A Beautiful and Mysterious Legacy

Augustus Sherman was 27 years old in 1892, when he was hired by the Bureau of Immigration as a clerk at Ellis Island. The small island in the New York Harbor was the first American destination of millions of immigrants from all over the world, who had left their old lives behind to start over in the new world.

Sherman liked to photograph the immigrants, particularly in traditional costumes from their native countries. He had no training but the images he captured are among the most interesting records that survive from that time. During his tenure there, which lasted until his death in 1925, he took over 200 photographs.

Nothing more is known of Sherman. These beautiful pictures are his legacy.

Lapland children


A “prosperous family” of 14


Finnish immigrants


Bavarian man


Romanian woman


Ruthenians, Ellis Island, July 12, 1913.


1908 photograph of Johanna Dykhoff with her 11 children. Eleven children!


1905 photo of a Scottish family en route to Alabama


Cossack Immigrants


Dutch children (look at their shoes!)


Family of 15


Italian woman


Guadeloupean woman


German family


Dutch women


Dutch women


Cossack immigrant




This 1914 photograph includes an inscription “Hamberg” and specifies the subject is vegetarian.


Scottish Children


Two young ladies from the Netherlands


Ruthenian Woman


Slovakian woman with her children


Norwegian woman


“Male immigrant”


Girl from the Kochersberg region of Alsace


Protestant Dutch Woman


An 11-month-old 55 lb Russian baby

5 thoughts on “A Beautiful and Mysterious Legacy

  1. Kimberly those are some interesting pictures, I read once they didn’t smile in their pictures back then because of bad teeth.. I wonder if that is true, not many smiles.


    • I’ve heard that too! There was also a very long exposure time. If you had your picture made, you had to sit perfectly still so long that it would be hard to hold a smile — at least a sincere one!


  2. Pingback: A Beautiful and Mysterious Legacy, part 2 – old spirituals

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