DREAM TO CRUISE

Today’s Woodward Dream Cruise, the antique car and hot rod cruise down Woodward Avenue from Wide Track Circle in Pontiac to 8 Mile Road at the edge of Detroit which draws car collectors from across the United States and Canada, triggered old memories of my dad.  So I hope you don’t mind my brief diversion today. 

Harry's 1957 Chevy Bel Air

In the last few years of his life, my dad, Arie “Harry” Reyst, started buying 1950 cars, I think they were all Chevys, and fixing them up in his spare time.  I particularly remember 2 such cars, a white Chevy and a red Chevy convertible (which he still owned at his death).  The white Chevy, which was probably a 1955 or 1956 model, he gutted under the hood completely and rebuilt it, replacing bad parts and even spray painting parts so they appeared new.  I remember Dad hanging the parts from my mom’s backyard clothesline at our house on Eastburn Avenue. Harry sold this one and later purchased the 1957 Chevy Bel Air convertible, which my sister, Kathleen, had to drive if she wanted to borrow a family car.

Some of those Sunday afternoon family drives were taken in these cars.  So I know if my dad still had been alive in 1995 when the first dream cruise was organized, he would have been right there cruising one of his beauties with all those youngsters, beaming his big smile. Riding in dad’s old cars, you felt special; there was this sense of pride and joy, and in my dad’s case love.  So I can relate to those thousands (they say some 30,000 collector, custom, muscle, street hot rods, and special interest cars will cruise Woodward Avenue today) of owners who have come out today to cruise on by the million plus spectators along the route. I have often wondered if some car buff discovered that red ’57 Chevy on the dealer’s used car lot after it was traded in for a new car around 1966.  Maybe it was spared the junk yard and can be seen cruising along in one of the many car cruises, in addition to the Woodward cruise, held throughout Metropolitan Detroit area every summer.

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NEW ORGANIZATION

As the number of my posts and pages grows, I thought it was time to add some easier navigation tools to my blog site.  So check out the sidebar widgets that allow you to view individual recent posts, pages, and pages and posts within various categories. Also under the header I have customized the navigation bar by adding various categories which I have assigned to my posts and pages.  For those categories that have specific pages, there is a drop down menu under the category name.  If you navigate to anywhere off the main blog page, which contains all my blog postings, you can easily return to it by clicking on the “Home” link found in the widget sidebar. This sidebar always appears on the right-hand side of the main blog page, but you can also access it from the “Introduction” tab located on the navigate bar under the header picture. So just click on “Introduction” from the navigation bar and then select the sidebar link to “Home”.

As I add new categories they will appear in the navigation bar and sidebar widgets. Hope this makes it easier for all my readers to return to any specific topic in my blog.

ARRIVAL IN USA

Before starting this quest, I wrongly assumed that all immigrants of the late 1800s and early 1900s passed through Ellis Island. We have all probably seen the historic films of Ellis Island and the process new arrivals endured, so I naturally started searching for my grandparents among the millions of names recorded in the Ellis Island records. But then I discovered that Ellis Island did not open until 1892. So where did my great-grandparents disembark? 

 If you ever have the opportunity to visit New York City and decide to include a tour of either the Statute of Liberty or Ellis Island in your travel itinerary, look around you and take in the moment while you are waiting in line to purchase your tickets because you are standing on exactly the same ground that my great-grandparents first set foot upon after disembarking. Now known as Castle Clinton, Castle Garden received millions of immigrants in the 1800s.

As they approached New York City, my grandparents would first pass the recent French gift located in New York harbor, the Statute of Liberty. Since the pier at Castle Garden could not accommodate the large transatlantic steamships, the Obdam would have anchored out in the harbor after passing quarantine (all incoming ships were inspected for cases of serious infectious diseases, especially smallpox, among the crew members and passengers). My great-grandparents, holding tight to their small children and the few personal belongings that they had in their possession, would next board a smaller boat that delivered them to the landing at Castle Garden. I am not sure if during the two week vogage that my great-grandfathers had learned to master any English, as the Holland-Amerika Line issued a manual on practical English for the Dutch emigrant, that would aid them on what would transpire next for them and their families. After collecting their stored luggage (the Reyst had none and the Smouters only one),  they would await their turn for a quick medical examination before being permitted to proceed into the waiting room. Once again they would have had to patiently wait until called to register inside the enormous interior of the Castle Garden. Entering the Castle Garden interior must have been over-whelming for these 2 young couples.  The great room was divided into various stations and on any given day it would be crowded with people of all nationalities, not just British and Western Europeans, but by 1890 many from Italy, Russia, Poland and other Eastern European countries, most dressed in clothing unique to their homelands.  Amidst this throng of people, they would have had to manage to first register with a clerk at the Registry Department, then exchange currency, proceed to the telegraph or letter-writing stations to send a brief message if someone in the USA was anxiously awaiting their arrival, then finally proceed to the Railroad Department station to find out how to get to Michigan.  The clerks here would then once again direct them outside to the pier where they would board yet another ferry to transport them across the Hudson River to the Erie Railroad depot.  Quite a first day in their new homeland, especially when you are unfamiliar with the language…and we think it is stressful today to travel by air.  Having traveled in Europe during one summer vacation while in college, I can certainly relate to what might have been some of their tribulations during this process.

I wonder if they had thought by this time if it was all going to be worth it? It probably wasn’t what they expected, but something compelled them to take the chance for something better.

For more info on the immigration station, see my new page on Castle Garden.

WESTWARD BOUND

Not sure if it was irony or just coincidence that my great-grandparents would leave the Netherlands bound for the United States on the same passenger vessel, the Obdam.  I am not sure if the families even knew each other before boarding the ship in early March 1890 as Arie Smouter was from Ridderkerk, just southeast of Rotterdam in Zuid-Holland, and John Cornelius Reyst was from Zevenbergen, south of Rotterdam in Noord-Brabant. But they possibly bonded during the rough 2 week journey across the ocean to America. After researching how European immigrants came to the United States between 1880 and 1900, I have much admiration for their strength and bravery.  Two young couples, with 2 very small children each and one spouse pregnant, would endure a difficult journey, that mirrors those young Americans that packed all their belongings in a covered wagon and joined a caravan westward.  My great-grandparents would live for 2 weeks in steerage with 256 other passengers in cramped, dirty quarters.  It is said that even the more seafaring ones even succumbed to seasicknesss.  There were no rooms in steerage, just row after row of metal bunk beds that often were too short to fully stretch out in.  Nearly everyone slept in the same clothes they had on when they boarded the vessel.  Food was poor.  Most did not bring enough of their own rations on board as they were told that their ticket included meals.  What they would soon find out was that most of the food was stale, rancid or heavily perserved in salt.  Upon arrival at the port in New York City, New York on March 18, 1890 (coincident that my oldest daughter’s, Erin’s, birthdate is also March 18), they would gather their meager possessions, usually just one suitcase a piece.  How they managed to get from New York to Michigan is uncertain, but likely by rail. Uncertain what happened next as neither family appeared in the 1890 United States Census, I recently figured out that once they arrived in Michigan, they would go separate ways for the first 10 years.  John would settle his family in Detroit, while Arie would move westward to Grand Rapids.  But by 1900, both families would reside in Detroit, and be members of the First Reformed Church of Detroit.  So check out my new pages on the RCA and the Obdam.