From Greece to Detroit: A Brief History of the Karatzis Family

Vassilios Karatzis (1888-1976), known in America as William or “Bill” Karr, was the patriarch of the Karr family in Detroit, Michigan. A barber by training, he was born in the village of Kioni on the Greek island of Ithaki.

Vassilios Karatzis

Vassilios Karatzis

Vassilios Karatzis

Vassilios Karatzis

Little is known about his father, Efstathios Karatzis (abt. 1841). Equally scarce is information about Vassilios’s mother, Anastasia, though this photo of her remains.

 
Anastasia, mother of Vassilios Karatzis

Anastasia, mother of Vassilios Karatzis

 

As most young men did in his days, Vassilios joined the Greek Army during World War I. Though he came from an island on the West side of Greece, his military service brought him to Samos, one of Greece’s most eastern islands off the coast of present day Turkey.

Vassilios likely would have been a part of the Army of National Defense Corps, created by Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, a name you may be more familiar with as the face of a Greek Style Coffee brand.

 
Venizelos Coffe named for Eleftherios Venizelos

Venizelos Coffe named for Eleftherios Venizelos

 

Vassilios was assigned to Samos to protect Greece against a possible Turkish invasion during the war.

Despite great efforts by Vassilios’s great grandson (author, Ryan), no photographs have been found of Vassilios during his military days.

With a little imagination though, you can picture Vassilios in a lineup of infantry men like the ones in this photograph. You can see Eleftherios Venizelos inspecting this regiment of Greek soldiers headed off to the front in 1915.

It was in Samos where Vassilios would first meet his future wife. As the story goes, Vassilios was marching down the street in a parade one day when a young woman caught his eye with a wave. Smitten, Vassilios later tracked her down and discovered that she was Angeliki Tsardoulias (1896-1984), of Tigani (present day Pythagoreio) on Samos.  

Angeliki, known in the U.S. as Angeline Chardoulias Karr, was the daughter of Antonis Tsardoulias (abt. 1850) and his second wife, Paraskevi Korfists (1854-1912). Antonis and Paraskevi are the closest common ancestors of us, the authors. Ryan descends from their daughter described here (Angeliki) and Steve descends from another daughter (Angeliki’s sister), Maria Tsardoulias Halvangis (1894-1941).

Vassilios would soon ask Angeliki’s father for permission to marry his daughter. Antonis agreed and the two were wed on October 20, 1918. The marriage took place at the house of Angeliki in Tigani of Samos and it was registered in the municipality of Tigani the following day.

Though not a wedding photo, this is the earliest known photo of Vassilios and Angeliki together.

Bill_Angeline_Karr_early.jpg

Less than one year later, on June 20, 1919, Bill and Angeline’s first child was born, Stephen William Karr (1919-2007).

At the age of 33, with his first child just a few months old, Vassilios made his way to America. On March 20, 1920 he boarded the Belvedere steamship and departed from the port of Patras. He was traveling by himself and had $25 listed to his name. His final destination was 170 Monroe Avenue in Detroit, Michigan where he was going to see his brother-in-law (Angeliki and Maria Tsardoulias’s brother), Michael Tsardoulias (about 1889).

Built in 1913, The Belvedere was a 1500 passenger steamship that originally sailed under the Austrian flag. By the time Vassilios travelled on her she had been sold to an Italian line and had added a Greece to New York route.

Belvedere Steamship

Belvedere Steamship

The Belvedere arrived at the port of New York City from its stop from Trieste, Italy on Tuesday, April 27th of 1920. It was a rainy though otherwise unremarkable spring day with a high of 62 degrees.

The Belvedere was scheduled to return to Patras (and likely Naples, and Tristes) the next day, but was held in quarantine due to the smallpox virus detected on board. There has been no mention of Vassilios contracting the diseased but it seems certain that many of his fellow travelers were exposed.

Angeline would make a similar voyage about six months later to join her husband. About a month shy of her 2nd wedding anniversary, on September 14th, 1920, and with an 11 month old Stephen (“Efthstasios” on the ship manifest) in tow, Angeline boarded the steamship Migali Hellas at the port of Pireaus in Greece. In the discomfort of steerage class, Angeline and a nursing Stephen made the 18 day journey and arrived on October 4th.

The voyage was was extremely difficult for Angeline. She became so ill from sea sickness that she vowed never to make the trip again. True to her word, for the rest of her life she never again set foot on a boat. In fact, she never again returned to Greece by any mode of transportation.

Megali Hellas.JPG

No longer in need of their sea legs, The Karatzis, soon to be the “Karrs”, began their new life on dry land in their new home of Detroit. Bill would support the family with the trade of cutting hair which he learned in Greece. He would go on to run his own barber shop.

Bill Karr cutting hair in the yard

Bill Karr cutting hair in the yard

On July 22, 1921, the Karrs would welcome their second child into the world, a son, Antonios Karatzis (1921-1926). Another son, James William Karr (1923-2015), followed on June 29, 1923. This is one of the earliest photos of any of the Karr children (Antonios) that we have seen.

Antonios Karatzis (b. 1921)

Antonios Karatzis (b. 1921)

Tragedy befell the Karr family on May 27th, 1926. According to the newspaper report, at 3:30 that afternoon, at the corner of 14th Street and Lasalle Gardens South in Detroit, Antonios Karr was struck by a car and killed after he ran into the street. His death certificate indicates that the family was living about five blocks away at 8419 Twelfth St. (which was renamed “Rosa Parks Blvd.” in the 1970s). This address was in the Virginia Park Neighborhood, now a historic district near Detroit’s “New Center”.

