|Grinnell Herald May 17, 1910, p. 1|
***Socrates Perras had arrived at Ellis Island in early May, 1907 aboard the S.S. Roma, which had sailed out of Naples in late April with a full complement of immigrants, many of whom were Greek. Responding to officials who compiled the passenger list, Perras gave his age then as 30, but his death record reports his age as 47, meaning that he was born around 1863, and therefore must have been 44 or so when he immigrated. Perhaps he thought that providing officials a younger age would help him find work in America, or perhaps the immigration official misheard him—we'll never know.
The ship's manifesto reported the man's home as "St. Dimitri," or Agios Demetrios; as you might expect, toponyms like that are legion in Greece, so it is hard to say with confidence exactly where Perras originated. He traveled to America with two other men from St. Dimitri, and all claimed to be headed to Chicago, intending to stay with their friend, Gust Macris, and with Perras's uncle, Panogliotis Factoris (?), both of whom were said to be living at 1320 Portland Avenue, Chicago. No such address survives in today's Chicago, but Perras and friends might have confused Chicago with Chicago Heights, which was a destination for many immigrants around 1900 and which today still has a 1320 Portland Avenue. In fact, the 1910 US census did find a Gust Macris living at 1312 Portland Avenue, Chicago Heights, immediately next door to 1320 (where the census registered another group of Greek immigrants), so this is certainly where Perras was headed.
|S. S. Roma (undated photograph)|
|Lasalle Street Station (ca. 1904), Chicago, Home of Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad (photo courtesy of http://rrshs.org/)|
The stated reason for declining the help of the volunteer clergy is also confusing: the newspaper explained the situation by saying that the "dead man was a Catholic, and Catholic services, if any, were required." "For this reason," the report concluded, "burial was made without religious service."
|St. Columbanus Catholic Church, Main Street and Washington Avenue (photo ca. 1913)|
Almost certainly, however, Perras was not Catholic, but rather Greek Orthodox, and there were no Orthodox priests in Grinnell—a circumstance that might truly have caused a difficulty for arranging funeral rites. In 1910 Greeks were practically unknown in Grinnell, although within a few years, a small clutch of Greeks had taken up residence in town. The 1915 Iowa census, for example, found Peter Staffanou, a Greek immigrant and co-owner of a confectionary at 825 4th Avenue (later known as Candyland); with his brother Theodore and his candy store co-owner, James Joris (another Greek), Staffanou lived at 927 West Street. Two more Greeks, Peter Marcopolos and Tom Koserar, operated a shoe-shine in town in 1915, but none of these men (all but Koserar were still single in 1915) lived in 1910 Grinnell. Staffanou, for example, told the census-taker that he had arrived in the US in 1910, but had been in Iowa only two years, meaning that he had arrived in 1913. At the time of Perras's death, therefore, Grinnell still had not made much acquaintance with Greeks.
But there was at least one Greek in 1910 Grinnell: Charles Plagakis, whom the newspaper mentioned as having given evidence at the inquest. Born in Greece in the 1880s, Plagakis had entered the United States in 1909 and found his way to Grinnell where, according to the 1910 US census, he was working as a salesman in some place called "candy kitchen"—probably what later became Staffanou's Candyland. In January 1910 in Perry, Iowa Plagakis had married a Greek girl, Stella Lonebesi, who had immigrated from Greece at about the same time as her new husband; the pair, along with a boarder who was apparently Charles's brother, James, resided at 828 Main Street in 1910.
Plagakis later left Grinnell, settling in Chicago. But in 1910 he appears to have played a central role in assisting Grinnell authorities with the death of Socrates Perras, perhaps explaining in his best English that Perras was "Catholic," and therefore not eligible to be buried by Protestant pastors. Mediation in behalf of an unknown countryman could only go so far, however: Plagakis did not volunteer as a pallbearer, for example, nor, apparently, was he in a position to underwrite burial costs.
In any event, Perras was buried two days after the accident in Hazelwood Cemetery, not in potter's field, where the unknown and impoverished were usually put to rest, but rather on the slope that bends down to Arbor Lake. Did someone buy him a grave plot, one wonders? If so, evidently not much money changed hands, because no gravestone was erected in the man's memory.
|Grave marker (?) of Socrates Perras, Hazelwood Cemetery|
|Modest cement gravestone for "infant son of J. F. Ferson, Dec 26 (?), 1921" (2015 photograph)|
In this way the story of Socrates Perras's brief sojourn in Grinnell came to an end. Only a staccato epilogue played out later that summer in Chicago: in early August the Cook County Probate Court appointed John F. Devine to collect and administer the property left behind by Perras, who had died intestate. Devine reported that he had gathered "property and effects [belonging to Perras] in said County, the value of which does not exceed the sum of Ten Thousand Dollars ($10,000)." It seems unlikely that Perras had accumulated so enormous a sum in his brief time in America, so perhaps the number employed was chosen arbitrarily. However, as other Cook County intestate declarations indicate, it could have been a much smaller sum ($500, for example, in some other cases), so Perras evidently had accumulated a large treasury, even if the total was not so stupendous as $10,000.
What Devine did with the money I could not determine, although one may hope that the funds found their way back to St. Dimitri and the widow and six children that Perras had left behind. Sadly, none of that surplus was available to fund a gravestone in Hazelwood, where Socrates Perras still slumbers anonymously, far from his native Greece.