Guest Viewpoints

Greek Independence Day, Chicago Style 1895-96

March 26, 2020
Stavros T. Stavridis

For the Greeks living in Greece and those in the diaspora, March 25 is an important day on the Greek national calendar. It is the time that Greeks remember when their ancestors commenced their struggle for freedom from Ottoman rule on March 25,1821.

The Daily Inter Ocean (1872-1914), a Chicago morning newspaper with a daily circulation of 50,000 copies supported the Republican side of U.S. politics. It published two articles titled ‘Their day to shout. Greeks celebrate an anniversary in their history…” and “Gala day for Greeks. Celebrate their emancipation from the rule of Turkey” on April 7, 1895 and1896. Both stories reported on the celebration of Greek Independence Day by that city’s small Greek community, which numbered 2,000. The Greeks at that time used the Julian calendar (March 25, old style), whereas April 7 in America was based on the Gregorian calendar.

According to Dr. John Volikos, a leading member of Chicago’s Greek community, remarked that there were only a handful of educated Greeks living in Chicago, whereas a vast majority of them were poor and uneducated. The latter group initially was engaged in selling fruit in the streets. In Greece, there were very few opportunities for advancement on the social ladder, whereas Chicago offered them a chance to improve their socio-economic position and status. Others learned “mechanical trades.” Some Greeks made their fortunes, returned to Greece, married, and brought their brides back with them to America. Generally speaking, however, most Greeks tended to marry American, Swedish, German, Irish, and German women. Very few single Greek women ventured across the Atlantic to North America during the late 19th century.

The celebration of Greek Independence Day has three parts to it, as evidenced in the two news accounts. The first one involved a Liturgy conducted at the Greek Orthodox Church located on Kinzie Street and near Clark by Father Peter Phiambolis. After the April 1896 church service, Father Phiambolis, Baron de Schlippenbach (Russian Consul), Count Roswadowski (Italian Consul), Arnold Holinger (Swiss Consul), and Charles Hutchinson (Greek Consul-General) made speeches to the small congregation. The Greek Consul sent his secretary A.W. Foote to represent him at this event. John C. Palamaris thanked the Consuls for their beautiful contributions. While the newspaper did not report on the content of the speeches, one can safely assume that the presenters would have praised the heroic efforts of the Greeks in 1821.

The second part involved an afternoon parade “south on Clark street from the Northside Turner Hall to Adams Street, east on Adams Street to State Street, north on State Street to Lake Street, west on Lake Street to Dearborn Street, north on Dearborn Street and Dearborn Avenue to Division Street, west on Division Street to Clark Street, south on Clark Street to Northside Turner Hall.” During the procession, Greek societies, including the Lycurgus Benevolent Society founded by Greeks from Laconia in 1892, and Greek community were “led by John C. Palamaris, P.A Manusos, Constantine Mitchell, M. Comonzis, Dr. John.Volikos, and John Stravro.”

The 1896 procession was an exciting affair. It was “headed by eight policemen in command of Sergeant Fink of East Chicago Avenue station. Behind a band of sixty pieced, playing Greek and American airs, came members of the Society of Lycurgus wearing handsome regalia.”

They received warm support from “onlookers” during their two-hour procession. The playing of “Greek and American airs” symbolized the dual loyalty of Chicago Greeks towards their old and adopted homeland. They were also grateful to America for economic opportunities, social advancement, and the freedom to celebrate and maintain their Hellenic identity free of Ottoman subjugation. In the late 19th century, many Greeks still lived outside the small Hellenic Kingdom, in Asia Minor, the Dodecanese, Thrace, Macedonia, and Crete under Ottoman rule. After the procession, celebrations continued at Turner Hall.

The final installment included cultural and social events held in the evening. In 1895, a comedy play titled Babel, set in Nafplion, Peloponnesos, was based on the Greek war of independence. The play showed that the “Greeks had become nationalized by the adoption of a language, not exactly classic Greek, but so near akin to it that patriotism had enjoined its general use to the confusion and abolition of the dialects.”

Before this, “a Peloponnesian, Albanian, Chiote, Cretan, and Anatolian” had gathered at an inn with “each speaking a dialect that none of the others understands.” They spoke a “babel of tongues: when a courier enters “telling of Greek independence.” With the assistance of a ‘scholar’, they adopted Greek as their national language.

Those who participated in the play included: J.C. Palamaris, John Stavro, John Volikos, A. Manutos, Xenophon Paraskevopoulos, Ath. Athanasion, Hiar Contos, N. Michaelopoulos, J. Poulos, John Andrew, James Granakopoulos, V. Contos, N. Stathakis, and N. Georgacopoulos. Pianist Kate Matoxes accompanied by an orchestra, played different tunes and the ‘Ethnikos Hymnos’ (Greek national anthem). Greek and American flags decorated Turner hall.

In 1896, both Greeks and Americans attended a dance at Turner Hall. The Americans were much at “home” with their “waltzes…quadrilles,” whereas the Greeks indulged in their traditional dances. The Daily Inter Ocean described the Greek dances as “graceful and pretty to look at.” Greek identity also could be expressed through dancing. Some of those attending this social function included G. Gianokopoulos, J.C. Palamaris, E. Lamprakis, A. Andrew, G. Psycharis, Peter Poulos, and W. Kabouris. A management committee headed by P. Thomson, T. Poulos, P. Williams, C. Michel, N. Carlas, J. Gianokpoulos, J. Politis, P. Lambros, G. School, N. Kelavos and others had organized this successful social event.

Nicholas P. Stathakis, the Chicago correspondent of Athens newspapers Logos and Akropolis, worked very diligently to make this social event a great success.

The Daily Inter Ocean stated that “what the Greeks have done in Chicago in the short space of ten years may be taken as an indication of what they will do in the years to come.”




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