Saturday, April 9, 2016

American Beauties: Immigrating to the United States in 1953

April 9th is Name Yourself Day (not to be confused with Middle Name Pride Day). That got me thinking about the immigrant experience, reinventing yourself in a new country, etc. Actually, it did no such thing—but I need an excuse to post these 63 year-old photographs featuring the Vasilev Family en route to their new life in San Francisco.

Natalie Vasilev, Lana Thomson, Tanya Sarsfield, Captain Robert "Bobby" Ford, Lena Vasilev, Stephany Mitrofanenko, Mrs. Triantafillidis, and Ann and Bill Schwarz on board the SS Pacific Transport in January 1953

I believe this snapshot was most likely taken on January 25th, 1953, on board the SS Pacific Transport before it set sail from Yokohama, Japan to San Francisco, California. Pacific Transport was the name of a transpacific cargo line operating from Los Angeles and San Francisco to Hawaii and ports in Asia.

Pacific Transport Lines 1953 calendar

The SS Pacific Transport made the news in 1954 when it famously brought the decorated war horse Sergeant Reckless from Japan to San Francisco. However—according to the Historical Dictionary of the U.S. Maritime Industry by Kenneth J. Blume—competition from Japanese lines and the Matson Navigation Company proved too much for Pacific Transport to challenge, and that same year, financial backer Paul I. Fagen sold his shares to other investors. Three years later, the company was merged with States Steamships Lines.

Natalie, Tatiana, Svetlana, and Helen Vasilev—Harbin Russians on board the SS Pacific Transport en route to America in 1953

I'm not sure what cargo was on board, but on this trip, the SS Pacific Transport also brought the Vasilev Family to America. The matriarch, Natalie Feodosievna Vasilev née Mitrofanenko, was born into the Russian Community in Harbin in 1915, and lived in Korea and Japan before bringing her family to the United States in 1953. You can read more about her here. According to this SS Pacific Transport manifest, Natalia and her daughters were "stateless."

Lena Vasilev, Tanya Sarsfield, and Stephany Mitrofanenko on board the SS Pacific Transport in 1953

Natalia's mother, Stephany Mitrofanenko, was on board to see them off. You can read more about her here. Although she didn't accompany her family on this particular voyage, she sailed into the United States (via the same ship) one year later. I like to think she made the trip with Sergeant Reckless, and they had a wild steamship romance.

Lena Vasilev, Lana Thomson, Natalie Vasilev, and Tanya Sarsfield on board the SS Pacific Transport in 1953

These were the Vasilev women—Lena, Svetlana, Natalia, and Tatiana. By all accounts, immigrating to the United States on a steamship could be a horrible experience, but these broads look pretty comfortable. However, knowing this was taken in January, all I can think is brrr.

Lena Vasilev, Tanya Sarsfield, Natalie Vasilev, and priest on board the SS Pacific Transport in 1953

It appears there was even a priest on board, perhaps to offer absolution in the event of a sinking?

Lena Vasilev and deckhand on board the SS Pacific Transport in 1953

This able seaman appears to be a deckhand (?) of some sort. I admit my knowledge of maritime occupations is pretty bad. Somewhere out there, a devotee of all things nautical is reading this, and wants to punch me in the face.

Seoul Sisters Lena and Tatiana Vasilev with Natalie Vasilev on board the SS Pacific Transport in 1953

What ocean voyage would be complete without a snapshot of kids sticking their heads out portholes? Seriously, as a fan of vintage photographs, I can attest that I've seen this shot repeated in about 17 different family collections. In this particular pic, the original Seoul SistersLena and Tatiana—goof around while their mother, Natalia, looks on.

SS Pacific Transport in San Francisco

The Vasilev Family landed in San Francisco on February 5th, 1953. I believe their descendants still live in the Bay Area to this very day.

If you've got a story about the SS Pacific Transport or immigrating to the United States on a steamship, drop us a comment! We'd love to hear from you! :)

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