Papou’s House in Sheepshead Bay

I love going to the home of my Kostakos grandparents in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. Sitting on a very rare double-wide lot, it was spacious and airy inside with beautifully manicured lawns and gardens surrounding it. I have happy childhood memories of exploring all of its nooks and crannies with my cousins.

Last weekend as we were scanning my grandparents’ photos, we came across this rare treasure: a picture of my grandfather, John, standing proudly at the side of his house.

Andrew John Kostakos, standing on the side of his home at 2669 East 26th Street, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY, 1953

Andrew John Kostakos, standing on the side of his home at 2669 East 26th Street, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY, 1953

Looking at a similar view of house today (below), I honestly think it has lost some of its grandeur. The original color was a Williamsburg blue with hardwood siding which lent an air of aristocracy, not evident in the gold cedar shake shingles pictured below.

Sheepshead Bay House, side view, 2016

Sheepshead Bay House, side view, 2016

We calculated that Papou and Yiayia bought their home in 1950. We all agreed with my cousin, John, who said, “it was the most beautiful house I had ever walked into.” This home had amenities not seen in the average residence. On the first floor was a large living room enhanced with a three-dimensional fresco of three horses hanging over the fireplace. The fresco was raised, and it looked as if the horses were jumping out of the wall, headed right towards you. There was a dining room with a butler’s pantry, a breakfast room, a big beautiful kitchen, and as seen on the right above, a sun porch. There was even a wine cellar in the basement. The second floor had three bedrooms – a master bedroom and two smaller ones. John said, “the one thing I couldn’t get over was that the sink and toilet were in separate rooms from the tub,” a most unusual feature in the 1950’s.

Cousin Marianne remembered that there were crawl spaces all over the house; in the attic and even in bedroom closets. One day, she found a stash of Colorforms and Gulliver’s Travels cutouts as she was exploring.

The house sat on an unheard-of double lot situated three blocks from the Sheepshead Bay waterfront. As other homes were encircled in concrete, Papou’s house was surrounded by green, manicured lawns and flower gardens. We cousins sprinted around the property playing all types of games, not realizing as youngsters what a rare treat that was in the city.

John recalled hearing that our grandfather paid $25,000 for the house in 1950, bargaining the owner down from his asking price of $30,000. Looking ahead to the time when the big house would inevitably be too much to care for, Papou built a two-family brick house on the property in 1963. Eventually, this became the home of his daughter, Alice, who cared for both of her parents throughout their lives. My cousin, John, now lives in the apartment upstairs and he watches over Alice who lives on the first level. It is the home where we gathered last weekend for our scanfest.

Sheepshead Bay House (2)

Sheepshead Bay house with 2-story home on property, 2016

This house is my grandfather’s testament of attaining the American dream. As an illiterate 17-year-old orphaned immigrant from a village outside Sparta, Papou traveled on a ship alone, coming to the new world to join his older brother, Vasileios. Papou went from push-cart vendor to Coney Island kiosk owner, to proprietor of a successful seafood restaurant in Williamsburg and owner of many properties in Brooklyn and Long Island. His is a legacy that brings continued pride and inspiration to his many loving descendants.

 

Scanfest: Saving Yiayia’s Photos

When Hurricane Sandy flooded Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn in October 2012,we worried about the water damage in our aunt’s basement and the reconstruction that would be required.

Gianna Doukas

Gianna Doukas

But, when my cousin’s daughter, Gianna, dashed to the house, she saw that something even more precious was in danger of being destroyed — my grandparents photo albums. She gathered up the water-logged treasures and spread them out on sheets and towels. She tried to separate the ones that had already begun to stick together, and to remove the ones that were in those awful “magnetic” photo albums. Although some photos were lost, thanks to Gianna, over 400 were saved.

My cousin, John, mentioned to me that he was concerned about the state of these pictures. Many had curled when they dried, some were getting black mold, and others were brittle. I offered to come to the house with a flat-bed scanner and digitize every one of them. Last weekend, I made the drive from Maryland to Brooklyn.

Verazzano Narrows Bridge linking New Jersey and New York

Verazzano Narrows Bridge linking New Jersey and New York

Our “scanfest” began on Saturday morning at the Sheepshead Bay home of my Aunt Alice Kostakos. When John retrieved the box of photos, it didn’t look like this would be such a big job, but it took 2 days and over 10 hours!

