A Fourth of July remembrance of one boy’s journey to the land of his dreams.
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America. A place where people would ask of him not “who are you” but “what can you do.”
Sam made up his mind to keep going. In desperation, Sam simply left Birmingham and started walking yet again. To Liverpool, for a boat to America. And, so goes the tale, he took with him the money he had from selling sponges. A polite way of saying that he simply skipped town with the money.
On a passenger list — “Schedule A —Names and Description of Passengers” — there is a listing for a 19-year old laborer born in “Russia” — i.e., Warsaw, Poland. Sam, whose English was rudimentary and handwriting poor, was marked down as “Sam Goldberg,” passenger number 90 with the destination of “New York.” On November 26, 1898, the Dominion Line’s ship Labrador, with Sam Goldfish (Goldberg) on board, slipped away from the Liverpool docks, headed out into the Irish Sea, stopped briefly in Londonderry, Ireland, to pick up more passengers and finally headed due west — to Canada.
Sam sailed steerage for fifteen dollars, the money giving him either an “iron berth, a hammock or… (a) cot.” His clothes were his sheets and blanket. The belly of the Labrador was both airless and badly lit, the combination of little air and light with the storm-tossed North Atlantic in winter making most of the passengers sick.
At three-fifteen in the afternoon of December 4, 1898, the Labrador sailed into the harbor of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Whether “Sam Goldberg” jumped ship that day, or stayed aboard while the Labrador sailed on to St. John, New Brunswick, is unclear. What is clear is that Sam walked the rest of the way to his destination. On January 1, 1899, records his Declaration of Naturalization, he is believed to have crossed the U.S. border somewhere in the vicinity of Milltown, Maine. Yes, it is possible Sam even crossed illegally — the records are incomplete. But quickly enough, after the requisite time, he made himself known to authorities and became, eventually, an American citizen.
The snow on the ground when Sam crossed the border that January 1st was deep, the air freezing cold. Sam would later recall, writes his biographer, that upon entering America “he literally got down on his hands and knees and kissed the ground. He did not know a soul within four thousand miles.”
On he walked, trudging “through more snow than New England had seen in ten years. Sometime in late January 1899, he arrived in Manhattan, his head full of the stuff on which American dreams are made.”
Sam had no money. But at last he was on his way to becoming what he had always dreamed of becoming.
THERE’S MORE to Sam’s story. Much more. You might recognize Sam’s name today not as Schmuel Gelbfisz or Sam Goldfish or Sam Goldberg but as Samuel Goldwyn. That’s right, the Samuel Goldwyn of the legendary Hollywood movie studio MGM — Metro Goldwyn Mayer. And of Samuel Goldwyn Productions. The Sam Goldwyn who made his way from New York to California to become in the 1930s the King of Hollywood. Author Scott Berg tells Sam’s story in his book Goldwyn: A Biography. Out of companies bearing Sam’s name poured film after film after film in the Great Depression lionizing America and American values.
It was Sam’s company that made Mickey Rooney a star in that classic of American stories, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It was Sam’s company that took Mickey Rooney from Huckleberry Finn to the serial of films immortalizing an American boy who lived with his All-American family in the All-American town of Carvel, Idaho — Andy Hardy. It was Sam’s company that told the tale to Americans of Dorothy (Judy Garland) believing “there’s no place like home” in The Wizard of Oz. It was Sam’s company that distributed Gone With the Wind.
In 1940, Republican presidential candidate Wendell Willkie, whom Sam was supporting over FDR’s third-term bid, saw Sam’s film The Pride of the Yankees. The film starred Gary Cooper as the fatally stricken New York Yankee great Lou Gehrig. Instead of simply focusing on Gehrig’s baseball career, the film opened with the story of Lou Gehrig’s immigrant parents, featuring Lou’s mother, a cook who worked at a Columbia University fraternity to pay for her son’s education so he could become an engineer. Gehrig became a baseball player instead — when his mother needed an operation and he accepted an invitation to play for the Yankees, using his signing money to pay for her operation.
Said Willkie to Sam, both acutely aware that Europe was already engulfed in a war that was on the verge of bringing in America: “Sam, you have done something very important here. You help democracy everywhere by showing what opportunities there are in America.” Replied the man who had trekked across half of Europe to realize his dream of coming to America:
“Why shouldn’t I — who knows better than I do the opportunities in America?”
The opportunities in America.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?