Posts tagged New Orleans
On December 22, I wrote about the tragic death of Fr. Misael Karydis, longtime pastor of the Greek church in New Orleans. You’ll want to read that article first, to follow what I’m talking about today.
After I published that piece, I unconvered several more reports on Karydis’ death, from the New York Sun, Tribune, and Evening World. Those newspapers make it apparent that Karydis’ death was a suicide.
The Sun (6/7/1901) spoke with Captain Nicholas Theodore, the oldest member of the New Orleans parish. Here is what Theodore said:
Ever since Sunday I had known that something was going to happen. I was sitting out in the yard when Father Misael came running to the gate. He said he wanted to see me quick. His shirt was open in the front and his face was very pale. A lot of little boys were following him and calling him Santa Claus. I told them they ought to be ashamed of themselves, and made them stop. Then the father came in and talked to me.
He was pale and trembling all over. He did not look right. I don’t think he was quite right in his head. He had been working so hard and for so long on some kind of a thing to make a bicycle go that he was tired out. “I am tired of living,” he told me. “My father is dead in Bulgaria and I want to go there. I think I will kill myself.”
I told him that he ought not to talk of suicide, but that he should think of his congregation and the people for whom he had worked so long, and did my best to quiet him.
According to the Sun, the invention was less a flying machine than a kind of motorcycle: “a bicycle that would be a sort of automobile, the rider only guiding it. He made several applications for a patent, but could never perfect the invention.” Of course, it’s entirely possible — likely, even – that Karydis was working on multiple inventions.
Karydis came to New York and visited Demetrius Botassi, the Greek consul. Botassi was the son-in-law of Nicolas Benachi, the founder of the New Orleans church. Karydis told Botassi that he was on his way to Bulgaria, to claim an inheritance. Considering his statement to Capt. Theodore — “My father is dead in Bulgaria and I want to go there” — it seems likely that the elder Karydis had just died, and that the inheritance was from him. It could be, then, that something in Karydis snapped when he learned of the death of his father.
Then again, it could be something else. From the Sun: “Not long before he died at the Hudson street hospital here the priest told Policeman Durr that he had been accused of an assault on a boy in New Orleans.”
Karydis checked into the Eastern Hotel in the morning, and spent most of the day in the hotel’s cafe. A little after 4:00 PM, he went to his room and ordered some dinner. According to the World, when the waiter brought the food, he saw Karydis sitting at a table, writing something. Soon thereafter, a shot was heard. The hotel staff broke down the door to Karydis’ room, and saw that the priest was wounded. The newspapers differ on where the wound was — the Times and Tribune say that Karydis was wounded in his right side, but the World says that he was shot “over the heart,” which sounds more plausible. Karydis reportedly told the hotel manager, “Let me finish my work. I want to die.”
He did die, a few minutes before 11:00 PM. May God have mercy on his soul.
As regular readers of this website know, I am particularly interested in the “Americanization” of Orthodoxy in the New World — things like clergy appearance (beards vs. shaved faces, cassocks vs. collars), pews, church music (organs and mixed choirs), early converts, the use of English, and so forth. Today, I’m going to talk about organ music.
A disclaimer, up front: I am not an historian of church music. In fact, I’m not particularly musical at all — I don’t sing in the church choir, don’t play an instrument, and can’t even read musical notation. However, I’ve become reasonably adept at picking up a phone and asking questions, and by now, I’ve accumulated enough information to have a general sense of when organs became popular in Greek churches in America. Like so much of what I write, this article is merely an introduction to a topic, rather than the last word. Hopefully, five years from now, we’ll know a lot more than we do today about the history of Orthodox music in America.
There seem to be two general theories about how organs became popular in Greek-American churches. These theories aren’t mutually exclusive, and taken together, they sound pretty darned convincing. The first theory is similar to the pew theory — that early Greek communities bought existing Protestant or Roman Catholic church buildings, inherited the previous church’s organ, and adopted it for use in the Orthodox church. Of course, it has the same problem that the pew theory has — namely, that most early Greek churches were actually built by the Orthodox community, rather than purchased. Also, the chronology doesn’t fit: as we’ll see, organs were typically added to existing Orthodox churches, rather than introduced when a building was acquired.
