Chakiris and his connection to Norwood,
the early dawn of August 22, 1916 Catina
Chakiris and her daughter Sophia, and son
Stylianos, arrived in Boston, Massachusetts.
They quickly boarded a train for Cincinnati
where they would be reunited with Catina’s
husband Aristotle and other son Anastasios.
They were of Greek heritage, but lived in
Turkey. They had fled they oppression and
tyranny there to rebuild their lives in
the golden land of America, “the land of
opportunity and freedom from fear.”
ESCAPE to a NEW DAWN
Sophia C. Fergis
paternal aunt of George
a few days in Cincinnati, we moved to Norwood
to live, as there were factories there where
my parents could work. Norwood was in “Ripley’s
Believe It or Not” as being the only city
in the world completely surrounded by another
city, which was Cincinnati. It was more
to my liking there, as it did not have the
many tremendously tall buildings that overwhelmed
me and to which I was unaccustomed.
business section of Norwood was on Montgomery
Avenue. The buildings were two or three
stories high, with an occasional four story.
The most busy part was only about three
or four blocks long.
first place of abode was in an apartment
house. One evening, Mother saw a young couple
kissing in the hallway. Immediately she
went to Father, “Aristotle, we must move
out of here. This is a house of ill repute!”
Father looked for another place and soon
found a small cottage.
America, my brother’s names became Andy
and Steve, from Anastasios and Stylianos,
while mine remained Sophia, which in Greek
did not remain a stranger very long, as
less than two months after our arrival,
Steve and I were enrolled in school.
my parents were working. Since they did
not have knowledge of the English language,
they were unqualified to register us in
school. George, and American boy in our
neighborhood who went to North Norwood Elementary
School, the same school that Steve and I
were to attend, took us there. He had written
instructions given to him as to our names
the school bell rang, George took my brother
and me to the registration office. Steve,
who was fourteen, was enrolled in the fourth
grade, while I, at the age of seven, was
enrolled in the first. Miss Eleanor Worthington
was my teacher. She was in her late forties,
tall, and rather plump.
whole time that Miss Worthington had me
in her class in the first grade, she frequently
kept me after school to further my knowledge
of the English language.
gentleness and joy in teaching me the language
and adapting me to the ways of this country
will always remain in my memory.
the only foreigner in school, I was a novelty,
and I was given much attention. I, a most
insignificant person, was made to feel welcome
and important by the interest the principal,
teachers, and pupils showed for me.
had a beautiful voice and was a self-taught
pupil on the mandolin, on which he played
beautifully. His interest in the movies
continued, and his consuming ambition was
to be an actor. The antics of Charlie Chaplin
intrigued him. During his late teens, he
expressed his desire to our father to become
a movie actor. Father thought such a profession
was degrading and unthinkable, and Steve
was not encouraged. It is my belief that
Steve had talent. I’m sure he would have
succeeded in getting into the movies, if
he had taken lessons in voice and acting.
Beside his beautiful voice, he was quite
a comedian and had good looks.
am happy to say for my brother’s sake that
many decades later, however, God granted
my brother the culmination of his own wishes
and dreams in his son, George Chakiris.
George won the Academy Award in 1961 portraying
the part of Bernardo in West Side Story.
His career continued on stage, screen, and
the age of seven, George introduced me to
a visiting friend, saying, “This is my aunt.”
As an afterthought, and by way of clarification,
he quickly added, “But not the kind that
walks on the ground.” At the same time,
he pointed down to the ground.
succeeded in getting employment in a Greek
confectionary store in Norwood.
the combined earning power of my parents,
plus great economy, in 1917 Father put the
down payment on a two-story, two-family
frame house on Warren Avenue. My parents
rented the second floor to a Jewish couple
with three children.
Norwood View Elementary School had just
been completed in the vicinity of our home.
Shortly thereafter, I and a group of other
pupils were transferred to this new school
from North Norwood School. By tremendous
good fortune, my beloved Miss Worthington
was also transferred to teach in this school.
was not transferred by remained in North
Norwood School, as the new school was small
and had grades only up through the fourth
grade. After the fourth grade, I also returned
to the North School.
a week or two of being in Norwood View,
I became friends with gentle and sweet Rosella
Midlam, who was in my classroom. She was
the only child of Mr. and Mrs. Charles and
purchased a poolroom with five billiard
table on Montgomery Avenue in Norwood in
1918. With his pleasing personality and
courteous manner, he was successful in business.
