Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Where the Immigration Inspectors Dined

New York City, 

The immigration station on Ellis Island reopened in 1900, following a devastating fire three years earlier. In 1902, substantial changes were made to operations, including the posting of “Kindness and Consideration” signs as reminders to unfriendly and disrespectful members of the workforce that included inspectors, interpreters, doctors, nurses, and social workers. Between 1900 and 1918, ten million people entered the United States through Ellis Island. Unlike the nineteenth century, when immigrants mostly arrived from northern and western Europe, the early twentieth century witnessed a surge from
 eastern Europe, czarist Russia, and southern Italy. Menus from employee outings in 1904 and 1905 reflect the ethnic cuisines of the newcomers, which is not to imply that everyone on the staff supported the immigration laws then in force. 

In 1904, eighteen inspectors gathered at the Café Boulevard on Second Avenue at East 10th Street.1 The fashionable Hungarian restaurant featured a renowned orchestra, red marble dining room, and graceful circular staircase that “seemed to float in air,” according to the New York Times. A 1903 guidebook titled Where and How to Dine in New York rhapsodized over its paprika chicken, a signature dish that appears on this menu. The names of the attendees are shown on back of the card. 

In 1905, the inspectors attended a three-act musical comedy titled “Fontana” at the Lyric Theatre on West 42nd Street. Later that evening, they dined at Moretti, an Italian table d’hôtel on West 35th Street, near Sixth Avenue.2 The name of the well-known restaurant is shown in quotation marks, perhaps reflecting the retirement of founder Stefano Moretti who returned to Italy in 1903 after running his eponymous restaurant for over forty years. The set menu below, which includes the house pasta dish, would have cost about 65 cents. 

Eleven of the diners in 1905 were the same as the year before. Luther C. Steward, perhaps the highest-ranking federal employee who attended, was appointed as acting commissioner at the Angel Island Immigrant Station in San Francisco Bay in 1910 when it officially opened. Steward subsequently submitted reports highly critical of the physical layout and sanitary conditions at the island facility. By contrast, the second person on the list, Frank H. Ainsworth, wrote a report in 1904 titled “Burdens of Recent Immigration” published by the Immigration Restriction League, a nativist organization that wanted to restrict immigration qualitatively, via literacy tests.3 By 1910, Captain Ainsworth was working as an inspector on Angel Island where he actively opposed South Asian immigration.

1. Theodore Roosevelt was said to be a regular visitor and attended a dinner in his honor there. In 1901, The Atlanta Constitution reported that the Café Boulevard was “popular with a certain Bohemian set who sits for hours over their dinners enjoying the well-cooked meal and the delicious, often high class, music.” In March 1904, Town & Country magazine noted that “in a short time the place became renowned.”
2. Like other popular restaurants and retail establishments, Moretti's moved several times during the second half of the nineteenth century, following its customers as they moved further and further uptown. Its successive locations included ones on Cedar Street in lower Manhattan, East 14th Street, near Tammany Hall and the Academy of Music (and its Italian opera singers), and West 21st Street. 
3. Ainsworth was dismissed from his position as inspector around 1915, after an investigation found him guilty of “misconduct in office” and “accepting supplies for his family from the Angel Island supply station.”


Anonymous said...


Jan Whitaker said...

So interesting. I wonder if current authorities overseeing the Mexican border have banquets.

sarah c said...

Very interesting. Thank you! The menus are fabulous as always!

Rich Newman said...

Great article. Looking into this further, I learned that Ainsworth was dismissed from his position as inspector around 1915, after an investigation found him guilty of “misconduct in office” and “accepting supplies for his family from the Angel Island supply station”.

Traci said...

Angel Island officers were notoriously cruel to Asian immigrants. Some languished in holding pens for years. I wonder if this fellow hadanything to do with that situation.