Nearly 5 million Italians were “shipped” through New York harbor between 1880 and 1924. For the most part, they were processed through Castle Garden/Ellis Island aka the “Isle of Tears.” New York was but the first stop for millions of immigrants on their way to overcrowded trains and destinations.
There was a semblance of order in the issue of identification cards that were pinned to their blouses and shirts. Those cards bore their names, shipping destinations and usually the letters, “W.O.P.” This was the abbreviation for “Without Papers.”
During that 44 year era, most of the more than 25,000 Italians jammed immigrant coaches and antiquated cars and headed for Cleveland. The first Italian community was Big Italy in the E. 40th Woodland and Orange Avenues area. This is where most of the Sicilians located - near the hub of the produce market (Northern Ohio Food Terminal). Another major settlement was Little Italy located from E. 119th to E. 125 on Mayfield/Murray Hill Roads. Most of this Italian-born population came from the Ripamolisano, San Giovani and Matrice villages and the Campania/Naples regions. As the years passed and space became more limited, Blue Rock, Collinwood-Five Points, Woodland Ave. in the E. 110th/Luna Park/Kinsman areas and the west side’s Fulton Road, Detroit and Clark Avenues became neighborhoods with additional pockets of Italians.
During the latter part of the 1800s, Cleveland assigned an immigration officer to the train station. Most of the time, foreigners arrived without set schedules during night time hours. The officer registered them and recorded information for both the police department and the City of Cleveland for annual reporting. An annual report identified an issue of Italians being overcharged for transportation. A 1913 report cited a $28 charge for a ride from the train station to the Collinwood neighborhood.
As trains arrived, immigrants were directed to meeting locations where usually friends and relatives were on hand. Special care was also provided for young women who were traveling alone. If no one was on hand to meet the immigrant, he or she was tagged with an identification card as to where he or she was headed and if there were any problems to notify City Hall. The immigrants also were given a guide printed in nine languages. The guide contained information on the law, monetary values, responsibilities, health care, and citizenship opportunities. They were also supplied with two other manuals. One was for learning everyday English and the other outlining procedures to be followed in getting help from the city.
And, so, the newest Clevelanders began their life here.