This Article was published in the Martinez News-Gazette on 4/19/2017
The first discovery of the Potter’s Field Restoration Project was that of a headstone adjacent to its base face down in the dirt at the bottom of the hill. It had braved the elements, decades of water runoff and moisture abuse. A thick rusty nail stood in place of an object that once graced the top along with a large surface fissure distorting its Ancient Greek inscription – “Nikolaos Glaros of Ikaria Ascended 21 July 1915 Year 21”.
Nikolaos was our first genealogical subject. The City of Martinez decedent lists and multiple genealogy websites yielded nothing, until we found the California Death Index 1907-1939 stating, “Nikolaos was 21, buried in Contra Costa County, and died July 21, 1915.” We contacted Dorothy Glaros, the president of the local chapter of the Pan-Icarian Brotherhood of America, which aids immigrants and their descendants from the tiny isle of Ikaria, Greece. Dorothy stated that Glaros is a common surname for residents of Ikaria.
Michele Jacopetti found information under the name “N.G.” The Twenty-Fourth Biennial Report of the State Board of Health of California (Fiscal Years 1914-1916), on pg. 68 states “Case N.G., Moraga, California, age 21, track laborer on railroad,” (a migratory physically demanding job inspecting, repairing and maintaining tracks.) “slept on Moraga railway station platform the night of July 9, 1915. He developed symptoms of illness on July 13th. On examination a bubo was found on his right femoral region. …The patient had all of the signs and symptoms of the bubonic form of plaque. He died the eighth day of illness…”
The Appendix to the Journals of the Senate and Assembly states “One of these cases occurred during July, 1915, in the Moraga Valley, Contra Costa County, death resulting. The diagnosis was confirmed by animal inoculations. This particular case may have contracted his infection from rats or fleas, as the patient gave the history of having slept on some straw near the railroad station near Moraga where rat evidence was found. As the case occurred in the rural districts, most probably the infection was acquired by ground squirrels.”
The late assistant surgeon, J. R. Hurley, U.S.P.H.S. writes in the July 1915 Monthly Bulletin of the California State Board of Health that “The last human case in Contra Costa County occurred in July of this year. This case was seen by the writer.” He continues, “…By consulting a map from the Central Counties of California… whereon by spots of red designate the ranches that have been infected… Contra Costa is nearly all red, especially in the Western part, in the neighborhood of Port Costa.” He concludes with, “…Here come vessels from all over the world: sailing ships, “tramps”, and large steam freighters to load grain for European ports. Considerable grain is scattered along the railroad tracks and freight sheds in the neighborhood, offering sustenance for both the ground squirrels and the rats that infest the wharfs. …plague-infected rats that wandered ashore from deep sea freighters at Port Costa, and the infected fleas from these animals, transferred the disease to our local ground squirrels in this locality…”
Nikolaos's death triggers the conduction of an extended campaign against the plague in Contra Costa by the State and County Boards of Health, United States Public Health Service and the California State Hygienic Laboratory. Texas Medicine (among many other US medical research reports, bulletins and records) recorded their findings. Numerous newspapers throughout the US, reported his death. Why so much attention? He was the last case of Bubonic Plague to be reported since October of 1913 in Walnut Creek.
Attempting to find more information on Nikolaos we researched Greek immigration history through Charles Maskos book, “Greek Americans: Struggles and Success” and Bethany E. Pierce’s article “Greek Immigrants” from immigrationtounitedstates.org. Charles Maskos writes, “…once the first group of Greek immigrants settled in America, they would write home to their families and have a younger brother come over to America to work.” Bethany E. Pierce mentions, “Icarian immigrants expected to work and return to their homeland after earning capital and dowries for their families.” However, Maskos and Pierce both mention that most Greek immigrants were recruited by unscrupulous labor agents who promised passage money and a job, if they came to America. However, too often the jobs did not exist.
Maskos mentions in his book that the crossing from Greece to Ellis Island, NY, would have been nearly unbearable and take anywhere from three weeks to several months in very tight quarters at the bottom of a ship (often they were not enumerated by US immigration officials). Upon arrival, they would head by train to their destination, either to their relatives or to the job location given by the labor agent. With the lack of records regarding Nikolaos, we suspect this is most likely how and why he arrives in the US.
On that warm July night, as he slept on a bed of straw looking up at the stars, it probably reminded him of home. Nikolaos died on July 21, 1915, in the Martinez County Hospital. To learn more about Nicholas, please visit our website martinezcemetery.org/nikolaos-glaros.
Special thanks to Dorothy Glaros and the Pan-Icarian Brotherhood of America for restoration of Nikolaos’s headstone for its reinstallation later this month.
The next Cemetery Cleanup Day is Saturday May 13th from 10 am – 2 pm. Wear comfortable clothing and bring a pair of gloves. Lunch provided by E Clampus Vitus, with morning refreshments provided by the Potter’s Field Restoration Project for its volunteers.
Judie & Joseph Palmer are two of the founding members of the Martinez Cemetery Preservation Alliance (MCPA) and the Potter’s Field Project. Both have a passion for discovery, history, genealogy, anthropology and archaeology. For more info, please visit our website MartinezCemetery.org. Do you have a Potter’s Field story to tell? We welcome any pictures or information regarding the Alhambra Pioneer Cemetery or its Potter’s Field. Please email us at email@example.com or call us at (925) 316-6069.
Judie & Joseph Palmer are two of the founding members of the Martinez Cemetery Preservation Alliance (MCPA) and the Potter’s Field Project. Both have a passion for discovery, history, genealogy, anthropology and archaeology.