The strategically situated island of Lemnos, located in the Northern Aegean opposite the Dardanelles, has a long and colorful history. Originally inhabited chiefly by the Sinties, Minyans and later by the Palasgians, Lemnos was first conquered by the Persians in 511 B.C. However, they were expelled by the Athenians the following year and the island was a protectorate of Athens for many years afterward. The Persians reoccupied Lemnos between 493 and 479 B.C., but the Athenians again expelled them that year.

Subsequently, Lemnos became an Athenian "Klirouhia." Her citizens who were required to remain on the island were called Klirouhoi, or recipients of specific amounts of land in Lemnos. They enjoyed their living there and there was harmony between them and the natives.

The Klirouhoi did not forget the gods of their fathers and commissioned a large bronze statue of Athena, which was made by Hellas' renowned sculptor Pheidias. It was called "Athena Lemnia" and stood on a prominent spot of the Acropolis of Athens. The statue was acclaimed by the ancient as one of Pheidias' masterpieces. Unfortunately, it doesn't exist today. However, we have an idea how it looked from a Roman copy of it which is in the Museum of Dresden, East Germany.

In 322 B.C. Lemnos passed on to the Macedonians, in 168 B.C. to the Romans, in 1204 A.D. to the Venetians, in 1261 to the Byzantines, in the beginning of the 15th century to the Genoese and then to the Turks.

In 267 A.D. Lemnos incurred great damage from the Goths, in 900 A.D. from the Arabs and in 1204 from the hordes of the 4th Crusade.

The Turks, following their conquest of Constantinopole in 1453 and later an of Eastern Europe, occupied Lemnos in 1462. However, in the contest for the control of the Aegean, they were later expelled from the island by the Venetians. In 1478, according to the eminent historian on Lemnos Argyrios Moschides, Lemnos was besieged and on the brink of reconquest by the Turks. The Lemnians, rather than become re-enslaved to them, joined the Venetians to repel them. In the decisive battle at the man-made and walled hill of Kotsinos, commanding the Bay of Bournias, the combined forces, following the heroism of the Lemnian maiden Maroula, overcame the Turks who were winning and forced them to take to their ships and flee.

In his book E Limnos, p. 84, Moschides' wrote regarding Maroula: "In the critical moment (of the battle) however, there appeared like an angel of salvation, a young Lemnian maiden by the name of Maroula who, upon seeing her father dying by the sword of a fanatic Muslim while defending an entry to the fort, and for the moment perceiving the consequences enslavement would bring upon her, the shame and dishonor, grabbed her father's sword which lay by his side in front of her, and charged against the enemy with such ferocity and valor, that she became a symbol of emulation to the defenders about her. Becoming encouraged by her heroism, they succeeded to dislodge their foes, forcing them to lose all hope of winning the battle and take to their ships and flee from the port."

The Venetian Admiral Giacomo Loredano, marveling the heroism of the young maiden and wishing to reward her, offered her to marry whomever of his officers she would choose, adding that she would receive a rich dowry from the public treasury. Maroula proudly declined, saying she could not possibly marry a man whose character was not previously known to her. There are no known records as to what course her life took afterward.

Lemnos was saved from the Turks then, but it was to be for only a short while, as under a treaty in 1479 the island was ceded to them. They remained there until 1912, when the island was liberated by the Hellenes. Despite the long and trying occupation of their island by the Turks, the tenacious Lemnians retained their Hellenic identity and Orthodox Christian religion. Except for the German occupation between 1941 and 1944 during World War II, Lemnos has since remained part of Hellas.

The terrain of Lemnos is mostly of of barren hills and mountains. However, its valleys are fertile and in emergencies, such as during World War II, the inhabitants (now about 16,000) provided themselves with sufficient food. The island has many beautiful bays. Land-locked Bay of Moudros, the largest, was used by the Allies as a major naval base during World War I. The capital of Lemnos is picturesque Myrina, formerly called Kastron. Its promontory, a fortified hill with well-preserved walls built during the Venetian occupation of Lemnos, affords spectacular views of Myrina and its evirons. Myrina has several hotels, the exclusive one being the large motel complex Akti Myrina, which is in a garden like setting facing the blue and crystal-clear Aegean Sea.

The proud and industrious inhabitants of Lemnos are mostly farmers. During the 435-year Turkish occupation of their island they were generally illiterate as wherever the Turks ruled culture had declined. Since their liberation however, conditions have changed and Lemnos is slowly becoming modernized. Even so, as with other Hellenes, many Lemnians have emigrated. In the early years they choose to go mostly to Egypt or Asia Minor. At the turn of this century, and more recently - as immigration restrictions were relaxed - they emigrated mainly to Australia, Canada or the United States.

