Lieutenant Colonel Christos A. Abramopoulos

Greek immigrant Christos Abramopoulos graduated from medical school in 1913, and honed his specialization in pathology and surgery at a public hospital in Kansas City until 1916. Then, when the U.S. finally entered the world war raging in Europe, this member of the National Guard was deployed to Fort Riley, also in Kansas. He went to France with a surgical unit, returning stateside in 1919 to set up his medical practice in the Phelan Building in downtown San Francisco.

After marrying Catherine Kaplanis on May 1st, 1921, the couple purchased their home at 886 25th Avenue in San Francisco’s Richmond District where they would raise four children. When world again dove into war, Dr. Abramopoulos answered his adopted country’s call for the second time, after which he retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. This father of three first-generation American sons who also served in times of war died on November 26th, 1960, and is buried in the San Francisco National Cemetery, beside his wife.

For more information on Lieutenant Colonel Abramopoulos, as well as some fantastic family photographs, please visit the San Francisco Greek Historical Society’s website

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Private George F. Abel

In 1912, George F. Abel was stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco with Troop B, 1st Cavalry. A veteran of the Border War in Mexico, he had only been with this troop for six months so, perhaps, that’s why his comrades thought it a joke when Abel casually remarked that he intended to commit suicide on Monday, November 11th of that same year, the year of 1912. He was not taken seriously. Late that night Private Abel went to his quarters in the cavalry barracks on post and sent a shot from his carbine through the right side of his head. Captain J.L. Mabee called for an ambulance, but to no avail; Abel had shot himself dead.

That same night a funeral was held.  Detachments of infantrymen and cavalrymen escorted able Abel to the San Francisco National Cemetery, where he was buried with full military honors as the Sixth Infantry Band played on.

He had but one sister. She lived in Buffalo, New York and did not attend.

Herman Marion Abrams

While working as a wireless operator with the U.S. Navy in Panama, Herman Abrams met Mabelle Edith Crotchett—a government nurse toughing it out in the tropics. The two were married on April 12th, 1911. Thereafter they bounced around, as Chief Petty Officers in the Navy and their wives are want to do, and skipped from Brooklyn, New York to New Orleans, Louisiana to Washington, and, eventually, to San Francisco. This is where Herman died on October 15th, 1937, leaving Mabelle to remarry a man by the name of George Cornwall in the Spring of 1940.

An Apology to Carolyn Cassady, 1923-2013

Carolyn Cassady

When I was 15, my English teacher told me to read On The Road and it changed my life. I became obsessed with all things Beat, reading voraciously and writing terrible poetry. Terrible, terrible poetry. At a time when my peers were swooning over your Josh Hartnetts or Paul Walkers, I was mooning over Jack Kerouac (with Chipper Jones as a close runner-up). To be sure, I wasn’t immune from the Hartnett-Walker whirlwind, but I prayed at a different altar.

Two years later it was time to go to college, and I was San Francisco bound. I arrived in our fair City with the naiveté to expect an entrenched Beatitude that was gone, beaten out by the first Tech Boom. I eagerly visited North Beach only to find a few bars that looked the part but were off-limits to an underager, and a mess of tourist traps. In the middle of this was and still is City Lights–the Ferlinghetti shop that time forgot–and this became the epicenter for my growing pains. I took to the City in spite of our initial misunderstanding, and even gave an obnoxious interview to the Golden Gate Express in which I pompously trash my childhood home in praise of the North in 2007. What can I say: there is no remedy for the arrogance of youth except to age, and the internet remembers it all.

I give you this background to note my attachment to the men of the Beat Generation: first Kerouac, in my teenage lust, then Ginsberg as I grew, and now–over a quarter century at my heels–a fan of Ferlinghetti. Beat women, however, never garnered much of my attention as they also did not from the media at large. This is because Beat literature marginalizes them as play-things and homemakers–or both in the case of Carolyn Cassady. They were plot points to be plotted, not characters at the wheel. Without my feminist footing, I unconsciously viewed them as the same. I only paid lip service to Diane DiPrima and never read works by Carolyn because, from my high horse, I assumed her books were the profiteering of a mediocre writer who benefited from liaisons with famous men. But I didn’t know anything about Carolyn save for the sound bytes I’d been fed from the fictionalized spoon of Kerouacian “history.” I knew she was beautiful and admired by mythical men, and in my youth that was enough to pantomime–but that is a very shallow well.

Carolyn Cassady died on September 20th at a hospital near her home in England, and obituaries which have run in reputable publications such as The Washington Post and The New York Times note the passing of this woman but barely mention her work. Instead, they marginalize her yet again as a Beat punctuation and devote more time to describing the men in her life than they do to her own accomplishments. The kinder ones tag her as a writer first, and the former wife of Neal Cassady second. If truth were told Carolyn Robinson, her maiden name, was an artist–an educated painter who excelled at set design. Carolyn Cassady became a writer of necessity to inject a dose of reality into the mythologized narrative of her own life; she wrote to add her own voice to her own biography. Her version, however, was not the one people wanted to hear. So, instead she’s remembered as the woman shared by Kerouac and Cassady (or not remembered at all), not as the conservatively raised artist who fell in love with a man marked by madness and did all she could to keep her marriage intact. After all, it was the 1950s and she was not as bohemian as the world had painted her.

