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« Turning my Wendish Gr… | Home | The End of Johann's E… »

Part II: Johann's Emigration Journey Continues

Monday 19 June 2017 at 04:08 am.

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for June 15, 2017, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            As I continue to turn Johann’s (my great grandfather’s) prose letter into poetry, I am amazed by his attention to exactness and detail, and his ability to describe his ocean voyage to the New World so graphically. I am so caught up in the emotions he must have felt that every line of my poetry is flowing from my heart. This week I pick up where I left off last week, as his voyage begins in earnest:

Their steamer, The Frankfurt, carrying over 800 Passagiere,

Cast off at noon, at an even keel until the shore was no longer seen,

When the vessel began to reel and careen,

And men and women alike were clutching chamber pots,

As their stomachs, in knots, exploded with regurgitation.

Johann himself felt nothing but revulsion but no compulsion to vomit. 

In a day or so, the sea calmed, but the ship still pitched portentously.

On Sunday, the big boat was still churning, -- reeling, almost keeling,

So much so that everyone’s bowl of thin soup was overturning.

Johann thought how at home, his friends would be returning from Kirche

After filling their stomachs with chunks of kermis Kuchen.

Not enough tables and chairs in the galley,

So Johann took his rice soup and sat on a little box,

When suddenly a violent jolt from a giant wave

Caused his soup to slosh over and soak his Sunday-best trousers.

A tailor by trade, his desire to ingest left him for hours.

The rough weather made all places dangerous.

The driving rain and the slippery deck caused Johann to fall

And roll across the planking,

And down below, in steerage, all the boxes and crates and trunks,

Large and small, heavy and light, dislodged and tumbled in all directions.

Children howled, women yowled, and some men moaned and groaned.

Some, pretending to be unruffled, laughed, offending the rest,

But it was only a half laugh at best, and pitiful.

Reformation Day was just another day, --

Passengers complained about the monotonous cuisine,

They, being from diverse cultures, were not easy to please.

The rough sea was contained, and no one was queasy,

Even though beef with rice was dished out to them daily,

The salted meat, much too salty, kept them from eating very much,

And the fresh meat always looked slightly undercooked.

Provisions also included white beans or peas, plums and sliced apples.

In the mornings, it was coffee and nice, newly baked white bread,

In the evenings, it was tea and either Schwarzbrot or white biscuits.

There was plenty water to drink, but often it was barely drinkable.

Hot and cramped in the galley and the passageways, rarely was dining thinkable.

            Well, I’m going to have to leave my Johann until next week. The letter continuing today’s account ends at New Orleans, on its way to Galveston. Apparently the letter describing the final lap of the steamer to Galveston is lost. How blessed I am he made this trip; would I exist if he hadn’t?


 Ray Spitzenberger serves as pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wallis, after retiring from Wharton County Junior College, where he taught English and speech and served as chairman of Communications and Fine Arts for many years.

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