Thursday, March 20, 2014

Dawson, New Mexico threw me a curve!

Thinking about visiting Santa Fe this summer, I remembered that my Aunt Katina (Huntalas) Skandale's husband George was from Dawson, New Mexico. George was a really nice guy and a good friend of my father's. He passed away in 2009, and I had never discussed his hometown with him. I quietly marveled at the fact that any Greeks went to New Mexico in the first place. So I figured while in NM, I might go visit Dawson.

Whoa!!  Dawson, New Mexico is a certified ghost town -- formerly a mining town and the site of coal mining disasters in 1903, 1913 and 1923. When coal went out of fashion, the Phelps Dodge Mine closed in 1950 and the town closed down, too.

Dawson Miners
At the height of mining activity, Dawson miners were mostly Italian, Slav and Greek. Just imagine going to NE New Mexico from Greece at the turn of the 20th century to work in a coal mine! Men often came alone, lived in boarding houses with other Greeks, and
brought family members later. When the mine exploded on October 22, 1913, 263 men were killed. Judging by the list of people buried in the cemetery, about 20% of them were Greeks. There is hardly a trace of Greek women in the cemetery. Widows were given $2000 if they wanted to relocate, and others probably also left after the tragic events. 120 men died during the next explosion on February 8, 1923...

George Skandale (1988)
George Skandale was born in Dawson on January 9, 1918. His father Charles (Kyriakos) was from Crete and in the mine on that fateful day in 1923. But he used his ingenuity to walk out without injury 18 hours later as one of only 2 survivors. His brother Tony (Antonios) wasn't so lucky. The horror of that day affected Charles for the rest of his life; he never again went out of the house on February 8th. George was 5 years old at the time...He and his 2 siblings went to grammar and high school in Dawson -- an exceptionally well-developed mining town with a 3-story mercantile, churches, and numerous community amenities. Sister Sophia worked for the mining company at one point.  All members of the Charles Skandale family eventually migrated to Southern California.
  Not one to forget his NM roots, George took his family to one of the Dawson Reunions many years later.  What an amazing journey!

P.S. You might know a Stockton Greek-American born in Dawson, NM. His name is Mel Bokides.

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