Much can be written about the Lemnians in America and of their Society "Hephaestus." Unfortunately, the Association's records from 1906 to 1958 were destroyed. However, there is sufficient information, especially from 1941 and forward, to draw from.

Lemnian immigration to the United States began in 1896, when a few seamen jumped ship and remained here. In 1908, due to the Turkish edict "houriet" which made it mandatory for Lemnians to serve in the Turkish army, many Lemnians left their island secretly and fled to Hellas, the United States, or elsewhere. The average price the escapees paid to the captains of the caiques in which they fled was one gold English pound.

Later, many more men followed to come here seeking their fortunes, but no women accompanied them at the beginning. Most of them remained in New York City and banded together in groups, staying in unfurnished and unheated apartments where they slept on the floor, using the heavy cotton or wool quilts they brought from Lemnos.

Those were difficult years for them as the majority were illiterate. That, coupled with their lack of knowledge of English, made it difficult to obtain jobs Thus, the employed supported the unemployed. The latter who stayed home, took care of the apartments and did the limited cooking. For relaxation, visits were interchanged between the groups and parties were held whenever namedays were celebrated. Only namedays are celebrated in Lemnos, not birthdays.

Those who stayed in Manhattan lived in the Downtown section of the city, chiefly in the vicinity of Madison St., and in the West Midtown section where at 228 and 230 W. 30th St., the first meetings were held toward the founding of "Hephaestus." Later many lived in Yorkville, mainly at East 70th Street, between Avenue A (now York Ave.) and 1st Avenue. The building at 400 East 70 Street became their center and the "office" of the Association.

"Hephaestus" was founded by those first Lemnians who arrived here. The year was 1906 and the founders were:

George Acrivis, Constantinos Alexandrou, John Catacousinos, Athanasios Chletsos, Epaminondas Chletsos, Christos Dovas, Vasilios Giannakoulis or Xanthos, Athanasios Kriaris, Constantinos Makris, Mavroudis Mavroudis, Antonios Nestoras, Panagiotis Paledes, Aristides Pappas, John Pappas, Antonios Psomas, John Psomas, George Ritarides, Vlasios Soupios and Costas Stathis.

They chose to name the Society "Hephaestus," after the mythological god of fire and metal working of the ancient Hellenes. According to Moschides, there apparently was an hephestion (volcano) in Lemnos at Mt. Mosychlos which, as was best determined through his deep research, was near village Repanidion and became extinct during the time of Alexander the Great. The ancients, who associated Hephaestus with volcanoes, believed the fire god made his home there and at other volcanic sites as well. They further believed Hephaestus was thrown from Mt. Olympus by Zeus, his father, and landed on Lemnos where he set up his metalworking shops, and that he even fashioned the armor of Achilles there.

For the early members of the Society "Hephaestus" was a home away from home, a place to discuss their problems and a place for comradeship. It also was a place to decide how best they could aid their beloved birthplace, the still enslaved island of Lemnos and their loved ones there. The Society had also accepted as members those who came from other Turkish-occupied Hellenic areas, such as the Dodecanese. This, combined with its purpose of aiding one another, made "Hephaestus" a very strong organization from its inception and it made excellent progress through the years.

The first President of "Hephaestus" was Constantinos Alexandrou, the second was George Akrivis and the third was Athanasios Kriaris.

It was during the third administration when, on October 8, 1912, the Hellenes, under the leadership of Admiral Pavlos Kountouriotis, liberated Lemnos from the Turks. Jubilant over the wonderful event, "Hephaestus," responding to Hellas' appeal for financial aid, disbursed a check of all its assets of 650 English pounds to the Hellenic government. An acknowledgement, signed by Hellas' notable Premier Eleutherios Venizelos and dated November 21, 1912, was received by the Society

However, according to the late Haralambos Triandafillou, president of "Hephaestus" in 1920 and 1921, who told the story to Vlassis Rackages,, the then large monetary gift was not actually received by Hellas. According to Vlassis' writings, the money was deposited in the New York branch of the Bank of Athens, now Atlantic Bank of New York, with the stipulation that no Withdrawals be availed to anyone until the sum of 50,000 English pounds was reached.

"Hephaestus" had planned to build a farm school in Lemnos when that large amount was reached and neglected to cancel the withdrawal restriction. This caused the 650 English pounds to be tied up in the Bank of Athens. Furthermore, soon after Lemnos was liberated, many Lemnians from the United States and elsewhere returned to Hellas to fight the Turks. This depleted the membership of the Society and it became dormant for the next five years, or 1912 to 1917. The young Lemnians who remained here served later in the armed forces of the United States during World War 1.

In 1921, during Mr. Triandaffilou's presidency, "Hephaestus" retrieved the money from the Bank of Athens through a court order. As there were no medical facilities in Lemnos, the Society decided to put the money towards the building of a hospital there instead of a farm school.

