Michelle Ann Kratts

Archive for the ‘The Armenians of Niagara Falls’ Category

Stories from Niagara’s rich ethnic past told in “Melting Pot”

In Coming to America, Irish Americans, Niagara County, Niagara Falls, Polish Genealogy, Recipes, The African Americans of Niagara Falls, The Armenians of Niagara Falls, The Italians of Niagara Falls, New York, The Polish of Niagara Falls, Tradtional Ethnic Costumes, Uncategorized on July 18, 2017 at 7:32 pm

Melting Pot; Niagara’s rich ethnic heritage

By Michelle Ann Kratts, Lewiston Public Library

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I will always see Niagara Falls as a delicious melting pot of cultures, languages and traditions. In fact, just last summer, I found myself at an international crossroads while sitting on a bench at the State Park. It seemed the world passed me by as I snacked on an ice cream cone. Women strolled by wearing colorful Indian saris or Middle Eastern hijabs. Men presented themselves with Hasidic tendrils or donning Sikh turbans. My ears discerned voices speaking every manner of language imaginable. I could even smell the traditional spices of the world’s cuisines mix and mash with the rising mist as these men and women marveled at the brink of the great cataract.  Some things never change.

Niagara Falls is a great American story. Throughout the years we have nurtured a sacred tradition in which we have welcomed and embraced people from every corner of the world. Our history includes the stories of brave refugees of war, genocide and famine. So many came to Niagara Falls to make a new start. At the dawn of the past century and for many decades afterwards, the factories and the railroads brought in thousands of much-needed workers and their families. They came from the cotton fields of the Deep South, from depression-ravaged towns. Some came from exotic countries– utterly desperate souls– and occasionally with only false papers, as they would never have been allowed in the lawful way. They crowded onto sea vessels with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They said their last farewells to their loved ones and to their homelands—and most often, never again stepped foot on the land of their ancestors. Niagara Falls was the last hope for so many.


Our new book, Melting Pot; Niagara’s rich ethnic heritage, published by the Lewiston Public Library, is a celebration of these people and their stories. Over the past few years, as the local history librarian, I have collected the stories of our immigrant ancestors for the purpose of sharing their struggles, as well as their triumphs. As you read through the narratives, you will see that oftentimes great hardships precipitated remarkable achievements. Despite differences in ethnicity, these Niagarans shared common housing, jobs, and churches and even married into each other’s families. They shared meals with one another and learned bits and pieces of each other’s languages and traditions. They crafted businesses out of what they did best and introduced our area to unique foods, music and customs. They also valiantly fought prejudice and bigotry whenever it arose—from the violent threats of the Ku Klux Klan to racist intimidations from unkind neighbors.

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Novak Family at Ellis Island 

Some of the personal stories mentioned include insightful histories of African Americans in Niagara Falls. Exquisitely written by Dr. Michael Boston, assistant professor of African American Studies at Brockport, and a trailblazer and researcher of Western New York African American history, these chapters highlight the importance of “family” as well as leadership in the African American community at Niagara Falls.  Our friend, Bill Bradberry, a Niagara Falls Gazette columnist and the chair of the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Area Corporation, as well as the winner of the Civil Rights Achievement Award in January of 2017, opens the book with a poignant and nostalgic look back in time at the multiculturalism present in individual neighborhoods throughout Niagara Falls.

Other stories in Melting Pot include: the brave and invincible Armenians, heroes and heroines, who defied all odds before coming to our city; the industrious Germans, who dominated local industry and business; the story of coalmining Italians who ventured into Niagara Falls from a dismal life in Pennsylvania; Polish tales of hardship at Ellis Island, and lost connections with the Old Country; the children of Spanish immigrants who had worn the customary clothes of Spain to American schools; the ancient Ukrainian tradition of the painted Easter eggs, or pysanky; and recipes from a war bride from Wales. Many of our Irish stories were submitted by the local chapter of the Ancient Order of the Hibernians. Another Irish chapter, written by Niagara Gazette columnist, Don Glynn, reveals a modern day friendship with ties to the Lynch and Buttery families. Yet another tells the story of St. Mary’s Church.  Melting Pot also contains precious family recipes, collected and written with great care, family photos and nostalgic news clippings.

