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Annie Moore:
First in line for America

For decades it was believed Annie Moore, an Irish immigrant arriving in America, went on to live the American dream, discovering riches and comfort by venturing west. However the true story of Annie’s life wouldn’t be as grand, but it was far from mundane.

This New Year’s Day marks the 125 anniversary of the opening of Ellis Island in New York. The facility, which was built on the same island as the Statue of Liberty, is synonymous with peoples and cultures from all over the world as the point where their life in the New World would begin.

The first person to be processed through Ellis Island was a 17 year old teenager from Co. Cork. Annie Moore had travelled by boat from Cobh (then known as Queenstown) with her two younger brothers, who were on their way to New York to meet their parents.

People disembarking at Ellis Island in the 1890's.

People disembarking at Ellis Island in the 1890's.

Annie Moore was given a specially commissioned $10 gold coin in honour of the occasion. Never ones to miss a PR opportunity, the US government were keen to show to the public that this rose-cheeked young woman from Ireland, who spoke English, was the epitome of a ‘good’ immigrant, and her picture was splashed across the newspapers the next day.

The story went that after arriving in the US Moore struck out for the western territories, married a descendant of Daniel O’Connell, and found wealth and fortune before being tragically killed in a streetcar accident in Texas in 1919. However, like most good stories, it wasn’t in the least bit true. This Annie Moore was in fact born in Illinois, and it seems for decades was the subject of a case of mistaken identity.

The real Annie Moore never headed west, never found fortune and did not marry a descendant of Daniel O’Connell. In fact, by all accounts after she passed through Ellis Island she never left Manhattan. However, after the whirlwind of publicity that greeted her arrival to America, a great disservice and injustice has been done by not commemorating Moore’s life with the truth.


Annie Moore and her brothers arriving at Ellis Island.

Thanks to research undertaken by noted genealogist Megan Smolenyak and reporting by New York Times journalist Jesse Green, the real life of Annie Moore has been pieced together.

Moore would marry a fellow emigrant, a German called Joseph Augustus Schayer. He worked in the nearby Fulton Fish Market. They would have at least 11 children while living in the tenements of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Sadly, some of them would not live through early childhood, as the conditions of the tenements were rife for the spread of disease. As Green notes, most of Moore’s adult life would have been sent giving birth, raising and burying her children. It’s an experience we today probably can’t comprehend in its hardship.


Annie Moore's statue at Ellis Island.

Moore died of heart failure on the 6th of December 1924 at the age of 50. She was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Queens, where she lay in obscurity for decades in an unmarked grave. In 2006 her grave was found, and in 2008 a commemoration ceremony was held and her final resting place was adorned with a headstone, a Celtic Cross made from Irish Blue Limestone.

Thanks to Smolenyak, Moore’s relatives in Ireland have been traced. In 2016 a statue of Annie and her two brothers was unveiled in Cobh in the presence of the Moore’s Irish ancestors, to remember the Moores’ story and to mark the legacy of Irish emigration.

Annie Moore's Irish relatives at her statue in Cobh.

Annie Moore’s story is also remembered and re-told at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum, one of over 320 figures featured in our galleries that details the vast story of Irish migration around the globe.