November 13 and 14, 2018. Third-graders from Germantown Friends' School paid their annual visit to the Washington Avenue Pier.

From 1876 to the early 1920's, the Washington Avenue Pier/Pier 53 was the primary port of entry in Philadelphia for about a million immigrants from Europe. The newcomers had fled persecutions, wars, pogroms and hunger to land as strangers in America. They spoke a variety of languages, brought with them strange customs, and they all had stories.

Those stories are celebrated by issuing 'passenger tags' to each of the students. Each tag represents the name, nationality, age, and steamship line of the immigrant. On the reverse is a brief biography of that person: where they were born, why they left for America, and what became of their lives after they arrived. The students assume the identity of the immigrant, while standing at the precise spot of that person's entry into America.

Some of these stories are accounts contributed by descendants of these immigrants who live in South Philadelphia, not far from where their ancestors landed.

 

 

Jody Pinto's 'Land Buoy' structure at the end of the pier suggests the spiral staircases built into rowhouses favored by immigrants to Philadelphia in the early twentieth century.

In 1913 the Immigration Station at Pier 53 had the largest infllux of immigrants.


Ongoing at Washington Avenue Green is the Pier 53 Project—a historical study of the immigrants who arrived at the Pier from 1876 to the 1920's, their stories, and the stories of their descendants. Each story is part of a mosaic that contributes to the history of Philadelphia and its waterfront, and ultimately to the history of immigration in the United States.

Here's the link to the Pier 53 Project page on this site. Pier 53 Project

And here's the link to a podcast first aired on WHYY on June 14, 2018. It includes an interview with Susan McAninley and a description of the Pier 53 Project.

https://whyy.org/segments/a-quest-to-conjure-philadelphias-immigrant-past-at-pier-53/


All photos by Susan McAninley.