Tuesday, February 2, 2016

My Paternal Ancestors

Today, for complicated reasons, I hacked into my late father's email account.  While looking for some other information, I found some really fascinating information about my ancestors on my father's side.  As far as I know, all I've said below is true, but I'm no historian, so it's probably better to consider it all as myth.  Which, really, is more important than fact in the long run anyway.

There is a naming tradition for first-born sons in my family.  My brother's name is James.  My father's name was Michael.  His father's name was James.  His father's name was Michael.  His father's name was Dimitri.  I assume that Dimitri's father's name was Michael, and so on back into the mists of time.  James is not linguistically related to Dimitri, the similarity in sound led many Greek Dimitrios (who went by Dim for short) to be called Jim, and thence James.  Demitrius (Δημήτριος), obviously means "Devotee of Demeter"and ties my paternal line to Demeter, the Great Goddess of the Earth.  Michael (מיכאל), on the other hand, is a Hebrew name.  It means "Who is like El".  And so, again, I find myself tied to the marriage and El and Shaddai.

UPDATED 2/3/2016.  After consulting with some aunts and cousins and doing some research, I have made a few changes, added some new photos, and added a section on the history of Kos.

Most of my Greek family is from the island of Kos, a small island in the eastern reaches of the Dodecaneese, about 10 miles off the coast of Turkey, near the city of Bodrum (ancient Helicarnasus).  The island has been inhabited since at least the late Neolithic period.  A well-preserved Neolithic settlement called "Astri Petra" (White Rock) has been found on the southwestern tip of the island.  Having just now looked at some pictures, I am quite confident I have seen and visited it in visions, journeys, and dreams, where it was called "White Womb of the Earth".  I recall a large woman, painted with brown-red mud, wearing some kind of white fur, sitting on this altar/bench in the niche.
photo from here
 That being said, Karst caves all kind of look the same, so it could be a coincidence.  I hope to visit the cave myself someday (perhaps in April!).

The name Kos was attributed to the island quite long ago; Homer mentions in the Iliad that Kos sent 30 ships in service to Agamemnon.  The island is, perhaps most famous as the birthplace of Hippocrates, the father of medicine.  Along with that in Epidarus (the home of Asclepius) the Asklepion (healing temple) of Kos was among the most ancient and respected, and her attendant Medical School was considered the best in the world.  Here, Hygeia ruled; healers (both male and female) trained at the medical school of Kos were famous for their ability to not only cure, but also to prevent illness; their prophylaxis was the best in the world.  Unlike other contemporary medical schools, the school of Kos, particularly under the guidance of Hippocrates, focused on holistic care of the entire patient, rather than on treating individual diseases.  While some writers like to draw a bright line dividing the "rational" medicine of Hippocrates' school from the "spiritual" healing of the Asklepion, no such division was understood by the ancients themselves.  Healers trained at the medical school often pledged themselves to service at the Asklepion, and the Asklepion sent patients to the Medical School as well.  Fun fact: Medieval legend has it that Hippocrates daughter was transformed by Diana (whom, in this context, I understand to mean Hekate) into a water-dragon.

In the Hellenistic period, Kos rose to prominence as an important trading port.  It served as a "gateway to the East", and was famous for its silks, dyes, and exotic spices.  This prominence extended well into the medieval period, when the island was controlled by a series of Italian powers, notably Venice and Genoa.  In the 1500s, Kos came to be part of the Ottoman Empire, and remained so until it was taken by Italy in 1912.  The site of very heavy British and Resistance casualties during WWI,  Kos was liberated by the British in 1943, and returned to Greek control in 1948.  Modern Kos has a population of about 30,000 (about half that of Lancaster) and her primary industry is tourism, attracted by the beautiful beaches.  Today, Kos is on the front line of the Syrian refugee crisis; almost 1000 people land on the island every day, fleeing extremism and seeking a better life in Europe.

The first Greek family (not just a single man) to immigrate to Lancaster was the Caludis clan, headed by Kosta Caludis and his wife, Fotini Mastromichaeli Claudis.  They arrived in Lancaster, from the island of Kos, in August of 1908.

Shortly after Claudis and Fortini moved to Lancaster, so did Michael Mastromichaeli (1886-1953), whom I believe to be Fortini's cousin.  At Ellis Island, his name was changed to Michael Mastros.  He was my father's father's father.   Michael arrived in New York City on the SS Laura in 1909.  He worked building the Lincoln Tunnel, where he earned $3 a day.  Shortly thereafter, caught rheumatic fever, and came to Lancaster to recuperate.  His brother John already lived here.

In 1914, Michael married Christina Nicholau, the daughter of George and Maria.  Christina always worried that they had not been married in a Greek church, as there was not yet one in Lancaster.   The Nicholaus lived at 304 South Prince St.

Michael and Christina's engagement photo

Michael & Christina's Wedding

Jim, whose Greek name was Dimitri, was my father's father.

They owned a grocery store at 302 South Prince Street, where Wonder Bar now is.  In 1914,  Michael's parents, Dimitri and Kathryn, and his youngest siblings, Marika (Mary) and Filipou (Phillip), joined the couple in Lancaster.  They all lived together above the store.  Over the next 9 years, Christina has 7 children, Catherine, James (my grandfather), Mary, George, Sophie, Sadie, and Christ.  She died from complications of a hysterectomy in 1925.

Mastros Grocery is in the background.  circa 1930?

In 1920, as Prohibition began, Mike (my great grandfather), along with his father, Dimitrios, opened the Mastros Cafe (Spaghetti is our specialty!) at 56 East Vine Street.  Dimitrios was famous for his bathtub gin, which he and his grandson James (my grandfather) delivered all over town in glass jars in James' little red wagon.  After Prohibition ended, they got one of the first liquor licenses in Pennsylvania.

Since Prohibition began in 1920 and didn't end until 1933, I suspect the date on this photo is wrong.

Mike died in 1953, of a heart attack.  He is buried next to his parents in Lancaster Cemetery, on the corner of Lemon and Lime Streets.

As I mentioned early, there was no Greek Church in Lancaster when Michael and Christina married.  In 1921, the Nicholau and Mastros families, along with several other Greek families bought a formerly Methodist church at 215 South Queen St for $14,250. This was the first home of Annunciation Greek Church.  The building now houses St. Paul's Church of God in Christ.  The first priest, Father Vasilos Vasiliadis, lived with the Nicholaus.  He led his first service on March 25, 1922, the festival of the Annunciation.  He was priest until 1930.  Mike played the bazouka (like a trombone) at the church.  He is the second from the right in the back row in this photo.

Michael's son James (Dimitri) was my paternal grandfather. He was born in 1916 in Lancaster.  Although he only completed the 8th grade, he was a great lover of learning.  In WWII, he served in Europe, first as an artilleryman, but for most of the war as a mess sergeant (cook).   I'll write about him some other time.

You can read more about the early history of Greek in Lancaster here