A bizarre and mysterious 1906 NY immigration sailing arrival record

Upon first inspection of the Ellis Island immigration record dating from September 1906 (shown below), the Ship’s Officer of the popular Transatlantic steamer, the SS Baltic, seems to have gotten bored with logging the nationality of dozens of Irish immigrants. It appears that this man had other things on his mind. Naughty thoughts.

Take a look at the curious entries written downwards in Chinese style under column headings 9 & 10 – following a curious mathematical equation I have yet to decipher.

The writer of these words creates what appears to be an advert for a raunchy naked revue show titled “In A Bath Tub.” We are told that this theatre production “will make the women jealous of the men” and that “your heart will beat faster, your nerves will tingle with rapturous delight.” The advertised show seems to be rather obscene for the Edwardian era, even by New York City’s standards …. and it is. The unexpected words added to the 1906 record were not added in 1906!

No ordinary sailing record

My research indicates that the bizarre extra words were probably added in 1926. The anonymous writer, perhaps a disgruntled Immigration Inspector, has created a witty and sarcastic revue advert telling the scandalous tale about a large party thrown by Earl Carroll, a seedy NYC Theater Impresario in February 1926. At this gathering, reportedly attended by 500 invited guests in the Prohibition Era, Mr Carroll sought notoriety by paying a 17 year-old girl to sit naked in a bath tub full of champagne. The party guests were encouraged to fill their glasses from the tub. This sordid story hit the headlines when a reporter from the NY Mirror decided to break the oath of secrecy sworn by the other 499 guests. I can only guess that the cheeky Immigration Official at Ellis Island was fascinated by this tabloid journalism, and decided to record his creative composition for an unwitting Irish genealogist to discover in 2019.

For the [true] record, Earl Carroll was subsequently arrested and sent for trial over the affair. He was acquitted of having committed any serious crime, such as serving alcohol when it was banned, or exploiting a girl barely out of high school. However, the jury convicted Mr Carroll of committing perjury in court when a lie in his version of events was exposed. He was sentenced to one year and one day in prison, in 1927, but only served around 6 months behind bars after being paroled early. Upon release, Earl Carroll immediately returned to his role of producing lewd shows to make your nerves tingle, etc.

Earl Carroll during his trial in 1927

Questions remain, of course. Exactly why did the immigration officer defile this particular record, and did his superiors ever detect the adulteration? And can anyone solve the cryptic mathematical equation?


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