October 2, 2016. This brief history is compiled by Carol Kostakos Petranek. It is based on a conversation of November 29, 1985, between Carol Kostakos Petranek and her parents (Catherine Pappas Kostakos & Andrew Kostakos) and her aunt and uncle (Bertha Pappas Pouletsos and Nick Pouletsos).
Around 1900, Ilias Papagiannakos (Louis Pappas) left his village of Agios Ioannis (St. Johns) Sparta, and came to America to begin a new life. He was also seeking to avoid the draft in Greece which was mandatory for all young men who turned 18. Louis would have traveled steerage class on a steamship, a journey that would have taken about four weeks. He arrived at Ellis Island and migrated to Pennsylvania, finding work in a meat factory that made hot dogs. Louis eventually left Pennsylvania to find better employment opportunities, although it is not known why he chose to settle in Hoboken, New Jersey. He opened a small steak and seafood restaurant with a partner, John.
Although Louis worked hard—7 days a week, 18 hours a day—he never complained. The early 1900’s were a time of depression in Greece and young men left by the thousands to find work overseas. Life in small villages held no promise for the future. It was rare for children to go to school. Families were very poor. They owned a little acreage and grew mostly olives which they sold to make olive oil. The only financial help they would receive was if a son in America sent money so the family could purchase more land. Many of the early immigrants were very hard working because they knew what hunger was, and they were motivated to help themselves and their families.
Louis’ wife, Angelina, was born in Mystras, a village in the Taygetos mountains that tower over Sparta and Agios Ioannis. Her father, Konstandinos, was a shepherd and owned an olive grove. He was married twice: first to Anastasia Pavlakos, then to Angelina’s mother, Stathoula Zaharakis. He lived to be almost 100 years old. Angelina’s mother was from the village of Theologos, Oinountos, Laconia. Sadly, she died in the mid 1950’s while preparing to come to America to visit her daughters.
It was customary for a son who had emigrated to America to work hard, live frugally and save money to bring his sisters over, one by one, to be married. Greek custom dictated that woman could not marry unless she had a dowry of either livestock, land or money. This was a burden on the poor families who could not afford dowries. The girls were sent to America, the oldest first, to be married and start a new life. Angelina’s stepbrother, John Eftaxias, had emigrated to Manhattan in 1907. He worked and saved money, then sent for his sisters: Kanela came first, then Katina, then Angelina, and Vasiliki. Angelina traveled on the S.S. Oceania, sailing from Patras on March 11, 1912 and arriving at Ellis Island on March 29, 1912.
In New York, Angelina worked in a factory, making batteries. She first lived with her sister, Katina, but she was not happy there. When Angelina came home from work she would do all the wash, housework and child-care. She complained to her brother, and he arranged for her to live with her other sister, Kanela.
Louis and Angelina were brought together through a “match.” One evening, Angelina came home from the factory. She was tired and dirty, and when she was asked to come and meet someone, she ran into the bedroom to wash and clean up. That was the first time she met her future husband. Angelina’s brother, John, thought that Louis would be a suitable husband for her and he agreed to the marriage. In those days, girls didn’t have much influence over their lives. Marriages were arranged for men and women to survive and raise a family.
After they married on April 27, 1914, Louis and Angelina moved to Court Street in Hoboken, N.J. where their five children were born: Peter (1915-1916), Catherine 1917-2011, Panagiota (Bertha) 1918-2007, Nicholas 1919-1995, and Bill 1921-1998 [Angelina’s first child was an unnamed stillborn son]. While Louis worked, Angelina stayed at home to keep house and raise her family. When the children were small they were not allowed inside the restaurant but occasionally, Angelina would take them there for a special treat. Louis would greet them by scooping a handful of oysterettes (crackers) into his apron corner and giving them to his children. Because Louis worked 18-hour days with no holidays or days off, there was little time for him to interact with his family. He would see his young children in the mornings; later, when they were older, in the afternoons when they came to the restaurant for dinner. Louis would check his children’s report cards and encourage them to do well in school. Very rarely did he ever discipline his children—that task was left to Angelina.
During the depression years, times were so hard that Louis had to make a choice: either close the restaurant and work for someone else or have his wife come and work with him. Angelina wouldn’t hear of the first alternative — she decided to work with Louis. They fired the cook and she took the cook’s place. It was during this time that the children came to the restaurant every afternoon after school and ate dinner with their parents. As Bill and Nick grew older, they worked in the restaurant, washing dishes, peeling potatoes and waiting on tables. In those days, it was unheard of for girls to do such work, so Catherine and Bertha ever worked in the restaurant. However, they were expected to help out in the home. As the eldest daughter, Catherine became responsible for the house and the children. The sisters and brothers got along well. They did not fight but helped each other with school work and housework.
