ellis Island opened in 1892 during the administration of President Benjamin Harrison, the only U.S. president elected from Indiana.

The administration of President Benjamin Harrison oversaw the planning and construction of Ellis Island, to which many Americans trace their immigrant roots.
Ellis Island - the "gateway to America" for generations of immigrants - is located in New York Harbor, of course, hundreds of miles from Indiana. Even so, a little historical sleuthing reveals various connections between Ellis Island and the Hoosier state, and it is these connections which will be the focus of this encore broadcast of a show that originally aired in 2018.

The receiving station for aspiring Americans now celebrated as an iconic aspect of our shared history opened on Ellis Island in 1892 during the administration of President Benjamin Harrison, so the only president elected from Indiana oversaw the lead-up to its debut. According to some estimates, about 22 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island during the years between 1892 and 1924, its peak period as the country's "door." (Ellis Island remained open as a receiving center until 1954, but during its final 30 years, limitations on immigration - and the creation of other points of entry - meant that far fewer immigrants were handled at the island.)

Not only will we explore the challenges that confronted all involved during the early Ellis Island years - immigrants often endured shockingly crude medical exams - we also will look at the waves of ethnic heritage groups that came to Indiana from the 1890s through the mid-1920s. Nelson's studio guests are:

Jennifer CappsAccording to timelines in Teresa's books and in other reference sources, the 1890s through the early 1900s in Indiana was an era of heavy immigration from Eastern European countries including Poland, Hungary and Russia, as well as such Mediterranean countries as Greece and Italy. Significant percentages of the immigrants were Catholic and Jewish.

During our show, we will frame the early decades of immigration through Ellis Island by describing the waves of ethnic immigration to Indiana that preceded it, including early Irish, German, English and Scottish arrivals.

Between the 1890s and the start of World War I in 1914, many waves of immigrants came from what then was the Austro-Hungarian Empire; today, after more than a century of geopolitical shifts and cartographic reconfiguration, their countries of ancestral origin are the modern nations of Hungary, Austria, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland and Slovakia.

Teresa BaerAccording to Peopling Indiana: The Ethnic Experience (IHS Press, 1996), South Bend received larger numbers of Polish immigrants than any Indiana city during this era. Many Eastern European immigrants also settled in Lake County and other northwestern Indiana counties after U.S. Steel began operations in the early 1900s. The city of Gary was founded in 1906 and became the new hometown of many mill workers, as did Whiting, East Chicago and Hammond.

Italian immigration during the late 19th and early 20th centuries included hundreds of marble-cutters who settled in southern Indiana, including the town of Bedford, to work as limestone carvers. Hoosier History Live explored this aspect of Italian immigration in 2010. Other shows that explored immigration to Indiana during the heyday of Ellis Island include our programs about Latvian and Lithuanian heritage in 2016 and Russian immigration in 2014.

Our guest Jennifer Capps will share details about crude eye examinations - with unsterilized equipment - that were imposed on immigrants during the early decades of Ellis Island as a receiving station. Federal laws called for the rejection of those who showed indications of suffering from a "loathsome or contagious disease," but the reality was that many immigrants were turned away if they displayed any hint of illness or physical impairment, according to Ellis Island Interviews: In Their Own Words (Checkmark Books, 1997).

A fire at Ellis Island burned the first receiving station to the ground in June 1897, more than four years after Harrison's presidency ended. By then, more than 1.64 million immigrants had been processed. The fire destroyed immigrant records from 1855 to 1897, including those from Castle Garden. About 200 immigrants were on the island at the time of the inferno, but all were safely evacuated. Construction began immediately of new buildings made of materials deemed fireproof.

Some history facts:

  • The first site proposed for the immigrant processing station was Bedloe Island (now called Liberty Island), where construction on the Statue of Liberty had been completed just a few years prior, in 1886. Because of public opposition to that proposal, nearby Ellis Island was chosen instead.
  • The first official to climb to the top of the Statue of Liberty was Harrison's vice president, Levi P. Morton.
  • As recently as 1997, more than 40 percent of the U.S. population could "trace their roots to an ancestor who came through Ellis Island," according to the Statue of Liberty - Ellis Island Foundation.


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Roadtrip: Whitestown in Boone County

This vintage postcard depicts Big 4 train No. 21 as it runs through Whitestown. Guest Roadtripper Terry Kirts invites us to join him in exploring the attractions of Whitestown and surrounding Boone County.

