"Greeks in Chicago..." article - Chicago Daily Tribune, February 21, 1897

Published in Chicago Daily Tribune, February 21, 1897

Interesting Features of the
Big Resident Colony.
From Humble Beginnings They
Gain Wealth Rapidly.
Some of the Customs of Ancient Greece
Transplanted Here.
On the second floor of an unpretentious building in Kinzie, near Clark street, stands a modest altar from which every Sunday and feast day mass is celebrated according to the rites of the Greek Church.  Here come regularly the 3,000 members of the Greek colony in Chicago to worship God after the forms which obtain in their native land and which their ancestors followed for centuries.  In many respects the service is similar to that of the Roman Catholic Church, with the added interest of unusually picturesque features.  At the appointed hours a bearded priest, the Rev. Father Phiambolis, clad in canonical robes, mounts the altar, the censer-bearers swing their lamps, sending out a pungent perfumed smoke, and mass is said in the Greek tongue just as it has been in Greece itself for nearly 2,000 years.  No attempt has been made to modernize or popularize the service.  There is no salaried choir, no costly trimmings or decorations.  It is, for the time being, a part of ancient Greece transplanted and set down in the heart of a busy, bustling community, where the rattle of wagon wheels and the clang of street car bells break in with striking rudeness on the holy intonations of the priest.  To the casual visitor who knows the Greeks only in a business way and is conversant with their quickness in adapting themselves to American methods and manners the impression thus given is a most forceful one.

You Know This Greek.

The Greek colony in Chicago is an interesting and graphic factor in the business, political, and social affairs of the city.  Born of a race in whom the love of liberty is strongly implanted, and whose national history is replete with deeds of daring; coming from a country rich in all the forms of poesy and art - a land recognized the world over as the birthplace of the highest types of culture and intelligence - the Greek immigrant makes but a poor impression when he first puts foot on the soil of the United States.  Swarthy in complexion, unable to make known to those about him, his wants or desires, frequently with scanty funds, the newcomer is assailed by hoodlums with the taunt of "Dago," and driven about the streets in derision.  But it is not for long.  The Greek is an industrious chap.  Here in Chicago the first venture of the immigrant is usually in the role of a fruit peddler.  Some sympathetic countryman advances the price of a pushcart and stock of goods, drills him in the use of a few words of broken English, and the new arrival trudges about the city from daylight to dark calling out, "Ripa banan. Fiva cent."  He is frugal and saving.  Pretty soon he gets a little money together, opens a store of some kind for himself, or gets a job in a factory as soon as he has mastered the language sufficiently, and sells the pushcart outfit to some later comer.  There are Greeks in Chicago who peddled bananas ten years ago and are now the owners of profitable stores, and have extensive realty holdings.  Men of this class, like Nicholas Mazarakos, J. C. Palamaris, Nicholas Peppas, John Polites, Peter Lambrosa, and Constantine Mitchell, wield an enviable influence in business and political circles.

Aim to Become Americans.

Unlike many immigrants of other nationalities, the Greeks are not gregarious.  There is no particular locality in Chicago where they congregate.  So long as he is helpless through ignorance of the language of this country the Greek immigrant naturally lives as much as possible with those of his kind, but as soon as he is able to make himself thoroughly understood and is free from debt he seeks a home best suited to his convenience, regardless of other ties.  Crushed at home under the rule of the Turk for hundreds of years, the stories of liberty to be found under the Stars and Stripes told to toddling youngsters like nursery tales in this country have borne fruit, and the Greek comes here with the determination to be a free man.  There is a striking illustration of this in the number of smooth-shaven men of that race seen on the streets of Chicago.  In Greece every honest man wears a mustache or beard, because the absence of hair on the face is the badge of a convict.  The first impression of an immigrant on landing here is that he has struck a penal colony, but he quickly learns that the wearing of mustache or beard is merely a matter of personal taste, devoid of social or moral significance, and, if the fancy moves him he has no compunction about removing the hair from his own face.  To do the same thing in Greece would cause people to shun him as a man of dangerous tendencies.

All the Greeks in Chicago are Republicans.  They vote the ticket solidly at every State and national election, and, what is more, they are able to give good and intelligent reasons for doing so  At various times politicians of other faiths, who have tried to wean them away to the support of Democratic or Populist nominees, has been sadly discomfitted in arguments with Palamaris, Mazarakos, and Mitchell.

Assisted by Rich Residents.

These, by the way, are the men who look after the new arrivals and advance them money with which to start in business.  Your true Greek will not work at hard manual labor like digging sewers carrying the hod, or building railways.  He is either an artisan or a merchant, generally the latter.  On reaching Chicago he applies to Mazarakos, or some of the other old-timers, for a loan of $25 or $50, as his needs  may require, and always gets it without trouble.  The security is a mortgage on the homestead in Greece.  Every family in that far-off land owns its own home, usually a small cottage with a little bit of land about it.  The old folks remain there to look after it while the young men come to America.  These homesteads are of trivial value, but they afford ample security for the money advanced here, and, in no case thus far, it is said, has there been any necessity to force collection by seizing the mortgaged property.  While the people in Greece own their homes money is scarce and the parents, knowing that opportunities to acquire wealth are much greater in the United States, readily consent to becoming surety for the loans their sons may make.