Kostakos family photos, rescued from the flood

Kostakos family photos, rescued from the flood

We set up shop at Aunt Alice Kostakos’ kitchen table and began by retrieving oldest  black and white photos.

Working hard! l-r: Marianne Doukas, John Stakis, Georgia Kostakos Doukas, Alice Kostakos. Kitchen of Alice's home, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, June 11, 2016

Working hard! l-r: Marianne Doukas, John Stakis, Georgia Kostakos Doukas, Alice Kostakos. Kitchen of Alice’s home, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, June 11, 2016

Thanks to Aunts Georgia and Alice, we were able to identify every person in every photo! We affixed post-it notes to the bottom of each, identifying people, dates and places. The photo and post-it note were then scanned as one image, ensuring that the information would not be separated from the picture. Over the coming months, I will crop each photo and add its identifying information into the metadata. This photo shows my grandparents sitting in front, Hariklia Aridas Kostakos and John Andrew Kostakos — surrounded by their children, grandchildren, and extended family members.

1953; Brooklyn; Kostakos home.

1953; Brooklyn; Kostakos home. My grandparents, Hariklia Aridas Kostakos and John Andrew Kostakos (front), surrounded by family.

Every photo tells a story, and thanks to our Aunts, we heard many great ones. My family moved from Brooklyn when I was five, and one great blessing to me was hearing about many of the relatives in these pictures whose names I had heard, but whom I barely knew. This photo is among the earliest we found, dated 1934: on the left is my father (age 17) and my godfather, Peter Aridas, age 50). You can see how the ink on the back of the photo bled through when the photo was  wet.

My father, Andrew Kostakos (left) and my godfather, Peter Aridas (right), 1935, Brooklyn, NY

My father, Andrew Kostakos (left) and my godfather, Peter Aridas (right), 1934, Brooklyn, NY

We worked for eight hours on Saturday, and even ordered in lunch so we would not have to take time to go out. We enjoyed dinner at a Greek (of course!) restaurant at the waterfront on Saturday evening, and on Sunday morning, regrouped for day two. This time, we set up shop on Aunt Alice’s dining room table which gave us much more room to spread out.

Day two at the dining room table. l-r: Georgia Doukas, Marianne Doukas, Carol Kotakos Petranek, John Stakis, Alice Kostakos. Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. June 12, 2016

Day two at the dining room table. l-r: Georgia Doukas, Marianne Doukas, Carol Kotakos Petranek, John Stakis, Alice Kostakos. Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. June 12, 2016

By using both a flatbed scanner and a portable Flip-Pal scanner, we digitized 400 photos. These raw and unedited images are now online in a private Flickr account, with links sent to all of our cousins. It will take time to crop and electronically tag each photo, but everyone now has access to what we accomplished.

I’m headed to Sparta, Greece, at the end of the month, with the hopes of finding additional documents on my family. My long-term goal is to create a family history book, incorporating many of the photos we scanned and the documents I obtained, along with some family stories. The next generations — Gianna and beyond — will not know their ancestors unless our generation does its part.

 

Marriage: Andreas Kostakos & Politimi Christakos

Trying to read 1800’s Greek script is both exhilarating and frustrating. Recognizing a name gives me an adrenalin surge; struggling over a name sends me to chocolate.

Two nights ago, I got the surge of a lifetime. I found an entry in the 1860 Marriage Book of the Mitropolis of Sparta for my great-grandparents, Andreas Kostakos and Politimi Christakos. My friend, Giannis Michalakakos, confirmed that I read the record correctly.

Mitropolis of Sparta, Marriage Book, 1860 Page 1: Date: August 20, 1860; Number: 125; 1st column: Andreas ( Andrikos) Kostakos of Agios Ioannis. 2nd column: Poletimi, daughter of Nikolaos Christakos of Xirokambi, Faridos.

Mitropolis of Sparta, Marriage Book, 1860
Page 1: Date: August 20, 1860; Number: 125; 1st column: Andreas ( Andrikos) Kostakos of Agios Ioannis.  2nd column: Politimi, daughter of Nikolaos Christakos of Xirokambi, Faridos.