Louis had to sell his first restaurant on Court Street because a movie theater was being built on the property, so he purchased another restaurant on First Street. The restaurant was long and narrow with tables on one side, and it seated approximately 50 people. There were no meal “checks” where customers’ orders were written down; rather, Louis would remember what each customer ordered. –he even remembered carry-out orders. That was one of Louis’ talents — his incredible memory. During slow times at the restaurant, Angelina would do all her crocheting and embroidery. She made dozens of tablecloths, blankets and scarves.
During their school years, the Pappas children were kept very busy; they did not know the word “boredom.” Bertha said, “They [the parents] were smart people in those days. They kept their children very busy and there was no time to roam around. No extra time on your hands.” When the children were about eight years old, they were enrolled in Greek school and attended both American school and Greek school every day. There were the four Pappas children and five Greek neighbors who rode the ferry from Hoboken into New York City every afternoon to attend Greek school. The children found the double-decked ferry boats exciting to ride. The first month of their commute, Angelina or another mother would take the children into the city, but then the nine youth were on their own. They would occasionally run around and be mischievous on the boat, but they would never do anything troublesome for they knew that someone would “snitch” on them.
When they got home from Greek school, the children had homework from both schools. By the time they finished, it was bedtime. On Saturday and Sunday they cleaned the house and washed clothes on a scrub board. There was no extra time for hanging out with friends or roaming the streets; in fact, going out with friends was forbidden. The children would go to movies on Tuesdays (if there was no school) or on Saturdays. There was no dating or social life until the children were in their late teens and early 20’s. Even when the girls graduated from high school and were working, they were not allowed to date.
During the summers, the children would read and play outside in the streets — baseball, or kick the can. Sometimes Angelina would take them to Coney Island to go swimming which was always a wonderful and welcomed excusion. They would also take day trips on the Hudson Day Line ferry to upper New York. The children were taught to share and had but a few toys — Catherine and Bertha shared one doll and one carriage and the boys had one or two cars each. No one owned a bicycle. One Christmas when the children were in their teens, their parents purchased a pool table. Even though the parents had very little money, to the best of their ability they provided activities and fun times for their children.
When the children were older, Louis would close the restaurant two days a year — Christmas and New Year’s Day. On New Year’s Eve, the family would play cards and go to the movies on New Year’s Day.
Louis became ill when the boys were drafted into the Army. He loved his children so much that he brooded over them constantly. Nick was drafted first and that caused him much grief, but when Bill was drafted it became his “downfall.” He had plans for his boys — he wanted to open a big restaurant and have the two boys as partners, then he could gradually ease into retirement. The draft shattered these plans, and he fell into a deep sadness and depression; his entire outlook changed and he stopped eating. Within a year, his sickness progressed to the point where he could not work. Angelina wanted to sell the restaurant, but Louis refused and, instead, gave it away to a young family. His reasoning was that he successfully raised four children in the restaurant, and when he saw a young father with two children struggling and looking for work, he simply offered the business to him. Louis contracted pneumonia and went into the hospital. One week later, he died on May 12, 1944.
Nick came back from the Army to be at the funeral, but Bill, also in the Army, was overseas in England. The girls were working and living at home with their mother while the boys continued their military service. The girls supported the household by giving all their salary to their mother, who in turn would give them enough money for lunch and cab fares. There was no resentment or animosity on the girls’ parts — in fact, there was no question that they would work to support their mother.
Angelina’s daily routine changed after the death of her husband, but she still kept extremely busy. She would clean house, shop daily (since there were only small iceboxes in the apartments, wash clothes by scrub board and make dinner for the children. Angelina spent visited friends and relatives in Hoboken and went into New York to shop. After her children married, Angelina found a job cleaning doctor’s dormitories in a hospital in Hackensack, N.J. Angelina, Bill and Pauline purchased a home in Westwood, N.J. where they lived together for many years. In her later years, Angelina rotated living with her children in Long Island, Maryland and California. She died on October 28, 1972.
Angelina was a very headstrong and independent woman. Her daughters said that she was born ahead of her time. “If she could read and write and was alive today, she’d certainly be President of something or the head of the ERA movement,” Bertha said.
Bertha and Catherine agree that even though they grew up with a very simple life, they were happy and contented. Bertha said, “I grew up laughing through everything.” Catherine said, “Looking back on it now, I believe my mother was l00% right the way she brought us up. Maybe when we were growing up and especially when we started to work we would gripe, thinking we were held back so strictly because we couldn’t date, but I can now see her reasons for all she did.”