The first Greek who came to Chicago, and who is still looked upon as the father of the colony here, although he is now living at Jamestown, O., was Christ Chaconas, a native of Sparta, who arrived here twenty-five years ago and, after getting a fortune for himself, paved the way for the incoming of many of his countrymen.

Feast Days and Customs.

On April 6 of each year the Greeks in Chicago have a big parade and demonstration in celebration of the revival of national independence - an event fraught with as much interest to them as the Fourth of July is to Americans.  They go in the morning to hear Father Phiambolis say mass.  Then they march in procession through the principal streets, and in the afternoon, if the weather is favorable, they indulge in ancient Olympian games.  In the evening there is a big dance and speaking on patriotic subjects.  King George's day is similarly observed on April 23.  Their other notable holidays are Christmas, which falls on Jan. 6, New Year's, on Jan 30 and Easter, which is a movable feast just as it is in the Roman Catholic Church.  All Greek dates are computed by the Julian calendar, which accounts for their fixed holidays like Christmas and New Year's falling upon other days than the same events do in countries where the Gregorian calendar is used.

As turkey is the American Thanksgiving dish, so spring lamb, roasted before an open fire and turned on an old-fashioned wooden spit, is the piece de resistance at all Greek feasts of note.  No self respecting Greek in Chicago or elsewhere would think of letting Easter or any other big event pass without a dinner of roast lamb, prepared in the manner described.  Coal stoves and gas ranges are good enough to cook by on ordinary occasions, but when it comes to the matter of roast lamb an open fireplace and spit is called into requisition.  Retsina, a thin, sour wine, made in Chicago from California grapes, is the ordinary beverage, and a Greek can consume it by the gallon.  Mesticha, a liquor made from raisins, and brandy of the cognac variety are also largely used, both of these being imported.

Picnics and Olympian Games.

Summer picnics afford the Chicago Greeks a great deal of pleasure.  The lake shore near Evanston is their favorite resort and there they go, either in family parties or clubs, as often as possible.  Like their athletic ancestors who won fame in the days of Athens' ancient glory, they throw quoits, hurl the hammer, put the weight, wrestle, run foot races, and in other ways keep alive a healthy spirit of rivalry with the object of preventing physical degeneration.  If the hints of some of the more belligerent may be accepted there have been quiet meetings between boxers, whose hands were covered with the cestus, and the lake sands have been dyed and dampened with something darker than water.  Last winter the Greeks gave a pretentious dramatic performance in their native language at North Side Turner Hall.  The play was "Babylonia," a comic drama in which all the local Greeks of note took part.  A few Americans who heard of it expressed a desire to witness a repetition and it was given with the result that $2,000 was secured for charitable work.  Although in many instances their personal appearance and surroundings do not indicate it, nearly all Greeks are interested in literature and become omnivorous readers, especially of newspapers, as fast as they can master the English language.  They have in Chicago five literary societies - viz:  The Lycurgus, Spartan, Tegeia, Arcadia, and Laconia, most of which in addition foster a national patriotic spirit.  The Greek Benevolent Society looks after all matters of charity and it is asserted by those interested in it that no deserving Greek was ever compelled to seek assistance elsewhere.  "There is one thing we do thoroughly," said J. C. Palamaris, 
and that is we take good care of our poor.  We have but a few of this kind and unless they are sorely afflicted in some way they don't need aid for any great length of time."

Brave but Mild-Mannered.

Despite their somewhat ferocious personal aspect, the Greeks are a mild-mannered people, of strong domestic tastes.  They suffer long and quietly, and it is only when goaded to desperation by taunts or blows that they resort to force.  Brave when fighting as a nation, as the situation in Crete shows, as individuals they seem willing to submit to all sorts of indignities without retaliation.  Most of the Greeks in Chicago come from Sparta, the famed land of heroic men and women, and one would naturally expect to find them of high-strung, daring mold.  That they do not give outward indication of their real character amid strange surroundings is explained by one of their leaders on the ground that all their early training is in the line of self-restraint and implicit obedience to parents and superiors.  "The Greek is not a slave, and never will be," says Mazarakos, "but it is not a sign of courage, good breeding, or patriotism to act the part of a brawler, and we are taught so from youth.  Our people have suffered much from being confounded with those from other countries who bear some resemblance to us in looks, but whose manners and customs are vastly different.  Greece is not the land of the stiletto."


  1. Welcome to the GeneaBloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories" and family saga novels:
    "Back to the Homeplace" and "The Homeplace Revisited"
    The Heritage Tourist at In-Depth Genealogist: http://www.indepthgenealogist.com/


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