My Journey to Zion

By JayIrvinH's great aunt Valborg Rasmussen.




At last I was on my way to America. I realized that now everything would be changed. Behind me was my mother, and each movement of the ship told me I was floating further and further from her. I felt seasick. I found my way down a steep narrow stairway into the bottom of the boat. There I found rows of bunk beds on either side and a long table down the center where the immigrants were to eat.

The air was stilling, and there were all kinds of confusion and noise. Little children were crying while mothers were preparing scanty meals. The idea of food made me feel worse. I made my way to one of the bunks, took oil my little black jacket, and crawled in. There was little light. At the small windows all I could see was water. I looked around at the darkness and felt the return of bitter reality. But much of the best in life blooms out of its necessities.

I spent every minute of that two week voyage on my back. I ate nothing because I was so seasick. I saw Elder Hansen only once during the crossing. He brought me a fresh orange, but I couldn't stand the smell of it. I lay among saints from Sweden, Norway, and several other countries all heading for Zion. I told myself that, uncomfortable as the situation was, it was only a stepping stone to bigger and better things. I tried to remind myself that it was a return, a spiritual reevaluation, a contrast of temporal things in the light of things eternal. I resolved not to regret my decision to leave my mother and my country. But at the time, none of these thoughts made me feel less homesick or less seasick.

I was frightened at times by a rowdy group of Jewish immigrants on the other side of the boat. They were loud and coarse. Often in the morning one of the saints would find something missing and suspected that the Jews were responsible. One night my little black jacket was stolen. It was the only covering I had for my body. I had saved so long to buy it that I was heartbroken.

What little fat clung to my bones was gone before we reached New York. Two weeks of seasickness, coupled with an intense longing for my mother, had reduced me to a living skeleton. On the last day of the voyage I finally climbed out of bed for the last time and pulled myself up the narrow stairway. I found myself clinging to the same railing I had clung to on the day of departure.

New York Harbor

When the ship glided into New York harbor, a gentle breeze was blowing. Looking up, I saw the morning sun gleaming on the outstretched hand of the Goddess of Liberty. She was wonderful to behold so big, so glorious. I saw her as my new mother welcoming me to America, the land of my new birth. It was a sight I shall never forget. Suddenly, I felt less homesick, and tears of gratitude to God and my church dimmed my eyes.

I saw my first glimpse of America when we landed at Ellis Island. Believe me, I couldn't see much except the hundreds of immigrants who were all bigger than I. Jostled by the crowds of people shoving past me, my only thought was to hang on to my belongings. Elder Hansen, who did not have to go through the immigration procedures, had made me responsible for a purebred canary in a bird cage. It had been a gift from the saints in Denmark, and I had promised to carry it safely to Utah. I held the cage in one hand and a two handled wicker basket containing everything I owned in the other. I must have made a pitiful picture standing alone with my braids hanging down my back. I waited in the din and confusion of the immigrants until my turn finally arrived to be processed.

The Train to Utah

Elder Willard Hansen did not leave New York with me. He had reason to stay in the east for several weeks. But Jacob Hansen, another missionary I had known from Copenhagen was taking the same train to Bear River, Utah. So elder Willard Hansen gave me a little change for food and put me on the train with his companion.

The train itself had the worst accommodations imaginable. Two long wooden seats ran the length of the car on either side. They were bare, dirty, and devoid of sunlight. There I sat alone with my basket and my bird cage awaiting the thousands of miles yet to go. I had never given the slightest thought to the distance between New York and Utah. My struggle had been to reach America. The idea of any journey I might have to make once I arrived had sailed right past me. Nevertheless, I spent six days on that train. My belt grew larger and larger because I didn't have much to eat. We made occasional stops, and other passengers would scurry into a station for a sandwich. But I was careful. I never knew for sure how much time I'd have, and I didn't have much money. Besides, every place we stopped was so dirty I was afraid to eat the food. During those six days, I grew terribly hungry.

