Moore, Annie (1874–1924), first immigrant to land on Ellis Island, New York, was born on 24 April 1874 in Cork, the second child and only daughter of Matthew Moore and Julia Moore (née Cronin). Annie’s parents emigrated to New York in 1888, and she and her younger brothers, Anthony and Philip, followed three years later. The trio left Cork on 20 December 1891, travelling steerage aboard the Nevada. They arrived in New York on 1 January 1892 just in time for the opening of the new federal immigration depot at Ellis Island. Annie Moore was first in line to disembark the ship. She was greeted by federal, state and city dignitaries. Colonel Weber, the superintendent of immigration, presented her with a ten-dollar gold piece.
In New York, Annie and her brothers were reunited with their parents who were living at 32 Monroe Street in the city’s fourth ward, a neighbourhood of tenements. Matthew Moore, who had worked as a longshoreman, died in 1907.
For many years, the biographical details of Moore’s life were erroneously reported. In 2006, genealogist Megan Smolenyak and Brian G. Andersson, the commissioner of records and information for New York City (2002–10), announced that the Annie Moore who moved with her parents first to Indiana and then to Waco, Texas, was not the Ellis Island Annie Moore as had long been supposed. The Texas Annie Moore had in fact been born in Illinois and married a Patrick O’Connell who died during the Spanish flu epidemic. She was struck by a train and killed in 1924. The Ellis Island Annie Moore had in fact stayed in her Lower East Side neighbourhood in New York. In 1895, she married Joseph Augustus Schayer (1876–1960), the son of German immigrants who worked at the Fulton Street Fish Market, at St James’s catholic church, James Street. She gave birth to eleven children and buried six of them. The death certificates of the infants show death by poverty or neglect. Of the five who survived infancy, three had children of their own.
Moore died of heart failure on 6 December 1924 at 99 Cherry Street. She was fifty. A photograph taken late in life shows a stout woman frowning in front of a doorway. A story told about her is that she was too overweight to bring down the stairs, so her body had to be passed out the window. Annie Moore Schayer, five of her children and James Doherty, a neighbour’s infant, were buried in an unmarked grave in Calvary cemetery in Queens, New York. After Smolenyak and Andersson produced the evidence describing Moore’s life, plans were made by Irish American organisations to mark her grave with an Irish limestone headstone carved in Co. Clare. The grave was marked and dedicated on 11 October 2008.
The centenary of Ellis Island turned Annie Moore into a cultural icon. The Irish American Cultural Institute promoted the idea of making her the symbol not only of Irish immigrants but of all those who arrived at Ellis Island. Irish artist Jeanne Rynhart (1946–2020) created two pieces to commemorate the centenary: one of Annie Moore and her brothers departing Ireland, which was installed outside the Cobh Heritage Centre; the second was installed at Ellis Island pier depicting Annie alone, carrying her bag and holding her hat. Both were unveiled in 1993 by President Mary Robinson.
The merchandising of Annie Moore followed. The Irish American Cultural Institute introduced a commemorative ornament series with a brass replica of the New York Rynhart statue. Belleek Pottery produced a commemorative plate called ‘The first sight of Miss Liberty’, which sold out immediately. An Annie Moore doll came with the poem ‘Grandma Annie’ that explained the significance of the heirloom gold coin she received on her arrival in America. She was also commemorated in song, the Irish Tenors’ March 2001 Ellis Island concert featured the Annie Moore ballad ‘Isle of hope, isle of tears’, while the refrain in Tim Sparling and Allen Werneken’s ‘Immigration island’, includes the line, ‘You’re the first through this island in a new land, Annie Moore’.
Eithne Loughrey wrote three young adult novels that invent the life that Annie led in America: First in line for America (1999), Annie Moore: New York City girl (2000) and Annie Moore: the golden dollar girl (2001). Eve Bunting’s Dreaming of America (2000) is another account of Annie’s arrival in New York for the young reader.
These fictional accounts bear little resemblance to the grinding poverty and lost children of the real-life Annie Moore, however. Of the hardship she experienced, Megan Smolenyak wrote: ‘… as is so often the case with immigrants, her sacrifices led to greater opportunities for her descendants who have since flourished. At least one remained in the Lower East Side until this century, but most fanned out to New Jersey, Maryland, Wisconsin, Arizona, and elsewhere. They took on a variety of professions, worked their way up the economic ladder, and married others with diverse backgrounds so that Annie’s Irish genes have now blended with Hispanic, Jewish, Scandinavian, and more’ (10 Jan. 2017).
The Annie Moore Award was established by the Irish American Cultural Institute in 1995 to honour individuals who have contributed significantly to the Irish American community.