I went to the Globe-Werneke factory by the
basement window where Mother worked. There
I unwrapped and gleefully showed her my
due time, Father sold our home…We moved
to a small apartment over the poolroom.
Five months after purchase of his poolroom
in Norwood, Father purchased one for Andy
had purchased a shoe-shine and hat-cleaning
store for Steve on Vine Street in Cincinnati.
had sold Andy’s poolroom because of the
band environment there. They bought a large
restaurant to be managed by Andy, which
also was in Cincinnati. Because of lack
of knowledge on running a restaurant of
that size, the waste of food by the chef,
and the dishonestly of some of the employees,
Father had to sell it at a loss. After the
sale, Andy went to Miami, Florida, for a
vacation. Upon his return from Miami,
he was instrumental in us all moving there.
Andy’s return to Norwood, he brought a huge
picture of “Grecian Garden,” which was a
confectionary store on Flagler Street in
Miami. He was successful in convincing Father
that it was a great buy for twenty thousand
dollars. Just the business, not the building.
sold his poolroom in Norwood, and…we all
went to Miami. Within a few months after
purchase of Grecian Garden, wherein Father
had put all his cash as a down payment,
he walked out penniless. Because of the
lack of business, he couldn’t meet the huge
payments of rent and the note that was due
there were no girls of Greek descent in
Miami at that time, in 1922, Father went
to Brusa to bring brides for Andy and Steve.
Steve was furious with this plan.
glorious day finally came when we went to
the depot to meet the new arrivals. Upon
their arrival in Miami, Father introduced
the brides, “Andy, Anthe is your fiancee.
Steve, Zoe is your fiancee.
becoming acquainted, about two months after
the arrival of Anthe and Zoe, my brothers
were impatient to get married to the girls
designated to them by their father.
to dishonest manipulations of others, in
due time, Father went out of business. In
1925, broken-hearted and almost penniless,
my parents went back to Norwood, Ohio, and
Father went into the employ of others. Steve
and Zoe joined them in Norwood soon thereafter
with their baby, Demetrios.
and sweet Demeetrios died at the tender
age of nine months, but over the years Steve
and Zoe had Aristotle, Virginia, Catherine,
Viola, George, Steve and Athena.
upon my parent’s return to Norwood, Father
saw a brick building on the corner of Sherman
and Allison Avenues, which consisted of
a store on the corner. Connected to it was
a two-story house. He expressed his deep
desire to some of his friends of his wish
to buy it.
Uncle Anastas and Aunt Sultanio, who at
this time were living in Cincinnati, loaned
Father all their saving. One or two other
Greek friends helped in the down payment
of the purchase price of the building.
furnished it as an ice cream parlor, delicatessen,
and grocery store. He decorated it with
lovely hanging ferns and potted plants,
naming it Grecian Garden after the Grecian
Garden purchased in Miami. However, in contrast
to the Grecian Garden in Miami, this Grecian
Garden in Norwood was a successful business
the summer [of 1936], my father had what
was called a beer garden. It was outdoors
adjacent to our home, with Father’s store,
Grecian Garden, being on the corner.
father being a lover of beauty, and in memory
of our homes in Turkey, had planted two
cherry trees, two mulberry trees, plus an
apricot and pear tree. He had abundant grapevines
with aromatic, luscious grapes hanging overhead
all the way down through the entrance and
all along the fence surrounding the garden.
The garden had profusion of beautiful
beer garden had become so well known for
its beauty that the mayor of Norwood came
once. We served ice cream sodas and sundaes,
malted milk, sandwiches, and draft beer.
It was patronized mostly by families of
the surrounding vicinity. At times, we had
a three-piece band on Saturday nights.
the closing of the beer garden for the season,
we [Nick and Sophia] made plans for our
marriage to take place in Miami, where we
would live during the winter months. In
September, Nick and I departed to Miami.
Steve, along with my nephew George, and
godchild, Viola, drove Nick and me to the
parents left the store in the care of Steve
and they came to Miami a week later.
had escaped from the rulers of darkness
against injustice and oppression and in
danger of our lives. My foundation and memories
in the United States as a child were firmly
built on love, care and friendship generously
and graciously bestowed on me from the moment
I entered the first grade in school at the
age of seven in Norwood, Ohio.