During the period of time when Ellis Island/the Port of New York were open and processing immigrants, millions of people from far shores entered the United States to start a new life. As would be expected, most people were everyday folks – known only to friends, family and their employers. Sort of like most people living their lives all around the world today. But also, as would be expected, a small percentage of these immigrants differentiated themselves from the teeming masses by their remarkable accomplishments on the cultural and scientific landscape.
The first famous person to enter the United States via Ellis Island is famous by accident of position. This person is the very first person to enter the country through the facility – Annie Moore. She arrived in America in 1892 and will forever be known as the first person to pass through the facility. Her fame of course is simply luck of the draw. Anyone else who was in that position would have held the same fame.
Another arrival in 1892 was not famous but had a famous son. Fritz Austerlitz was the father of dance legend Fred Astaire – made famous in several marvelous Hollywood classics like Finian’s Rainbow, Royal Wedding, Funny Face, The Gay Divorcee and many others. Also arriving in 1892 were Antonius Dvorac – famous composer and Rudyard Kipling – writer and poet best known for his work The Jungle Book.
In 1897, Moses Teichman arrived. You probably do not know that name but you most definitely know him under the name Arthur Murray – of the Arthur Murray dance studios. Thanks to him, millions of people across the globe now have access to standardized teaching of many of the classic dances.
Moving on to the fitness arena, we are all familiar with the famous commercials of Angelo Siciliano – better known as Charles Atlas. Who can forget the ads of the weak man getting sand kicked in his face and then getting the Charles Atlas course to build up his muscles (and self esteem.) Angelo arrived in America in 1903. A few years after him, in 1905, Johann Weissmuller (a.k.a. Johnny Weissmuller) arrived in America. Johnny is best known as Tarzan but he was also an Olympian swimmer – having won five gold medals and one bronze medal in the 1920s.
On the lighter side, Henry (Henny) Youngman arrived in 1906. He was a famous comedian best known for his line: “Take my wife—please” a line that is still often quoted today in comedic circles. Also in 1906, a very special couple of famous Ellis Island immigrants arrived on the shores of the United States – John and Mable Ringling – famous circus owners and originators of the Ringling Brother’s circus that still amuses and entertains millions every year. And lets not forget Arthur Stanley Jefferson who arrived in 1912. He is loved and remembered for his rule as Stan Laurel of the Laurel and Hardy show. In that very same year, another comedic great came through Ellis Island. This was the year Charles Chaplin arrived. Charlie Chaplin of course is still loved and admired by many for his comedic films.
Lest you think all the famous actors of that error who arrived through Ellis Island were just comedic, you must consider who arrived in 1920. During this year, two enduring actors arrived. The first is Bela Lugosi and the other is Archibald Alec Leach better known as Cary Grant.
A few other famous Ellis Island immigrants who arrived during this era include Harry Houdini in 1914, Walter Elias Disney (Walt Disney) in 1919 Albert Einstein in 1921, F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1921 and George Gershwin in 1921.
There are of course many other famous immigrants that arrived at Ellis Island but even this short list shows the impact immigrants of this era had on America and the world. And lets not forget the millions of others who – while not famous – played a vital role in the day to day life of America: working in the farms and stores, building roads and buildings and in all aspects of life from engineering to medical services to scientists to office workers. While not famous, they are ones who helped build up America through their hard work and desire to better themselves and their children in their new land.
If Ellis Island fascinates you, you may want to learn first hand about Ellis Island in the award winning production Island of Hope – Island of Tears.
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