Museum of Ethnography
H-1146, Budapest, Dózsa György út 35.
Phone: +36 1 474 2100
Text: Tamás Molnár
Photoes: Krisztina Sarnyai
The wave of migration from Hungary to America reached its peak between 1885 and 1920, when impoverished Hungarians, in the throes of economic adversity, found the opportunities afforded by the fast-developing economy of the United States impossible to resist. The process was intensified by both the enthuisastic accounts of those who had already been there, and the pan-European network of agents that American industrialists used to secure a continuous supply of labour. The ships departed for New York from Fiume, the official port of emigration, and docked at Ellis Island, where immigrants underwent the required admittance procedures.
Travel trunk NM 82.97.64 The United States of America, turn of the 20th century
Once arrived, disembarkees were given medical examinations and interviewed by immigration officials. If they passed these tests, they were sent on their way to an office where they could obtain currency and purchase train tickets. If not, they were detained, their fates—acceptance or deportation—to be decided by a board of enquiry on the basis of the joint report of doctors and immigration officials. It was this process that earned Ellis Island its well-known moniker: Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears.
It was likely here that in 1904, the original owner of this travel trunk, too, first entered the United States. Of the years Zsófia Kovács spent in New York little is known. She probably met Sándor Révész, in the city, and on 26 December 1909, the couple had a baby girl, Ilona Révész. Four days later, on 30 December, the child was christened by Zoltán Kuthy, pastor at the Hungarian Reformed Church of New York City, with József Szűcs and Ilona Dénes as godparents. In 1910, Kovács returned with her daughter to Dombrád, Szabolcs County. In her travel trunk were the things she had acquired in the United States, including a coffee service and set of water glasses.
The trunk itself was made of pine, covered in canvas and encircled by riveted leather straps. Its corners are protected with iron hardware that also serves a decorative function. Inside is a removable two-compartment drawer with handles, lined with the same off-white paper that covers the interior. The inside of the lid is plastered with several dozen stickers bearing the contemporary trademark of the Johnson&Johnson Company, indicating that either the trunk’s owner, or a close acquaintance bore some relation to the firm.
Zsófia Kovács took great care of her travel trunk, keeping it with her in her bedroom. Her American effects were inherited by her daugher, who by then used her married name: Mrs. Sándor Csáki. The trunk, along with a piece from each of the sets (a water glass and a porcelain creamer) and Ilona’s New York birth certificate, were acquired by the Museum of Ethnography in 1982. The trunk is exhibited in original, unrestored condition.
Birth certificate NM EA 16014/20 The United States of America, 1930