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Immigrant Number One

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Annie and her brothers? Moore's relatives think so, but Ellis Island disagrees.   

It was Shulman who discovered one of the two pictures of Annie that are generally accepted as authentic. In his, she sits on a carved bench holding an infant—thought to be Kitty—whose coat is improbably trimmed with fur. The other photograph, found this winter in a scrapbook by Peterson, says “Mama Schayer” on the back, in Aunt Geri’s hand, and shows Annie years later, stout enough to fill a doorway, if not a window. She does not look the kind of person you would want to fight for a Fig-Blossom.

And then there is a third photograph, which Shulman spotted in Ellis Island’s archives. In it, a girl and two boys stand apart from a crowd at an immigrant station in the late nineteenth century. Though the Park Service’s archivists think otherwise, Shulman and Smolenyak believe the trio are Annie and her brothers. Shulman points out that the girl is the image of his mother. Smolenyak analyzes the woodwork in the background to support her case, and this March offered another $1,000 bounty to anyone who can prove her wrong. So far, no one has.

It would be nice to think she is right because it is a dour picture indeed, a corrective both to the former image of that first immigrant as a kind of Annie Oakley and to the later image of her as a singular Mother McCourage. The girl in the photograph is defiantly ordinary, and seems to stare down the national cult of exceptionalism. If she is really Annie Moore, she has no more of a smile to offer America than the Statue of Liberty offered her—but no less, either. She came, did the best she could with what she had, and left the rest to another time.

And if she isn’t Annie—well, she’s someone else, who did much the same thing.


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