by Lindalee Brownstein
In 1995 my husband, son Daniel, and I were on Ellis Island viewing immigrant photos and hearing their stories. We saw teenagers traveling alone across the ocean, heading for their hopes as everything they’d known faded behind them. We saw parents waiting to hear if they would be admitted to the USA to build a good life; if not for themselves, at least for the child holding their hand and the baby in the blanket.
Eyes looking out from the sepia photographs sometimes appeared frightened, but, no matter, they had done what they thought needed doing.
Visiting Ellis Island was an opportunity for our 14-year-old Daniel, who’d grown up in the 1990s, to see real courage and character. Too often, we felt, he was subjected to disappointing stories of his fellow man — in the land that these people had risked all to join.
It was now time to take the ferry back, head for the New York airport, and return to Ohio. On the subway I had my camera, my carry-on bag, and my …ahhh, my PURSE was still on the ferry!
I glanced at my husband. This would not be easy.
After my confession, we decided we had no time to turn back. We’d continue to the airport and catch our flight. Phoning the ferry confirmed that the purse hadn’t been turned in: “If it turns up, we’ll let you know.”
Back in Ohio, I was told repeatedly that purses lost in New York don’t get returned. Everyone agreed that New Yorkers don’t care, the crime rate is high, and you’re more likely to have a purse *snatched* than returned.
I was resigned to getting a new driver’s license, keys, photos, etc.
That was before the UPS driver dropped off the package with my purse and all of its contents, including a substantial amount of cash, still in it. It was turned in by an anonymous ferry passenger, and shipped by an anonymous ferry service employee. Two people just doing the right thing in the Big Apple, for someone they would never meet.
My son had assumed that someone would take the money and throw away everything else. He was surprised that someone used their own money to mail it, and recalls that this incident proved to him that good, honest people exist today.
Seven years later, Daniel, now 21 and finishing college, found a wallet in a deli in our home town. After eyeing the thick wad of bills it contained — a fortune to a college student like himself — he turned it in.
Perhaps the anonymous ferry passenger and employee showed the way for Daniel to overcome temptation and do the right thing. And perhaps the owner of this wallet, or their child, will one day be faced with the same choice. Perhaps they will follow the example set by an anonymous person who did the right thing in Ohio in 2002.