While initially the Lemnians stayed mainly in New York, they later went to the neighboring States as well. There were Chapters organized by "Hephaestus" from 1917 to 1925 in Alliquipa, Ambridge, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Woodlawn, Pennsylvania, in Newark, Paterson, Trenton and New Brunswick, New Jersey and in Norwich, Connecticut. Their income was sent to the Mother Lodge in New York.

The presidents of "Hephaestus" in New York from 1917 to 1925 successively, were: Anthony Catacosinos, Haralambos Triandafillou, Andreas Catacousinos, Demetrios Garofalou, Vasilios Kalathes, Panagiotis Christofides and Elias Kakalis.

In the early years of the Society the indigent Lemnians were aided greatly by "Hephaestus." Those who wished to return to Lemnos for health or other reasons did so at the Society's expense. Later, however, when the proposition to build a hospital in Lemnos had crystallized, every effort was made to that end to achieve it. A Special Drive was initiated, the Society's members and their friends were solicited for contributions, and the then large sum of $6,230.00 was realized from it. Everyone worked very hard for the Special Drive or otherwise to accomplish this great undertaking, especially President Elias Kakalis. The cornerstone of the edifice was placed on May 17, 1928.

The nucleus of the reorganizers of "Hephaestus" were Evangelos Spirideles, to function February 10, 1941, just two months before the Germans occupied Lemnos. It is on a high spot in Myrina, Lemnos' capital, and is one of the best hospitals of rural Hellas. There is a marble plaque over the central doorway of the hospital which bears the inscription in Hellenic:

Hospital of Lemnos Hephaestus
Built by the Lemnians of America 1942

originally managed by a Brotherhood, the hospital, since 1954, is a government supported institution.

The Great Economic Depression which affected everyone also affected "Hephaestus" and the organization became dormant from 1936 to 1940. However, the German occupation of Lemnos during World War II made it essential to reorganize the Society and this was done on September 21, 1941. Who of us who participated in the reorganization will ever forget everyone's eagerness, zeal and enthusiasm to aid the war-weary Lemnians? The need was there and the accomplishments in the ensuing years are well known. By that time most everyone was fairly well-established here, which made it easier to turn their thoughts to their suffering brothers and sisters in Lemnos.

The nucleus of the reorganizers of "Hephaestus" were Evangelos Spirideles, Vlasios Soupios (one of the founders of the Society), George Haramis and others, who met regularly for that purpose at Markos Diamandides' store in Washington Heights, New York. Theodore C. Papas and Ulysses (Odysseus) Rackages joined them later and soon afterward a general meeting for elections was held at the old church of Saint Spyridon in Washington Heights. E. Spirideles was elected president, U. Rackages secretary and N. Kotoukis treasurer. Each and every member of the newly reorganized Society worked diligently for the new goal of helping their occupied home island. A Special Drive was held soon after the reorganization and the sum of $9,356.00 was collected!

The following Chapters were also soon reorganized: Newark, Paterson, New Brunswick and Trenton, New Jersey and Norwich, Connecticut. An effort was made to reorganize the Lemnians in Pennsylvania as well, but they chose to function independently of "Hephaestus."

"Maroula," the Ladies Auxiliary, was organized in 1944 with Mrs. Helen Kotoukis as its first president. The Chapters and "Maroula" helped greatly in the Society's growth and progress.

When Lemnos was liberated in 1944, the Lemnians in America and elsewhere strive to help their relatives there by sending them money, food and clothing. It was found to be a problem, impractical or impossible to do this collectively through "Hephaestus." For that reason, the Society decided to help the people in Lemnos with their medical needs and through the hospital there in particular. A Trust Fund was instituted for the hospital and the Society's income went mostly into it for the next 10 years.

The sources of income for "Hephaestus" have always been from membership dues, donations, Special Drives, Balls, Picnics and Raffles for prizes. From 1906 to 1935 the dues were $6.00 a year. There were Collectors designated for them who earned 10% of the amounts collected. In 1941 the dues were set at $3.00 a year without Collectors. Later they were increased to their present level of $5.00 yearly.

It isn't known if any Journals were printed in conjunction with the Balls given by the Association prior to 1941. Since then, however, there were Journals printed for most of the Balls, which brought a significant income to the Society. Originally, most Balls given by "Hephaestus" were held at the Palm Garden Ballroom in Manhattan. From 1941 to 1972 they were held mostly at Manhattan Center and at various hotels in New York. From then forward they are held in the large Ballroom of the Crystal Palace in Astoria, Long Island, a favorite Hellenic residential area. The various picnics, especially prior to 1941, were held at Harmony Park, Staten Island.