Carolyn Robinson Cassady was a remarkable woman with impenetrable strength, and I am a remarkable ass for not realizing that sooner. In light of this, Ms. Robinson, I offer an apology. I am sorry that your story was told but not heard. I am sorry that those men failed you, repeatedly. I am sorry. Now, rest in peace.

 

 

Dear Detroit

I  first became obsessed with urban decay (no, not the eyeshadow) and its progeny, the Urban Exploration movement, when I was in college and read too much philosophy. While it’s unhealthy to read Walter Benjamin and Guy Debord exclusively and in tandem, it plunged me into a lot of weird internet journeys during my many sleepless nights; this is when I found the website Forgotten Detroit.

I am rooted in Detroit, Michigan on my mother’s side of the family. There my grandparents met and fell in love while attending Thomas M. Cooley High School, and my Grandmother never understood why I found it so entertaining to hear her speak of 8 Mile (thanks, Eminen). Built in 1928, Cooley High was closed in 2010 and now sits abandoned, a hulking monument to days when Detroit was healthy and children were everywhere. As with all forgotten things, Cooley High is now in danger of demolition.

How does this happen? How can cities of this size become spectral and how can we, as conscious citizens, raze the physical manifestations of our history when they become too difficult to maintain? I understand the discourse fed by explanations of socio-political migrations, demography and the export of industry to developing countries. I get it: Detroit has been left without a purpose, and therefore was left by its people. Buildings need a use, and Detroit has not the population to use them. This, for lack of a better sequence of words, makes me sad. Sad for my own family history that is disappearing and sad for future generations who won’t be able to understand our nation’s history by standing inside of it, by feeling granite with their hands, seeing stairwells with their eyes and KNOWING that architects are dreamers because they build something out of nothing, and dreamers built this country.

In short, I am obsessed with Detroit: what it represents and what still exists to be saved. I’ve even (half-jokingly) asked my Fella if he’d relocate from San Francisco to the Motor City. So far, he’s nonplussed and I can’t say as I blame him; this is my calling, not his. No, I don’t have any immediate plans to leave an ideal climate for one that’s depressed and trying to find its relevance in a century that has moved away from its strengths. But the thought is germinating, I’m open to persuasion, and the video featured below encapsulates, in a very beautiful way, my connection to the plight of this urban belle.

In His Cups, They Look Good

From an article by Caroline Camp titled “In His Cups, They Look Good (But It’s Still the Army)” which ran in The Stars and Stripes on 21 June 1945. Be sure to read between the lines for Camp’s obvious dislike of her subject:

“PARIS, June 20–Cups are not necessarily an item of dishware, and they come in sizes. Girdles hold in, and garter belts just hold up, all of which means that Pfc. William Garber, Dorchester, Mass, and Pfc. Irving Berkowitz, New York City, have no illusions left about the weaker sex. In the U.S. Army, which claims it gives a man all sorts of experience, Garber and Berkowitz are selling women’s unmentionables to WACs here.

‘If the gals are shy, and blush when I ask their size, I tell ’em I used to do this in civilian life,’ says Garber, formerly in the wholesale grocery business. ‘We try to put the girls at ease.’

Between 40 and 60 WACs are customers every day in the enlisted women’s department of the QM sales store in Paris. Garber has been a salesman since March, so he only asks about size to be polite. His all-inclusive glance is a vast improvement over Rhett Butler. Both Garber and Berkowitz were in the infantry before they were wounded and assigned to their present jobs. Garber was in Co. C, 1st Bn., 1st Inf. Div.

It Was Flattery

‘You want a 36, small cup,’ was his greeting to a husky WAC sergeant, and in her case it was just plain flattery. She giggled and said, ‘I’ll take a larger size, just to allow for shrinkage.’

‘His personality is free of charge,’ commented T/4 Madeleine Bass, of Houston, Texas, who had just dropped in to say hello. Garber has lots of friends among the WACs, and they come back just to pass the time of day.

Just about that time a WAC private showed up, sporting pretty blonde curls and a nice trim figure. Expert as he is at mental measurement, Garber decided that this case needed a real tape measure when the WAC said she didn’t know her size.

‘Just what I’ve been waiting to hear,’ said Garber with a smile, advancing around the counter, tape in hand. ‘Waist, 24, bust, 34, hips, 36. You’ll be wanting a B cup, hum?’

‘This is a ver-ry pleasant job.’

This is also the U.S. Army. Today Pfcs. Garber and Berkowitz have new jobs. They are selling bolts of material, minus that personal touch.”

Antone A. Abrego

On the eve of war, Private Antone Abrego married Marion Little of Corte Madera. The 27-year-old went to the war, the Great one, and then returned to his wife, his city. By 1924 the private played golf professionally, connected to the Santa Maria Country Club as well as the shop at Roos Bros. He was a former Claremont caddy.

He died on September 15th, and is appropriately buried not far from the Presidio Golf Course.