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The Trip Over

September 1, 2017

Few of us are old enough to remember. Still fewer of us can even imagine.

Coming to America in the 19th century was a far stretch from coming to America today. First, there were no jet planes to whisk you from one continent to another in 10 hours. The crossing was by ship and it usually took 8 to 10 days of often super uncomfortable travel. My grandparents made this long trip several times.

Many, many Italians and Tiroleans traveled to America on the SS La Bretagne. The ship sailed from between 1886 and 1923 and carried thousands to a waiting Ellis Island on the Le Havre–New York route, initially with the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (CGT) shipping company. My grandparents, Eugenio Rizzi and his wife Anna Flor made several trips to the U.S. on this vessel.

La Bretagne was launched 9 September 1885 by CGT in Saint-Nazaire. Built for France to New York service, she had a 7,112 gross tonnage and measured 150.99 metres (495 ft 4 in) long between perpendiculars and 15.78 metres (51 ft 9 in) wide. Equipped with twin triple-expansion steam engines driving a single screw propeller that drove her at 17 knots (31 km/h), she was outfitted with two funnels and four. La Bretagne was initially equipped with accommodations for 390 first-class, 65 second-class, and 600 third-class passengers. Her hull was made of steel from the foundries at Terre-Noire and featured eleven bulkheads which created twelve watertight compartments; her deck was planked with Canadian elm and teak. The ship cost $1,700,000 (about $45 million today). As dated and run down as the ship appears in pictures, it was actually one of the classier vessels for transporting immigrants.

In 1912, the newly reorganized Compagnie de Navigation Sud-Atlantique purchased a number of second-hand ships—including La Bretagne—for its relaunch of South American service from France. Bretagne sailed on the South American service through 1923, the last four years under the name of Alesia. In December 1923, Alesia was sold to a Dutch firm for scrapping. While on her way to the shipwrecker, Alesia’s tow line parted and the ship ran aground on the island of Texel, becoming a total loss.

Along with sister ships La Champagne, La Bourgogne and La Gascogne, La Bretagne carried the bulk of Tiroleans to America on trips that a usually terminated at Ellis Island in New York. From there, most had a destination in mind, often joining relatives or friends who had already made the trip over. For the Tiroleans, these destinations most often included mining towns in Wyoming, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Once they were settled in, one of the first pieces of business was to become an American citizen.

Photo: SS La Bretagne circa 1895.

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  1. Reblogged this on allenrizzi and commented:

    Looking out my window in Italy today, I thought of this post. Things were certainly different then!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Tutti gli immigrati arrivavano a Ellis Island dove venivano visitati vaccinati e taluni rispediti al loro paese perché non idone
    E tragico che gli italiani in un secolo abbiano dimenticato le loro sofferenze di migranti.


    Liked by 1 person

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