Category: Archive

Annie’s place

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Those moments before had been witness to the unveiling of a Celtic Cross headstone dedicated to the young woman who was the first immigrant to set foot in America by way of Ellis Island.
The headstone, inscribed with the name of Annie and six of her children who rest with her, was the physical manifestation of New York and America’s second official welcome to a young woman who stands as an iconic symbol, not just of Irish immigration to America, but the arrival of people from all over the world.
The ceremony in the Queens cemetery, which included a rousing delivery of “Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears,” by tenor Ronan Tynan, was the culmination not just of a story more than a century old, but also of a much more recent chapter in which a new life of Annie Moore had been revealed to the public and the historical record.
And one of the most jarring aspects of that new story was the fact that Annie Moore, whose passage across the Atlantic in the waning days of 1891 is commemorated with bronze statues at Ellis Island and her point of Irish departure in Cobh, County Cork, had lain since her death in 1924 in an unmarked grave.
Well, it’s unmarked no more.
Several hundred people gathered to witness the unveiling of the Irish Blue Limestone cross which itself had crossed the Atlantic on a container ship a few days before the Calvary unveiling.
On what was a brilliant, warm autumn, one in stark contrast to the January 1 of Annie Moore’s arrival in New York Harbor, and against the sheltering backdrop of the County Cork Association banner, descendants and invited dignitaries spoke of the life and legacy of a young woman who had lived a hardscrabble life on Manhattan’s lower east side, had buried far too many of her children while they were still children and yet whose story had captured, and retained, the imagination of millions.
In one of a number of deliveries at the grave site, and as the Celtic Cross was yet unrevealed under a cover, Irish Consul General in New York, Ambassador Niall Burgess, spoke of Annie Moore being the human face on the story of Irish immigration, and of her standing for all the Irish who had crossed the Atlantic to America.
New York City’s Commissioner for Public Records, Brian Andersson, one of the two leading figures in the unearthing two years ago of the true life of Annie Moore, spoke of a young woman who had lived a typical life for her time though “more hardscrabble than most” and now rested close to the grave of both her parents and her German immigrant husband, Augustus Joseph Schayer.
The other member of the detective duet, genealogist Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, said that the full story of Annie Moore as being restored to history.
“In a sense we are getting Annie back,” she said.
Smolenyak Smolenyak, who has been instrumental in uncovering the Irish ancestry of Barack Obama and who read out a letter of congratulations from the day from him, said that Annie Moore had been a symbol of immigration and by proxy, the American dream.
Patricia Prior of the Arizona-based Irish Cultural and Learning Foundation said that Annie Moore could be rightly described as the “first lady” for the twelve million Ellis Island Immigrants.
Julia Smith Devous from Phoenix, one of the several descendants to speak and who played a leading role in organizing the placing of the Celtic Cross, told the crowd that she felt overwhelmed, relieved, proud, emotional and grateful, especially grateful.”
“What a heroine Annie Moore has become for all immigrants,” she said.
The discoveries of the past couple of years had given her family a piece of its history back and, as a result, it was “an honor and a privilege” to be able to give the full story of Annie back to the great Irish American community.
The unveiling of the Celtic Cross, which was given musical accompaniment by the pipers of the County Cork Pipe and Drum Band, was but a second-long culmination of a story stretching back 116 years.
The cross was blessed by Auxiliary Bishop Dennis Sullivan, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of New York, who, is subsequent remarks, said that the Annie Moore story would go on in the lives of other immigrants who south to live their lives with dignity.
The stone carries the name of Anna “Annie” Moore Schayer and simply states that she was “First Through Ellis Island” on January 1, 1892. It names the six of her children who rest with her and reveals that the 15 year-old Annie of that standout day in American history lived to only 50. It also carries a Gaelic blessing at its base and a cherry blossom motif at the end of each arms of the cross, these depicting her home on Cherry Street.
The ceremony was concluded with the release of the doves and the playing of “The Boys From County Cork” on the pipes in honor of a girl from County Cork whose spirit for certain soared with the doves into a brilliant blue October sky.

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