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Sdao Family      

The front cover of Melting Pot proudly displays the marriage of Lithuanian born Zygmont Puisys and Ursula Anna Zugzda at Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in 1912.  Ursula, an orphan, had been raised in a church rectory in Igliauka, Mirijampole, Lithuania.  It was said that Zygmont had “escaped” his homeland under a hail of gunfire. Their story is representative of how many of our Niagara Falls stories begin…with despair and gunfire.

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                                                              Puisys-Zugzda Wedding 

Melting Pot; Niagara’s rich ethnic heritage will be available at the Book Corner, located at 1801 Main Street in Niagara Falls,    and through Amazon.com. We welcome any new family stories for future volumes.


A Spiritualist History of Niagara Falls, Part three: Paving the Way

In Spiritualism in Niagara Falls, The Armenians of Niagara Falls, The Italians of Niagara Falls, New York on March 12, 2013 at 4:56 pm

The new century brought power and light to Niagara Falls…and immigrants…Read more at the following link:


Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla


When a Recipe Tells a Love Story

In Antique Shoppe, Niagara in Love, Recipes, The Armenians of Niagara Falls on December 27, 2012 at 8:00 pm

ration book and recipeIt’s funny how some things fall into your lap and tell a love story.

A few years ago I purchased an old ration book holder from a little antique shop in Lewiston. It was particularly interesting because it had belonged to some local people that my grandmother actually knew–the chiropractor, Dr. Emilio Settimi and his family. But even more fascinating was the secret that was tucked away inside the tattered cover. Carefully typed and folded inside, stained with cookie encrusted hands, was a recipe for “Date and Nut Cookies” and a love story.  Beside the heading was a name in parenthesis: Angela Kevorkian. I’m not sure if this recipe was typed by Angela Kevorkian or how it ended up inside the Settimi’s ration book holder. Regardless, the story of Angela Kevorkian was too sweet to put to sleep.

Kevorkian recipe

It began on May 19, 1912, with a man about to go over Niagara Falls.

As in so many other stories (that Niagarans know so well) a man (named Henry J. Lutz–a candymaker) happened to fall into the Niagara River. As he was being rapidly carried toward the American Falls, a young Armenian laborer (who could not swim) could not help but come to the aid of the drowning man. Without hesitation, Iram Kevorkian, waded out 22 feet into the river at a point which was only 150 feet from the brink of doom. As Lutz drifted past, he caught him with a pikepole. Kevorkian slid two or three times on the slimy rocks in which his feet clung to for dear life. He called for help and suddenly other men joined in to help Mr. Kevorkian save Mr. Lutz from certain death. In the end, both men survived and Kevorkian was awarded the Carnegie Silver medal for heroism.

Strangely, in just about the same spot, two years later, Kevorkian witnessed another individual in peril on June 4, 1914.  He was responsible for rescuing this man, as well. For this act of heroism, he was awarded the Geoge E. McNeill medal.

When asked about his heroic deeds, Kevorkian replied:

Those were the most beautiful experiences in my lifetime. They call it courage. Well, something about courage is that you act quickly without knowing you have it…

And as every hero must have his admirers….Iram Kevorkian’s act of kindness found its way across an ocean and into the coffee parlor of a popular cafe in Vienna where a group of ladies sat discussing a news article.

Now there’s a fine young man to meet…they said to one another.

One of those ladies, Angela Jurasek, came to America shortly after this.   Tragedy came upon her, too, but this time by fire.  She broke her ankle while escaping a terrible conflagration that ravaged her second floor apartment in Flushing, New York, and found herself recovering in a hospital.  It was then that fate began to work out her little scheme.  For Iram Kevorkian had left Niagara Falls for a short time to take a job in that same hospital in Flushing.

And there she was.  His co-workers had raved about the beautiful woman with the broken ankle one too many times.  He convinced a friend to switch duties with him so that he might meet this lovely lady and soon he was carrying dinner trays to Miss Jurasek on a daily basis.  She became his wife one month later.

Of course, it was inevitable that the couple would honeymoon in Niagara Falls.   And it was then, at the brink of Niagara’s thundering beauty, that Mrs. Kevorkian decided that this is where she wanted to make their home.  They lived here for quite some time and operated the Vienna Tailor and Dressmaking Shop at 446 Third Street.

And they lived happily ever after in Niagara Falls, New York, eating wonderful Date and Nut Cookies.