Page 2, Marriage of Andreas Kostakos and Poletimi Christakos

2nd page, 7th entry: 1st column: Church: Holy Trinity; second column: Priest’s name, Mitros Hlia Papadopoulos Witnesses: Ioannis Giannopoulos, Dimitris Skouriotis

After hours of struggling to read every name, I decided to try the tactic that my friend, Gregory Kontos, used when we were at the Mitropolis of Sparta in 2014. He looked in the column of the male’s name for the first name of someone I was seeking. If his eye caught that name, he then read the entire entry.

Interestingly, the name “Andreas” does not appear often in the villages of Sparta where I am researching:  the most common names are Panagiotis, Nikolaos, Georgios, Konstandinos. So…skimming down the left column of page one, looking for Andreas, made the search much easier and saved my eyes and my sanity.

As soon as I saw the capital “A,” I stopped. When the next name began with a “K,” my hopes soared. When I made out “Kostakos,” I rejoiced!

Enlarged image of Entry 125.

Enlarged image of Entry 125.

I knew that Andreas had two wives:  first, Anastasia; then Poletimi Christakos (my great-grandmother). Honestly, if I did not know Politimi’s name, I would have been stumped as I strained to read the female information in column 2. But, I could make out the letters, and then — a great bonus — I saw Poletimi’s father’s name, Nikolaos! This was a new and very exciting find, as I am now back one more generation!

This exhilarating discovery fostered a new mystery:  Andreas and Poletimi were married in 1860, but their first child, Antonia, was born in 1870. That’s 10 years — a very long time, especially in the pre-birth control era. Some hypothesis that Giannis and I mulled over:

  1. Politimi must have been raising Andreas’ children with Anastasia (my father had been told that they had 6 sons, but we only know of one, and his descendants are my cousins in Agios Ioannis today). Could the stress of raising a large family have affected Poletimi?
  2. There could have been stillborn children
  3. Children could have been born and died as infants
  4. There could have been female children born, who were not registered in any records

I am entering the area of lost information and the “great unknown;” and, speculation will not bring resolution. However, I am grateful beyond expression to have found this record.

I have been collecting information on the surnames in my villages, and from various sources, I now am able to structure the family of my great-great grandfather, Nikolaos and”wife” Christakos. Oh, happy day!

Christakos, Nikolaos FamGrpSheet

 

 

Easter in Heaven

My family often celebrated Greek Easter at the home of my parents or my mother’s sister (Bertha Pappas Pouletsos and her husband, Nick). It was always Dad’s job to carve the lamb.

Andrew Kostakos carving Easter lamb, 1992.

Andrew Kostakos carving Easter lamb, 1992, Kensington, Maryland

When Aunt Bertha and Uncle Nick traveled from Long Island to our house in Maryland, the celebration was even more special.

Catherine Kostakos, Carol Kostakos Petraek, Bertha Pappas Pouletsos, Mabel Mercer Wirth, 1981, Kensington, Maryland

Catherine Kostakos, Carol Kostakos Petraek, Bertha Pappas Pouletsos, Mabel Mercer Petranek Wirth, 1981, Kensington, Maryland

Andrew Kostakos, Bertha Pappas Pouletsos, Gary Petranek, 1978, Kensington, Maryland

Andrew Kostakos, Bertha Pappas Pouletsos, Gary Petranek, 1978, Kensington, Maryland

I grew up living close to Aunt Bertha and Uncle Nick in the small community of Hillsdale, New Jersey. My brother and I shared many special times with our cousins, John and Louis; and to this day, we refer to our mothers as “two peas in a pod.” Mom and Bertha were the best of sisters and the best of friends.

Bertha and Catherine Pappas, Hoboken, New Jersey, about 1945

Bertha and Catherine Pappas, about 1944-45, Hoboken, New Jersey

Old photos unleash a plethora of memories for me — a lifetime of family gatherings and activities. After the deaths of Mom, Dad, Aunt Bertha and Uncle Nick, my Easter table was bereft of these beloved people. However, I found consolation in knowing that my grandparents’ table was now complete — mother and father with their sons and daughters — a loving family on earth, now reunited in heaven.

