Louis, my husband’s grandfather, was born in 1888 in Lithuania/Russia. Women frequently died of complications in childbirth in those days, and so it was that Louis was the son of his father’s second wife – who was also his first wife’s sister.
An older half-brother had immigrated to New York City and then had the incredible good fortune of winning $7,777.77 in a lottery, a small fortune in those days, enabling him to pay for Louis’ passage – if Louis could escape Russia. Louis must have traveled quite some distance to reach the border, as Krekenava was in central Lithuania, and his destination was Antwerp, some 1,745 km to the southwest.
On his first attempt to cross, he was caught and jailed for trying. Louis was a good checkers player, and so was an imprisoned Cossack captain, and they became friends. Louis was a small 17-year-old (5′ tall and 122# is recorded in his “Declaration of Intention” to become a U.S. citizen), and the Cossack looked out for him. After his release, Louis then succeeded in sneaking across the border disguised as a girl going to market with the village women.
As he neared Antwerp, Louis was hungry. He approached a street vendor selling fruit, but they spoke different languages. The vendor used gestures to convince him to buy a banana, something Louis was completely unfamiliar with. After biting off a portion of it, Louis spat it out, concluding that the vendor had fooled him. He didn’t know that he was supposed to peel it! Years later he would laugh as he told the story.
Louis reached New York City in December of 1905.