The other theory is that Archbishop Athenagoras Spyrou, who took over the Greek Archdiocese in 1931, was a big fan of organs and encouraged their use in America. In his 1976 book From Mars Hill to Manhattan, Fr. (later Bishop) George Papaioannou wrote about Abp Athenagoras and organ music:
Athenagoras was a lover of music. His ministry to the people of Corfu, who had and still retain the reputation of being the most musically inclined in Greece, encouraged him to introduce a revolutionary idea into the Orthodox worship. That was the use of the organ. His people enthusiastically endorsed the idea, but the Church hierarchy condemned it as a terrible unorthodox innovation. From the official publication, St. Spyridon, 1928, we are informed that a case was brought against him in court by members of the Holy Synod for having introduced into the church a musical instrument that was foreign to Orthodox tradition. Athenagoras refused to yield to the Synod’s pressure, claiming that a similar musical instrument had first been used by the Byzantines in the Church of St. Sophia. A renowned church historian and liturgical scholar, Fr. Constantine Callinikos, came to Athenagoras’ defense, advising him not to give in and continue his praiseworthy policy of upgrading the Orthodox worship. Athenagoras ignored the demands of his fellow hierarchs and apparently the case was dropped because the organ continued to be used in the services at the Cathedral of St. Spyridon. Today, St. Spyridon’s in Corfu remains the only church in Greece to include the organ in its services.
Be all that as it may, Abp Athenagoras did not introduce organs into Greek-American churches. Oh, he certainly contributed to the spread of organs, but well before his arrival in 1931, Greek churches in the United States had begun to adopt the instrument.
The first organ ever used in American Orthodoxy was actually in the very first Orthodox church in the contiguous US — Holy Trinity in New Orleans. I was rather shocked to learn that the New Orleans parish introduced an organ way back in the 19th century. This is from Elizabeth Cumings, “Where it is Summer in February,” in the journal Music, April 1895: “In the tiny Greek church far down the Esplanade is an American melodeon with a fine American squawk of its own.”
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the melodeon:
A melodeon (also known as a cabinet organ or American organ) is a type of 19th century reed organ with a foot-operated vacuum bellows, and a piano keyboard. It differs from the related harmonium, which uses a pressure bellows. Melodeons were manufactured in the United states from 1846 until the Civil War era. While it was sometimes used as a substitute for the pipe organ in small churches, it was primarily used in domestic settings.
It seems like the New Orleans parish introduced this organ sometime between 1885 and 1895. I’ve seen a few descriptions of church services there from the mid-1880s, and they seem to suggest (but don’t say outright) that the music was acappella chanting.
I don’t know why the New Orleans parish added an organ. It’s just a theory, but perhaps it had something to do with the priest, Fr. Misael Karydis. We know that he was obsessed with building a flying machine, and if he fancied himself an inventor and tinkerer, he may have been intrigued by the innerworkings of an organ. I’m not sure whether the New Orleans church kept using the organ after Karydis died in 1901, but if they did, they would have been an anomaly. Excepting New Orleans, I have yet to find a Greek church with an organ prior to the 1920s.
St. Sophia’s in Washington, DC didn’t have an organ in 1908, when the Washington Herald (11/1/1908) said, “Not a note of instrumental music accompanies them, for in the Greek Church it is forbidden.” But by the early 1920s, the parish had added an organ. From the Washington Post (4/8/1923): ”On this Greek Easter Day the choir of St. Sophia’s, L and Eighth Streets, N.W., is of unusual interest, there being only five Greek Orthodox churches in the world having mixed choirs and an organ.” (Earlier this year, I spoke with the current priest of St. Sophia’s, Fr. John Tavlarides. Fr. John has been there since the 1950s, and he told me that he actually stopped using the organ in 1967. It is now only used for occasional wedding processions.)