In this anniversary year, it is essential to mention the names of the presidents of "Hephaestus" and "Maroula," who led the society since its 1941 reorganization.

The presidents of "Hephaestus" were successively:

Evangelos Spirideles 1941-1942 and 1969-1970, George Haramis 1943-1945, 1948-1949 and 1961-1962, Dionysios Skopelitis 1946-1947, Nicholas Pamporas 1950, Comninos Kafes 1951-1952, Ulysses or Odysseus Rackages 1953-1954, George Vricos 1955 and 1965-1968, Spiro Soupios (born and raised here) 1956-1960 and 1963-1964, George Constantinou 1971-1974, Nicholas Giannopoulos 1975-1978, Haralambos Geanopulos 1979-1980, and presently George Geanopulos (1981).

The Presidents of "Maroula" were successively:

Helen Kotoukis, Sophia A. Christofidou, Maria Karasavas, Fotini Tsantilas, Athanasia Haramis, lphigenia Kagalis, Mary Papangelou, Penelope Grigorellis (Archontidou), Argyro Stevens, Barbara Kandis, Zoe Mavrellis, Marika Makris and presently Agnes Baboukis.

Some of the main accomplishments of "Hephaestus" since its 1941 reorganization are:

(1) A Trust Fund was established in 1946 for the Hospital of Lemnos with City Bank Farmers Trust Company of New York, now Citibank. It was made Perpetual and Irrevocable in 1953 and it reached the sum of $61,250.00. The most generous donors to this Trust were Mr. Haralambos A. Parathyras with $10,000.00 and Mr. Theodore C. Papas with $1,000.00. Both were from Kondia, Lemnos.

(2) An electric generator, surgical instruments, equipment for the Maternity Ward and other necessities were purchased and sent, by "Hephaestus" to the Hospital of Lemnos.

(3) "Maroula," independently, purchased and sent an ambulance and a new operating lamp to the Hospital of Lemnos. In addition, "Maroula" bought and sent streptomycin and other drugs to the sick in Lemnos and elsewhere in Hellas.

(4) "Hephaestus" also renovated the Metropolitan's residence in Myrina, contributed generously to the Greek War Relief Association, to the American Red Cross and toward the supplementary payments to the underpaid doctors of the Hospital of Lemnos.

(5) The Society bought and sent to Lemnos a bulldozer for repairing the

As the years went by and the Society's members got older, or were deceased the membership diminished greatly. In 1968, fearing a total dismemberment, the remaining members decided to allocate the greater portion of the Association's remaining funds to the various Communities in Lemnos for their school necessities. Accordingly, there were 32 different accounts drawn up and the sum of $39,040.00 was evenly divided among them. The money, deposited in their names at the Bowery Savings Bank was later transferred to Atlantic Bank of New York. Some of the money was eventually withdrawn by some of them, others chose to retain it there.

Soon afterward, former Secretary of "Hephaestus" George Constantinou took the initiative to revitalize the Society. Together with a new group of immigrants from Lemnos, and with some from the older group, they took over and the Society became active once again. These new immigrants from Lemnos are far more educated than their predecessors. They are young, energetic, successful in their business endeavors and they brought "Hephaestus" to its present height, or the Fourth Successful Period of the Society's long existence.

During this latter period the following expenditures were made by the Association:

(1) In 1969, $2,000.00 was dispatched for the earthquake victims of Lemnos and its nearby isle of Saint Efstratios.

(2) $1,500.00 was sent for the repairs of existing buildings in Moudros, Lemnos, which served as classrooms for the newly-established High School there.

(3) $3,000.00 was donated for the Cypriot victims, when Turkey invaded and annexed 40% of Cyprus.

(4) $1,000.00 was donated to the AHEPA Protest Fund over the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. In addition, $2,000.00 was spent in protesting that invasion and the Turkish expansion moves in the Aegean.

(5) $10,000.00 was dispatched toward the construction of the new High School in Moudros.

(6) $11,000.00 was donated toward the build-up of the Hellenic navy for the defense of the islands in the Aegean Sea.

And so, now in 1981, "Hephaestus" is celebrating its Diamond Jubilee, or the 75th Anniversary of its founding. The basis of the continuity throughout the Association's long existence has been UNITY. There have been differences of opinion at times, but there always was one purpose and one common objective. The continuation of this spirit will enable our Society to celebrate its Centennial, or its 100th Anniversary as well and many many more!

Floral Park, N. Y., April 1981.


Note: The above writings by Mr. Ulysses (Odysseus) Rackages, a past president of "Hephaestus," were condensed and are based from his records, from information he collected from various sources and from the extensive writings of his brother, the late Vlassis Rackages, who was also an active member and Secretary of our Society for many years.

Vasillos Keramidas and George Constantinou, editors.