My parents and their siblings traveled to be together on holidays, and now it is my turn. Yesterday, Gary and I drove to Lewes, Delaware, to have Greek Easter with cousin Louie Pouletsos, his wife, Debbie, and their children, Nikki and Maddison. We shared memories of our parents and even poked a little fun at our mothers. We missed them.

l-r: Louis, Maddison, Nicki, Debbie Pouletsos; Gary Petranek, Lewes, Delaware, 2016

l-r: Louis, Maddison, Nicki, Debbie Pouletsos; Gary Petranek, 2016, Lewes, Delaware

2016 Easter, Carol-Gary Petranek, Debbie-Lou Pouletsos

Carol and Gary Petranek, Debbie and Louie Pouletsos, 2016, Lewes, Delaware

As our parents celebrate in Easter heaven, we now carry on their traditions on earth. We cling to familial and cultural patterns as our anchor of tradition, and to the Savior as our anchor of faith.

  • Our traditional Easter dinner of roast lamb symbolizes the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.
  • Our recitation of “Christos Anesti,” (Christ has Risen) attests to the reality of the resurrection.
  • Bright red eggs “kokkina avga” on the table symbolize the blood of Christ that was shed for each of us.
  • The breaking of eggs symbolizes Christ breaking the bands of death and coming forth from the tomb. Each person takes a red egg and cracks the ends with another person. This proceeds around the table until one individual is left with an unbroken egg, and he/she can expect to have good luck throughout the year.
  • Partaking of the “tsoureki,” or Easter bread, reminds us that Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life. (John 6:48: “I am that bread of life.”)

It is tempting to speculate how our departed families will celebrate Easter in heaven. One thing I know is that they will:  “Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.” (Romans 6:8)

Christos anesti to you and your family!

My Grandmother on the S.S. Nea Hellas

Several members of my family traveled on the Nea Hellas when they returned to Greece to visit their family. In 1940, my paternal grandmother, Harikleia Aridas Kostakos and her daughter, Aphrodite, crossed the ocean on the Nea Hellas when they went to Sparta. Hariklia suffered from Parkinson’s disease and returned to her land of birth to access “healing waters.”

1948 Kostakos, Hariklia and granddaughter Carol Harriet Kostakos (now Petranek), Brooklyn, New York

1948 Kostakos, Hariklia and granddaughter Carol Harriet Kostakos (now Petranek), Brooklyn, New York

With World War II exploding, I can only imagine the anxiety on both sides of the Atlantic as Hitler’s forces threatened Greece. What was my grandfather feeling, knowing his invalid wife and young daughter were an ocean away? What thoughts crossed the minds of the Aridas family in Agios Ioannis, Sparta, as Hariklia and Aphrodite left the village for Piraeus? On March 16, 1940, mother and daughter departed Piraeus on the Nea Hellas  — one of the last boats to leave before the ports were closed! They arrived at Ellis Island on April 2, 1940.

This card as Nea Hellas was published by F.Cali of Genova. Source: http://www.simplonpc.co.uk/GreekLinePCs.html

Their ship manifest shows they traveled second class (lines 6 & 7).

1940 Kostakos, Hariklia-Aphrodite Pass Ship Apr 2 pg1

The handwriting on page 2 indicates my grandmother’s medical condition: partial paralysis, Parkinson’s syndrome.

1940 Kostakos, Hariklia-Aphrodite Pass Ship Apr 2 pg2

My grandmother was detained at the the Ellis Island medical facility while her case was reviewed by a Special Inquiry Board. The Cause of Detention was noted as:  Med. Cert. LPC & Phys. Def. LPC means “aliens likely to become public charges.” Hariklia was married with children, so she was certainly not likely become a “public charge;” however, her physical condition and protocol required her to be examined.

The manifest columns on the far right show that Hariklia and Aphrodite were detained for 2 days: their meals were 2 breakfasts, 4 dinners, and 2 suppers; and they were released on April 4.

1940 Kostakos, Hariklia-Aphrodite PassShip Apr 2 p3

 

This video of the Nea Hellas, posted today on Facebook, brought me to tears. The faces of hope and anticipation reflect the strength and resolve of our ancestor immigrants in looking forward to a new life, not only for themselves, but primarily for their posterity.

 

This website, Memories of the Nea Hellas, has a touching collection of many personal experiences.

This website, Greek Line ships, has a brief history and photos of the following boats that brought many thousands of Greeks to America:
Arkadia – Canberra – Columbia – Lakonia – Katoomba – Nea Hellas – Neptunia –
New York – Olympia – Queen Anna Maria