The Washington church had an influence on its Baltimore neighbor, Annunciation. From Nicholas Prevas’ House of God… Gateway to Heaven:
By the mid-1920’s, choirs and organs accompanied the Divine Liturgies – a departure from customs in the homeland where this type of music was considered a ‘western innovation’ and not typically used. Historically, up to this point, only the psaltes (cantors) sang the responses to the priest during religious services. In April 1923, however, records show $50 was paid to host a Greek church choir from Washington, D.C. Their performance must have been impressive.
Soon after, the spring 1923 general assembly approved the ‘installation of European music’ with organ accompaniment and hired Spyridon Safridis as the first music director. Within a few months, a small choir was singing liturgical hymns for the first time in the church on Homewood Avenue. The community was slowly adapting to American culture though not without objections. The following year, after many debates, parishioners voted at the general assembly meeting on March 9, 1924 as to whether or not this type of music should be kept in the church. The music remained and by the mid-1930’s a vibrant choir of voices complemented liturgical services at Annunciation.
We’ll discuss the question of mixed choirs in a future article. For now, it’s enough to note that organs were beginning to grow in popularity in the mid-1920s. The innovative priest Fr. Mark Petrakis, who had introduced pews in St. Louis, oversaw the addition of pews, an organ, and a mixed choir to Ss. Constantine and Helen Church in Chicago. From the parish history: “In 1927, George Dimopoulos, a talented chanter and choirmaster, organized a choir that included women. The choir was accompanied by an organ. Pews and an organ represented a departure from traditional Greek churches and a movement towards Americanization.”
Holy Trinity Greek Church in San Francisco had added an organ by at least 1925. When Abp Athengoras arrived in 1931, the majority of Greek churches still didn’t have organs, but the instruments were not totally unheard of. After 1931, and throughout Athenagoras’ tenure as archbishop, many more Greek churches introduced organs. This was certainly with the encouragement of Athenagoras, but he was not the originator of the practice.
I don’t have a clear answer to the question, “Why were organs introduced into Greek churches?” However, it seems like the parishes that introduced organs did so with the conscious desire to “Americanize.”
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.
Fr. Misael Karydis served at Holy Trinity Greek Church in New Orleans from 1881 to 1901. Throughout the 1880s, he was the only Orthodox priest in between the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts, and even in the 1890s, he was basically the only Orthodox priest in the American South. As such, his duties were not limited to the New Orleans parish alone.
In 1886, Karydis stopped in Chicago en route from New York back to New Orleans. I don’t know why he was in New York, but when he got to Chicago, he was met by a multiethnic community of Orthodox Christians. From the Chicago Herald (5/31/1886):
As novel a church service as any that ever took place in Chicago was that of Rev. Dr. Mixall, of the Greek Church, at Berry’s Hall, corner of Washington Boulevard and Sangamon street, at 9:30 yesterday morning. There is no Greek church in this city, and never has been, and, aside from the novelty of the service on this account, it was made still more peculiar by reason of the mixed character of the audience which required that the services be conducted in the Greek and Slav tongues at the same time.
Dr. Mixall is the pastor of the Greek Church in New Orleans, and was passing through the city on his way home from New York. An altar had been improvised out of two dry goods boxes, covered with sheeting. On the larger six candles were placed, and two on the smaller beside some bread, a spear-shaped knife and a chalice of wine.
Dr. Mixall is a stout, flord-faced man, with long, wavy hair, a high forehead and thick moustache and chin beard. When he entered the church his congregation rose to greet him, and when he stepped aside at the altar to put on his robes of office, which are similar in many respects to those of the Romish Church, five Greeks with musical voices stepped up to one side of the altar and a score of Slavs to the other side. The mass was intoned first by the Greeks and then by the Slavs, but the service, aside from this dual character and the quaint music of the singers, was not much unlike the Catholic church service.
