Red Star Line

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Another bit of history…

The Red Star Line, founded in Philadelphia in 1873, had as one of its main ports of call Antwerp during the  immigrations to the United States between 1873 and 1930. Antwerp was chosen due to its central location in Europe but also because the Belgian government had granted the company a monopoly on postal traffic and extended subsidies including exemption from warf an piloting fees.

While in the initial years of the immigration no conditions were attached to boarding a ship to America except being able to buy a ticket, by and by the American government implemented more and more regulations to control the flow and quality of the immigrants. Among those regulations was an extensive medical examination and inoculations prior to setting off on the long perilous journey. As conducting these examinations in open air, in rain, wind or sun proved rather taxing, a building for this purpose was constructed, The Red Star Line building in Antwerp. As far as I could pick up from our guide, it must have been some sort of ‘mass production’ with people being put in rows and reached, shoved on till they received their papers, signed and stamped. Or not… that also happened, of course. The painful detail for those was the fact that even to get as far as Antwerp and to buy passage they might have sold all their possessions or taken out loans from family, friends – just to be stranded in Antwerp with nobody to turn to, no work or place to stay. Those walls must have known a lot of hope but also a lot of pain and despair, humiliation. As much as it still happens in our days in so many countries, in so many ways for people trying to escape from persecution, from poverty…

While the people themselves were observed even while waiting for their turn, prodded, pricked like as much cattle to discover any possible health issues, weaknesses, their belongings also underwent disinfection by fumigation to make sure no illnesses would be transported.

When the Red Star Line as such ceased to exist, the buildings were used for recruitment of ship repair workers for a while. After that they were just left empty for a long time till the city of Antwerp recently has bought the buildings and will turn them into a museum after renovation. So this was the last chance to have a look at them in more or less their original state…

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Nederlandse tekst

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This elevation on one side of the income hall is from the time of the ship repair workers being recruited here in very much the same way as the dockworkers are still being recruited. The foremen or bosses stand on this elevation overseeing the workers and pick out the ones they need to work for them that day.

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Het verhoog aan een zijde van de inkomhal is van de tijd dat hier scheepsherstellers werden aangeworven, op de zelfde manier  dat tot vandaag dokwerkers worden aangeworven, en dus van latere datum. De foremannen en de bazen stonden op dit verhoog, overzagen de arbeiders en konden de mannen uitpikken die ze nodig hadden.

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The original building was only one story high as I can see from old photos. This rather strange, closed in skylight and the chimney must date from that time.

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Het originele gebouw was maar een verdieping hoog zoals men op oude foto’s kan zien. Deze nogal rare, ingesloten koepel is waarschijnlijk nog van die periode.

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No message in this bottle any more…

In deze fles geen berichtje…

For those who are interested, a link to some work of the Flemish artist Eugeen van Mieghem who lived from 1875  to 1930 and grew up just around the corner of the Red Star Line Building. The suffering of the immigrants and the hard life at the waterside in general were the driving force of his work.

There is also a Van Mieghem museum website where you can find more information about him, in English or in Flemish as you chose before entering the website.

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