Have trunk, will travel

Travel Trunk

Packing the trunk for the journey to the United States, Canada or even further afield must have been heart breaking. Did mothers help pack up the clothes or did sons and daughters perform this task alone, afraid that this final folding of their belongings would be too much to be undertaken together? Undoubtedly, some made the best of it; the draw of a new country and new experiences fixed their eyes on far away horizons. For others, compelled to leave for economic or other reasons there must have been hours and days of sadness as the time for separation approached. Travel was not an easy (or cheap) way out. A third class cabin berth in 1912 would have cost in the region of £8 or $40 and in today’s money that would equate to about $640.

Many thousands of steamer or cabin trunks packed and stacked on the quay-side for the sea crossing were manufactured in America. They made their way to Europe and were sold to those intending to make the trip from Cobh or Liverpool and able to afford them. Stockists usually catered for all budgets.

The story of these trunks mirrors the stories of the families who used them. Some left and made permanent homes outside Ireland arriving in Ellis Island for example, and moving onward as the connection to family or friends in the adopted country dictated. Some immigrants came home again, sometimes after many years living elsewhere. On their return they found that Ireland was different and they were a little bit different too. They returned for many reasons, some to marry or buy farms or just to visit family on an extended vacation, while others returned to look after an elderly parent. Not all returns were happy.

Ellis Island Baggage Room

Many remaining trunks kept save over the years by family were manufactured in the 1870s and were used into the 1920s and 1930s. These trunks had latches and if their locks were patented then this information was stamped on the lock itself.

In the case of Ellis Island, when the family was cleared to enter the facility, exchanged their money and perhaps purchased their railway ticket for the onward journey, their luggage could be retrieved. All bags and trunks were retained in the baggage room until the immigrant had passed the health screening. Those whose health failed them were quarantined and may never have been allowed set foot on American soil. Instead they were deported to their country of origin.

As well as clothes and shoes people brought family treasures to remind them of home, a lace handkerchief, mother's hair comb or a blanket. Once free of the building and its officials they carried their belongings outside to start their new lives.

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