Guest Roadtripper Terry Kirts, IUPUI creative writing lecturer and Indianapolis Monthly contributing editor for food, invites us to visit Whitestown in Boone County, where the Big 4 Trail Linear Park runs along an abandoned rail line that once saw the passing of both the Lincoln inaugural train (1861) and the Lincoln funeral train (1865).

Established in 1851 about 22 miles northwest of downtown Indianapolis, the town took its name from Albert S. White, the president of the railroad that originally operated through Whitestown; White also served as U.S. Senator (1839-1845) and was a leading abolitionist in the mid-1800s.

In recent years, Whitestown has been one of Indiana's fastest growing municipalities. While much of the development that has nearly doubled the town's population in the last few years has been new construction, a movement to resurrect historic properties is gaining momentum. A prime example is Moontown Brewing Company; it opened in the spring of 2018 after a major renovation of the vacant 10,000-square foot Whitestown High School, which served the town's students from 1914 to 1963. Prominently featured is the former basketball court, which houses much of the brewing operation and the tasting room. The brewery lobby features a display of many trophies and other memorabilia from the high school's heyday.

To hear more about Whitestown's attractions, be sure to listen to Terry's Roadtrip report!


History Mystery

Though not generally considered as "Hollywood handsome" as Marlon Brando, our mystery Hoosier actor starred in a number of films with him.Ellis Island was the entry point to America for the parents of an Academy Award-winning actor who grew up in Gary, Ind. The parents of the actor - who starred in movies, TV and on Broadway - were Serbian immigrants who came through Ellis Island in the early 1900s.

The future Oscar winner was born in Chicago in 1912, but his family moved to Gary when he was 5 years old and he always considered the Indiana city to be his hometown. His father was involved in Serbian theatrical productions in Gary, contributing to the son's love for performing.

He went on to be cast - usually as a supporting actor - in some of the best-remembered movies of the 1950s. Several of the films starred Marlon Brando, including the movie for which the actor raised in Indiana won an Academy Award.

During the 1970s, he starred as a police detective in a popular TV series.

Question: Who was the Hoosier actor?

Note: As this is an encore show, please do not call in with the answer.

By the way, if your organization would like to offer History Mystery prizes, email Good prizes are ideally vouchers or gift certificates that can be sent by postal service mail in a standard business envelope.

Nelson Price, host and historian
Molly Head, producer/general manager, (317) 927-9101
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Facebook logo links to the Hoosier History Live! page.Twitter logo for Hoosier History Live.For organizational sponsorship, which includes logos, links, and voiced credits in the show and in podcasts, email, or call (317) 927-9101 for information. Our podcast listens are increasing at a rate of 17% a month and we are being distributed on Indiana Memory and the National Digital Public Library. As we have always believed, the internet distribution of Hoosier History Live is taking us to the top! Thanks also to Visit IndyFraizer DesignsWICR-FMHenri Pensis, Aaron Duvall, Kielynn Tally, Justin Clark, and many other individuals and organizations.


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We'd like to thank the following recent, new and renewal contributors whose donations help make this show possible!

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June 20, 2020 - coming up

A second serving of foods of the pioneers

How did early 19th century Hoosiers grow, cook and consume what they ate? Food historian Sheryl Vanderstel joins host Nelson Price for a second Hoosier History Live show looking at foods of the pioneers.

The table was overloaded when Hoosier History Live served up a show on topics related to the foods of the pioneers earlier this year. So during this show, we will savor additional, fresh aspects of what and how Indiana residents ate during the 1820s, '30s and '40s.

Which members of pioneer households worked in the gardens? Did early settlers really believe tomatoes were poisonous?

How was the corn grown in the pioneer era different from what's cultivated in Hoosier soil today?

Indianapolis-based food historian Sheryl Vanderstel will discuss those and other topics that we were not able to explore when she was our guest in April. In addition, Sheryl is planning to share insights about aspects of what she calls "food etiquette," of the pioneer era, customs ranging from "tableware to table settings, serving and meal manners."

"Table manners varied by social class and ethnic groups, just as they do today," she says.

Typically, every member of an Indiana pioneer household had a prescribed role in maintaining the family garden, Sheryl notes. In addition to vegetables and fruits, the gardens included herbs for cooking and medicinal use.

A native Hoosier whose ancestors were pioneers, Sheryl is a former assistant director of education at Conner Prairie Interactive History Park, where her duties included overseeing hearthside dinners and other food programs.

She has been involved in food programming at other historic sites and museums as well as educational seminars about historic foods. Sheryl is a board member of the Irvington Historical Society.

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