Q: Would you set the scene for me of the earthquake happening and the "Florida"
being pressed into service as part of a program by the Italian government? |
FS: Just prior to this particular voyage there had been, I
believe in December of in 1908, a devastating earthquake in the Messina area of
Sicily, a very very serious earthquake. Many people were left completely
homeless--totally destitute. There was an international rescue service mounted
to try to offer some relief to these people and in this case in particular to
bring these homeless people to America. I mean to a new homeland. As part
of that effort, the "Florida" had been commissioned to assist to
bring these displaced people from Sicily to Naples, I believe, and from there
to New York, which was the central point of immigration into the United
Q: Tell me about what the conditions they were traveling must have been like,
especially in steerage.
FS: Well, I think that the conditions were difficult. You have
families and people who probably didn't know each other at all packed into
extremely close quarters, sleeping on bunks, piled up probably to the ceiling.
You have people clamoring around tables to take their meals with very little
room. People had probably brought their own food. Probably there was a great
deal of superstition, I'm sure, as to what you might eat or didn't eat so you
tended to bring your own if you had it. I think it was extremely difficult
conditions, not at all pleasant.
Q: People are basically carrying whatever they own on their back into this
situation, aren't they?
FS: The people on board the "Florida" who were immigrating to the
United States had virtually everything and anything they owned with them, and it
was very little. It was really only what they could carry on their backs. They
might have had a suitcase, but aside from that, I'm not even sure they had a
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