The tragic death of Anthony cast a long and difficult shadow over the Karr family, as one would expect. By most accounts his mother, Angeline, would go on to live a full and rewarding life with her family, but she never completely recovered from the grief. After Anthony’s death she developed a nervous facial tic that remained with her for the rest of her life.

It had been decades, likely, since Anthony’s gravesite at Evergreen Cemetery in Detroit had been visited by family. But, in the late summer of 2018, during a Tsardoulias and Halvangis family reunion, Ryan Karr (author) found and cleaned up Anthony’s gravestone.

Antonios Karatzis (1921-1028) - Evergreen Cemetery in Detroit, MI

Antonios Karatzis (1921-1028) - Evergreen Cemetery in Detroit, MI

Families throughout history have persevered through tragedy, and the Karrs were no different. They soldiered on and a little over a year after Anthony’s death, another Karr son was born. Perhaps as an expression of grief or honor, this 4th Karr child was also named Anthony (1927-1979). The last of the Karr siblings, a daughter, Ann, was born in 1929.

Here they are, now a sibship of four, from top to bottom: Stephen, James, Anthony, and Ann.

 
The Karr Siblings - 1930s

The Karr Siblings - 1930s

 

And here’s the whole family at East Tawas, MI, one of their favorite vacation spots.

Karr Family Tawas.jpg

By 1930, now a family of six, the Karrs were living at 8551 Ellsworth Avenue in Detroit. Here is a recent photo of their home (built in 1926).

The Karr family home in 1930 at 8551 Ellsworth Avenue, Detroit

The Karr family home in 1930 at 8551 Ellsworth Avenue, Detroit

We have not yet been able to find census information for the Karr family in 1940, so it is unknown if they were still living at the Ellwsorth house. We do know that in 1943 Bill listed his work address on his WW II draft card as “18211 Fenkell”. This corresponds to a classified placed in the Detroit Free Press that year advertising for a barber position.

William Karr WWII draft card

William Karr WWII draft card

Though Bill did not serve in the military during WWII, all of his sons did. Stephen had a distinguished service career with the Office of Strategic Services. After the war he served in the Reserves until 1960. He went on to have an equally distinguished career as and attorney, judge, and magistrate in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he settled with his family.

Stephen Karr (1919-2007)

Stephen Karr (1919-2007)

Stephen Karr (1919-2007)

Eager to join the war effort, James snuck his way into the Navy and managed to serve a short while until it was discovered that he was actually two years underaged for service. A Detroit resident most of his life, he had a love of Detroit sporting teams and worked many years at their playing venues.

James Karr (1923-2015)

James Karr (1923-2015)

James Karr (1923-2015)

James Karr (1923-2015)

Coming of military age towards the end of the war, Anthony joined the Navy In June of 1945. He was discharged in 1946, and his obituary incorrectly indicates that he served in the Korean War. Anthony would settle his family in La Crosse, Wisconsin and run the Gateway trucking company.

Anthony Karr (1927-1979)

Anthony Karr (1927-1979)

The last surviving Karr sibling, Ann, will celebrate her 90th birthday this summer with a joyous gathering of family and friends. She has been the keeper of the Karr family history and has graciously shared much of her knowledge with the authors.

Ann Karr Cardy

Ann Karr Cardy

And here is the entire Karr family at the wedding of Ann Karr to Frank Cardy on September 12, 1951.

Top Row L-R: William Karr, Angeline (Chardoulias) Karr, Ann (Karr) Cardy, Frank Cardy, Alice (Johnston) Karr, Anthony "Tony" Karr, James "Jimmy" Karr    Seated L-R: Betty Karr, Stephen Karr, Clara (Miller) Karr. Alice was married to Tony Karr, Betty to Stephen, and Clara to Jimmy Karr.

Top Row L-R: William Karr, Angeline (Chardoulias) Karr, Ann (Karr) Cardy, Frank Cardy, Alice (Johnston) Karr, Anthony "Tony" Karr, James "Jimmy" Karr

Seated L-R: Betty Karr, Stephen Karr, Clara (Miller) Karr. Alice was married to Tony Karr, Betty to Stephen, and Clara to Jimmy Karr.

From the coasts of Greek Islands, to the streets and neighborhoods of Detroit, Bill and Angeline Karr lived their version of the American Dream, filled with family and faith. And by most accounts it was a very satisfying life. They would go on to have 20 grandchildren who seemed to adore them. Here is a precious home movie of Angeline and Bill enjoying their family.

Though they never returned to Greece, Bill and Angeline’s hearts may have ached a bit for their homeland they had both left several decades earlier. In 1957 they would retire to Tarpon Springs, Florida, a city with the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the United States.

Bill and Angeline lived the last years of their lives at 607 E. Center St., less than half a mile from beautifully and reverent St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral where they were members.

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral - Tarpon Springs, FL

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral - Tarpon Springs, FL

The Karrs worshiped there. They likely attended many baptisms, weddings, funerals, potlucks and more as well. At the end of their lives they would both eulogized there and laid to rest at the nearby Cycadia Cemetery in Tarpon Springs.

Yaya-and-Papou-Karr-memorial-programs.jpg

May their memory be eternal.

 
Bill and Angeline Karr

Bill and Angeline Karr