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The Immigrant Story

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  • The Immigrant Story

    My grandmother, Mathilda Kinnunen, came through Ellis Island from Finland in the early part of this century. Her ambition was to earn enough money to buy a bicycle and return to her native country.

    Upon her arrival at Ellis Island, her sponsor didn't show up, so she was detained overnight. Bewildered, she went to the front of the holding cell the next morning, and was soon spotted by a housekeeper from Manhattan. The housekeeper came up to my grandmother at the cell, looked in her face, and asked her in Finnish (many housekeepers to the very wealthy back then were Finnish) if she wanted a job.

    My grandmother wanted very much to get out of that cell on Ellis Island, and was eager to work, so she said yes. The housekeeper told her, "follow my lead." The housekeeper signed for my grandmother, and took her to a brownstone in Greenwich Village. The master of the house was throwing a huge party that night, and the servant staff was short of help.

    It turns out that the master of the house was one of the most famous silent-film producers of the time, and his party was for a select gathering of silver screen stars! That night, her second in America, was spent serving at that party. My grandmother watched behind the thick velour drapes, watching all these famous people she had heard about and even seen in Finland in silent movies!

    How great she thought America was!
    My grandmother went on to become a housekeeper at several prominent homes in Manhattan and Brooklyn, where she eventually married and raised her family. Today, she's buried in famous Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, and at her funeral, all of the people for whom she had worked (who were still alive themselves) attended. As for the house where she got her start, it is still in Greenwich Village, on 10th Street, I believe, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of the movie producer who used to live there.

    Only in New York!

    The story had been published on

    Originally published on the Stories & Information Immigrant (, a project of the NYC.GOV

  • #2
    Very inspiring, but it does sound like it happened a while ago. It would be cool to hear about something like that in modern times...


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