Fr. Misael Karydis and his flying machine
Archimandrite Misael Karydis spent twenty years as the priest in New Orleans, from 1881 until 1901. Two decades at a single parish is a long time, especially in the early years of American Orthodox history. Before Karydis, only one priest (that I know of) had ever served such a lengthy tenure — Hieromonk Nikolai Militov, who spent 22 years (1845-67) as pastor of the Russian church in Kenai, Alaska. Then came Karydis’ long stretch in New Orleans, followed by Fr. Theoklytos Triantafilides (Galveston, 1896-1916) and Fr. George Maloof (Boston Syrian church, 1900-1920).
Karydis was an odd character. In 1888, he got into a fistfight with a Greek writer for a French newspaper. From the New Orleans Daily Picayune (8/24/1888): “A conversation was entered into and soon assumed the attitude of a heated debate. The language used by the reverend gentleman [Fr. Misael] was not very polite, and Mr. Nicolopulo reminded him of his insolence. Without more ado Misael struck Nicolopulo in the face…”
Despite the fact that Karydis, and not Mr. Nicolopulo, had done the striking, the police arrested Nicolopulo for assault and battery. Eventually, Nicolopulo was released, and the newspaper criticized the poor judgment of the officers.
Supposedly, Karydis had some mental problems. Here is a report out of New Orleans, published in the New York Times (6/6/1901):
The Rev. Michael Jevizoylon Karidis is pastor of Holy Trinity Church, on the corner of Dorgenois and Hospital Streets, here [in New Orleans]. His congregation is composed of Greeks. He came here from Bulgaria twenty years ago, and is supposed to have had some means. About eight years ago he showed signs of mental unbalance, and since then has been engaged in constructing a flying machine.
Last Sunday he donned a stovepipe hat for the first time in his life, and with a small grip left his house, announcing that he was going to collect some money that had been left to him.
He traveled to New York City. On the morning of June 5, 1901, he checked into the Eastern Hotel under the name, “Victor Misalel.” At 4:30 in the afternoon, a hotel porter heard a gunshot and rushed to Karydis’ room. From the Times:
The door was broken open and the man’s body was found lying on the bed, with a bullet wound in his right side.
The would-be suicide was removed by Dr. Johnson to the Hudson Street Hospital, where he died at 11 o’clock last night. Before his death he told an interpreter that he was Michael Jevizoylon Karidis, pastor of the Greek Church of the Holy Trinity of New Orleans, La.
News of Karydis’ suicide spread quickly. Before Karydis had even died, one of the Orthodox in New Orleans, Marcos Papovich, received a telegram saying that Karydis was deathly ill in New York. “Papovich says he does not know the priest,” the New York Times reported. “Karidis lived a rather secluded life.” In a front-page story, the Biloxi Daily Herald (6/7/1901) said, “He had become demented from long work at a flying machine he was trying to invent. His workshop was a part of his home adjoining the church in which he had lived all alone for the past eighteen years.”
With only a handful of newspaper accounts as our guide, it’s difficult to get a real sense of who Karydis was. The papers say he was from Bulgaria, but was he an ethnic Bulgarian, or a Greek? How did he end up in New Orleans? He’s supposed to have been “mentally unbalanced” and “demented” because of his work on a flying machine, but just two years later, the Wright Brothers flew an airplane in North Carolina, so the idea of a flying machine was not, in and of itself, evidence of mental instability.
When I started research for these articles on Karydis, I assumed that his suicide was an open-and-shut case. The newspapers (and presumably the police) assumed the same thing, but I’m getting a little skeptical. Isn’t it at least a little odd that he traveled all the way to New York before committing the act? This suggests the possibility that Karydis left New Orleans with no intention of killing himself. We don’t actually know why he was in New York — he’d been there at least once before, in 1886. Was he really going to collect money, as he claimed? Are we to believe that he planned all along to shoot himself, but took the trouble to journey halfway across the country and check into a hotel first?
The location of the gunshot wound is also suspicious. Who shoots himself in the side? I don’t mean to be macabre, but wouldn’t some other part of the anatomy be more logical? Isn’t it at least possible that Karydis was shot by somebody else? The problem with that theory is that Karydis was apparently conscious enough to tell an interpreter who he was — and if he could do that, you’d think he could have told the interpreter if someone had shot him. Unless he had some reason not to reveal his murderer. It’s at least within the realm of possibility that Karydis was killed either in a crime of passion, or in some sort of nefarious act (blackmail?) gone awry — and in both cases, Karydis would have had an incentive not to tell the whole story.
Why am I writing about this? Why tell such an unpleasant story, and then speculate about even more unpleasantness? I’m writing about this because it is a part of our past. This man, Fr. Misael Karydis, was the longest-tenured Orthodox priest in America at the time of his death. His parish was, for over half of his career, the only Greek church in the Western Hemisphere. He appears to have served the first Orthodox liturgy in Chicago, and possibly in other places as well. He was one of the most significant figures in 19th century, continental US Orthodoxy, and yet no one, today, has ever heard of him. I would be negligent if I didn’t tell his story.
UPDATE (12/23/09): Below, a reader named Lolajl points out that I’m wrong about the photo: “Looking at the clothes, especially the women’s dresses and their hats, I would say that this was taken around 1908 – 1914. The big hat style was very popular in this time range. Plus the dress style of the woman standing to the left (and next to the woman with the big black hat) was popular around 1910 – 1912.”
Assuming those approximate dates are correct, the priest in the photo is most likely either Fr. Chrysanthos Angelopoulos, Fr. Paisios Ferentinos, or Fr. S. Vassiliades.
- Group photo from the 1910 Convention of the Russian Orthodox Catholic Mutual Aid Society
- Amazing photo collage of Antiochian priests, circa 1920
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- St. Raphael of Brooklyn on the Episcopalians
- Early stages of the Bulgarian schism from Constantinople
- The “Bulgarian Question” and the 1872 Council of Constantinople, Part 6
- The “Bulgarian Question” and the 1872 Council of Constantinople, Part 5
- The “Bulgarian Question” and the 1872 Council of Constantinople, Part 4
- The “Bulgarian Question” and the 1872 Council of Constantinople, Part 3
- The “Bulgarian Question” and the 1872 Council of Constantinople, Part 2