Brigham City

Strangely enough, I never saw Jacob Hansen alter leaving New York. I wasn't afraid. I knew I was to get off at Brigham City, and that's all there was to that. But when that train finally reached its destination and I stepped onto the station platform, there was no one to meet me. I had no idea where to go, so I walked to the nearest house and asked a man,"Where does Willard Hansen live?" I spoke in Danish, but, at that time Brigham City was full of immigrants. Luckily he understood me. In no time I had climbed on the man's buckboard and was on my way to the Hansen home.

Elder Hansen's wife, Maria, was holding a quilting bee that day; and when I arrived, still carrying my wicker basket and the canary, she was preparing to serve dinner to the ladies. By that time was so starved I hurt clear through to my back. I asked Maria if I could have just a crust of bread. She could see how hungry I was, and she fed me. All I ate was a piece of bread and some milk. She would have given me more, but that's all I wanted. It was enough to stop the hunger. I have never been as hungry, before or since, as I was that day.

Being a child, I had not known what to expect when I reached Utah. I had fought to come and had been anxious to arrive in my new home; but I had never seen an American city or town and had no idea what to expect.

My first impression of Brigham City was wonderful. It was beautiful. Every home had a little reed organ. To me that was grand. No matter how poor the family, or how bad the adobes looked, the songs of Zion could be heard drifting out of the little houses.

Prison for Willard Hansen

Whenever a missionary returned home there was a celebration. So it was with Elder Willard Hansen. The brass band came and played a rousing welcome. All our neighbors enjoyed a good supper and home made beer. We played the little reed organ and everyone sang songs of gratitude. There was no limit to our happiness.

Regrettably, the gaiety was short lived. There were U.S. marshals in Utah who enjoyed making a living off the Mormons. Across the street from where we lived were some apostates. They were saloon keepers who made more money than anyone else in Brigham City. We knew that after the celebration they would know Brother Hansen was home and would be watching for him. It was only a week until the marshal arrived. Brother Hansen was hauled into court before a harsh judge whose only purpose was to send polygamists to prison. Brother Hansen had two wives, and this cruel justice would see that he suffered for it six months in the penitentiary.

I have always regretted that the situation was ever created to upset people's lives so terribly. Some men would spend two or three years locked away from their families. Why? only because they had one more wife than the civil law permitted. With these men, polygamy was a principle of religion that caused everyone involved to be less selfish and harder working. They could not forsake their principles nor their wives whom they had married in gospel faith.
But the marshals came, usually at the call of someone who had turned against the Church. Many good husbands were imprisoned. And so it happened to my friend and benefactor. At a time when he did not have a cent to spare, Elder Hansen was  taken away. We did not see him for six months. I don't know how we survived. One sack of potatoes had to last that whole winter to feed the seven of us: sister Hansen, four boys, a little girl, and myself. Sister Hansen was an invalid, so I kept the house, cooked, and cared for her. There was no doctor in Brigham City who could relieve her pain, but we did obtain some soothing medicine From Celia Nielson, the midwife.

Above picture of Willard S.Hansen's two families in 1888. Annie Christensen Hansen, left, with baby Auvilla on her lap. Maria Larsen Hansen, right, with her children around her: left to right, Christian, Aurthur, Willard, Meda, and Gene. Valborg suffered through her first winter in Brigham city with Maria's family. Willard was in the penitentiary at the time because of Polygamy.

My Canary's Death
That winter the canary died. Its death was my first real sadness since I had come to America. The cat had eaten it. No one else seemed upset. To them it was just another bird. To me this little companion, whom I had guarded dearly on our long and difficult journey, was the last token of my homeland.

Now its song was ended. Never again would I hear its sweet Danish melody. Enduring the discomforts of my immigration to Zion had not been easy, but this loss was most difficult. With the departure of my tiny yellow friend, I knew I had completed my journey of the heart. But had I? A new song in a new land was all around me, but the echo of the old lingered on and on in my memory.

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Jay Irvin H is so proud of his great aunt Valborg's strong faith and testimony!!!

April 2 2009