I find it especially interesting that there were two sets of chanters, and that the service was done in both Greek and Slavonic. It’s not clear from the description whether the Greeks and Slavs went back-and-forth in their singing, or whether the Greeks did the first half of the service and the Slavs the second. Either way, it was an creative way to deal with the multiethnic situation.
The Herald went on to explain that almost 100 people attended the service, despite the fact that only a part of the Orthodox community had been notified of Fr. Misael’s arrival. And they were generous, too — the newspaper reporter was impressed with the size of the collection, saying that it was “far more liberal than those in English-speaking churches.” The reporter concluded, “It is likely that Dr. Mixall’s visit will result in the founding of a Greek church in this city.”
In the past, we have discussed at length the later history of Orthodoxy in Chicago — how the community tried to form a parish, but failed, and how, in 1892, separate Greek and Russian parishes were founded almost simultaneously. But Karydis’ visit predates all of that, and his 1886 Divine Liturgy seems to have been the first ever celebrated in Chicago.
Holy Trinity Church in New Orleans was the first organized Orthodox parish in the contiguous United States. Despite that fact, precious little is known about its early history. The first priest to visit New Orleans was the infamous Fr. Agapius Honcharenko, but, contrary to popular belief, Honcharenko was not actually the parish priest. He was only in town for a short visit, after which he returned to New York and then moved to the San Francisco Bay area.
The actual first pastor of Holy Trinity seems to have been Archimandrite Stephen Andreades. He was there as early as December 1867, when he gave a homily which was translated into Russian and published the following March in Honcharenko’s Alaska Herald. I haven’t seen the homily itself, but according to Fr. Alexander Doumouras (St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, 1967), “In this sermon Fr. Andreades stated that he had been ‘invited from Greece’ to come to America and serve the parish in New Orleans. He did not state who invited him and who appointed him.”
I don’t know when Andreades left Holy Trinity, but I do know that, by 1872, Fr. Gregory Yayas was the parish priest. I’ve seen all sorts of spellings for Yayas’ name, including, “the Right Reverend Father Gregorio Therodidasme von Giagias.” I’ve only found one account of Yayas, from Elizabeth Brooks’ Prominent Women of Texas (1896). In the chapter on Mrs. V.O. King, we find the following:
The Greek became to her [Mrs. King] a familiar tongue, but only as it was spoken twenty-five hundred years ago. A new ambition seized her; the modern or Romaic Greek must be acquired. The design was scarcely formed before events were so ordered as to favor its accomplishment. Her husband removed to New Orleans to practice his profession [medicine], where, very soon, he made the acquaintance of Father Gregorio, priest of the newly-organized Greek Church in that city. The Reverend gentleman was a scholarly man and deeply cultured in both the modern and Hellenic literature of his country, but he knew not one word of English and he was thrown among people who knew not one word of Greek. When Mrs. King, therefore, proposed that he should become her teacher in the colloquial forms of his language, he was not loth to accept the charge. As the years went by, the interest of both pupil and preceptor daily grew with the progress they made, and when this relation ceased they talked together in his native tongue as freely as Greek might discuss with Greek the school of Plato in the grove of Academus.
Yayas’ tenure appears to have been rather brief, 1872 to 1874 or ’75. As best I can tell, Andreades and Yayas were the first ethnic Greek priests to serve in America.
Yayas did not have an immediate successor. It wasn’t until 1881 that Holy Trinity received a new priest. Archimandrite Misael Karydis (or Michael Kalitski, or Karidis, or Karidas, etc.) was from Philippopolis, Bulgaria, and was born sometime in the 1840s. The Chicago Herald (5/31/1886) described him as “a stout, florid-faced man, with long, wavy hair, a high forehead and thick moustache and chin beard.” The Biloxi Daily Herald (6/7/1901) said that he “resembled the pictures of the patriarchs of old, with his long flowing snowy white beard.”
Karydis was a pretty colorful figure, and in some upcoming posts, I’ll discuss his career and his tragic death.