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Culture

Something Old, Something New

A wide array of public monuments acknowledge and so commemorate the lives and actions of individual Greeks all across North America. No full listing or complete descriptive text yet exists identifying more than a fraction of these public works. In part, this may be due to the fact that this expressive form of public history is so diverse. The varieties of such public expressions includes but is not limited to statues, busts, historical plaques, painted portraits, photographs, public art, fountains, streets, public squares, public buildings, having public spaces such as pools, parks, sports stadiums dedicated and/or named after some local notable Greek or war memorials, to say nothing of inscriptions on gravestones as well as various cemetery memorials and even in at least one instance an actually stone obelisk.

Consequently, it is not surprising to learn that no one can identify the first let alone the very latest of these various forms of public recognition. Now by 'first' I mean the oldest public monument expressly raised to a Greek who lived and worked in America by local citizens. Statues or tablets honoring historical figures such as say Theodoros Greco, whose statue can now be found in Clearwater Beach Florida, or the public plaques honoring the New Smyrna Colony, and the grave site tablet placed over Maria Gracia Turnbull's Charleston, NC grave, were all conceived and raised by Greek-Americans.

The Inscription on Maria Turnbull's plaque reads:

“Dedicated to the eternal memory of Maria Gracia Dura Bin Turnbull.

The daughter of a Greek merchant from Smyrna, Asia Minor. The first Greek woman to settle in North America, who, with her husband, Dr. Andrew Turnbull, established the colony of New Smyrna, Florida on June 26, 1768. She, her husband, and children moved to Charleston, South Carolina May 13, 1782

ERECTED BY PLATO CHAPTER NO. 4

ORDER OF AHEPA during the observance of Greek Ethnic Month of the Bicentennial May 11, 1974”

In this instance, I would like to begin by exploring the historical facts surrounding the question of which Greeks in the United States the non-Greeks chose to recognize in a public tribute. Specifically, which public work was first raised and which the most recent. Even an all too quick review of these two public works offers us some basis on which to frame future research. I must emphasize that given the general lack of interest in the true historical sweep of Greek-American Studies it is not surprising that so few accounts exist on any of these public works.

Since such a documented study of distinctly Greek-American public tributes must begin somewhere, I offer, here, what is most likely the first and what is undoubtedly the most recent of these public works.

As far as I am now able to determine the first public tribute to a Greek living in America was the tablet dedicated to and honoring the memory of Michael Anagnos (Anagnostopoulos) (1837-1906) at the Perkins Institute for the Blind on May 22, 1907 (c.f. Boston Globe May 23, 1907).

A concise account from the news accounts of the day reports: “A bronze tablet in memory of the late Michael Anagnos, a leader of the Greek race in this country and for 30 years a director of the Perkins Institute for the Blind at Boston, was unveiled in the Perkins Institute (Middlebury Register (VT) May 31, 1907).”

For the moment this tablet/plaque must be considered the first public work dedicated to a Greek-American. But Michael Anagnos is a very special individual for both American and Greek historians.

Ten years after the formal dedication of the Anagnos tablet a bust of Anagnos was unveiled on the grounds of the Perkins Institute. A bronze bust created by Bela Lyon Pratt, the noted American sculptor (1867-1917), was unveiled with a program of speakers in the Institute's Howe Memorial Hall. Anagnos' bust was institutional. Among the speakers and attendees was the Rev. Nestor Souslides of the Lowell Greek Orthodox Church (Boston Globe November 7, 1917). In the 1970s, I spoke with individuals at the Perkins Institute. I learned of a long established tradition of the annual graduation ceremonies. As part of the day's events the graduating students marched between the bronze bust of Anagnos and – please forgive me I cannot now recall if I was told it was a bust of Thomas H. Perkins or Samuel Gridley Howe. As they pass between these two monuments they sing what is titled the 'Anagnos Song.' This song was composed by Emilie Poulsson, graduate of the 1882 class.

The lyrics are:

Anagnos, dear founder,

Anagnos, our friend,

We come with happy singing

On Founder's Day;

Our pretty flowers bringing

On Founder's Day.

For 'tis the day we try to show

That though he lived so long ago

His loving work for us we know,

Anagnos, dear founder,

Anagnos, our friend.

We come with happy singing

On Founder's Day;

Our pretty flowers bringing

On Founder's Day.

He planned and worked that there might be

A place where children such as we

Might learn and work, in gladness free,

Anagnos, dear founder,

Anagnos, our friend.

We come with happy singing

On Founder's Day;

Our pretty flowers bringing

On Founder's Day.

We cannot thank him, but each year

We children lay our flowers here

In memory of this founder dear,

Anagnos, dear founder,

Anagnos, our friend.

We come with happy singing

On Founder's Day;

Our pretty flowers bringing

On Founder's Day.

(see Perkins Institution Scrapbook of Clippings https://archive.org/stream/perkinsinstituti40perk/perkinsinstituti40perk_djvu.txt)

Turning from what may well be the very first monuments raised to honor a notable Greek-American we come to what may well be the latest such monument.

A new full-figure 500-pound bronze statue of artist Constantinos Stavrou Brumidis (1805-1880) has been erected at the Brown-Leanos Park at Westgate Circle in Annapolis to honor local Greek and Italian heritage. The origins of this new park are reported on the Waymarking.com website, “When the Westgate Circle roundabout was planned, the city of Annapolis promised to include a park into the design of the rerouted roadways of West Street, Spa Road, and Taylor Avenue that would memorialize the fact that the Afro-American family of William Brown and the Italian-American family of James Leanos had operated their respective businesses on the location impacted by the roundabout's design.”

Brumidis was a Greek-Italian-American historical painter, renowned for his fresco work in the Capitol in Washington, DC. On October 19, 2019 at 1:30 PM at a dedication ceremony held by the Foundation of Hellenism in America this new monument was formally presented to the world (c.f. www.Hellenes.com).

Such were the many artistic contributions of Brumidis that he is known today as 'the Michelangelo of the United States.'

The overall dedication observances on October 19, 2019 were extensive. Among the various events and testimonials given at these events was the formal proclamation issued by Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley that October 19, 2019 was 'Constantino Brumidi Day.'

Numerous accounts exist on the full array of dedication ceremonies. I suggest those interested in learning more about this specific monument – including maps that offer detailed directions for those interested in visiting Brown-Leanos Park – search for them on the Internet, where they can be easily found.

How many public monuments are expressly dedicated to the contributions of Greeks in the United States? No one honestly knows. Yet anyone who even begins the most casual of searches will immediately discover they quite literally number in the dozens and are found from sea to shining sea. These individuals, women and men alike, have only brought honor upon the Greek-American community at large. That these monuments are not well known – if they are known at all – by Greeks now living in the United States says more about our community than it does the accomplishments of these singular individuals.

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