Carpatho-Rusyns are one of the major ethnic groups of Pennsylvania. From the time they settled the state’s small towns and cities in the late 1870s until the present time, Carpatho-Rusyns have left an indelible mark on the state, and their story should be told. This blog is about a project that will do just that. Read more

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Presentation: "Carpatho-Rusyn Village Consciousness as manifested by immigrants in the U.S." (ASEEES 2016)

ASEEES, the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, held its annual convention from November 17-20, 2016 in Washington, D.C. This author was honored to be a participant in the scholarly roundtable "The Carpatho-Rusyn Global Village".

This roundtable discussion took place on November 17, and the context for it was the following.
When Marshall McLuhan popularized the concept of the global village in the 1960s, he anticipated that the rise of new media would allow for the instantaneous communication among individuals on all sides of the globe and bring about village-like networks in a virtual space. Similarly, Benedict Anderson has emphasized the role of the proliferation and circulation of print media, in particular, the newspaper, in constructing the concept of the nation. While the Carpatho-Rusyns have never had a nation-state of their own, they have maintained strong global networks among individual villages spread out in several countries through the production of newspapers, magazines, almanacs, books, and – most recently – websites and social media pages. As such, this roundtable will investigate how Carpatho-Rusyns in the late 19th and early 20th centuries used print media to create international networks between home and abroad, explore the influence of religion on their maintenance of a transnational community, and examine the virtual village-like mentalities and behaviors present on the Carpatho-Rusyn internet today.
I gave one of five presentations that made up the roundtable. The slides and my commentary follow here.

Over the past two decades, in my research of the Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant settlements of the U.S. -- primarily Pennsylvania, but also New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Ohio, etc. -- in which I especially focused on chain migration from homeland villages to American towns, I have discovered many examples of "village consciousness" as expressed by Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants, and I would like to share them, and my interpretation of them, in the hopes that other scholars may find aspects of this topic that warrant and inspire further study.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Author to Participate in Scholarly Roundtable "The Carpatho-Rusyn Global Village" at ASEEES Convention

This year's annual convention of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES - formerly AAASS) will take place from November 17-20, 2016 in Washington, D.C. Your author will be a participant on a roundtable discussion, "The Carpatho-Rusyn Global Village."

Panelist discussants will be:
  • Bogdan Horbal (New York Public Library)
  • Joel C. Brady (University of Pittsburgh)
  • Richard D. Custer (Independent Scholar)
  • Maria Silvestri (John and Helen Timo Foundation)
  • Kristina Marie Cantin (University of Tennessee)
  • Elaine Rusinko (University of Maryland, Baltimore County), Chair
Date: Thursday, November 17th
Time: 5:00 to 6:45 pm
Location: Mezzanine, Truman, Wardman DC Marriott

In my allotted time I plan to discuss how the first waves of Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants in the U.S. expressed their "village consciousness"  -- in print (the Rusyn immigrant press, and publications for public consumption within and outside of the Rusyn community) and in other ways: tombstones, stained glass windows, other monuments, village reunions, village-native clubs, and collections of funds to support home villages.

I will also give insight into the seeming mid-century loss of village consciousness -- the disappearance of geographic identifiers in published historical narratives -- and how village consciousness has resurfaced in recent decades, especially through increased travel to the homeland, genealogy, print media, and the manifestation of virtual village communities on the web and social media.

The full slate of Carpatho-Rusyn panels/roundtables and events at the ASEEES convention is as follows.
You can see the most up-to-date scheduling/location information at the ASEEES online convention program (search for "rusyn"; there is also a panel on Lemkos -- search for "lemko"). (All attendees are supposed to register for the conference, but this is not always strictly enforced. Just sayin'.)

I will post a summary of the roundtable here sometime in the days after the event.

Original material is © by the author, Richard D. Custer; all rights reserved.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Rusyn Testaments Etched in Granite: The Genealogical Treasure of Rusyn Immigrant Gravestones

(originally published in the New Rusyn Times, May/June 2002)

For many people, a walk through a cemetery is something to be avoided except on the rarest of occasions and which inspires feelings of dread and images of the gothic horror movies that frightened us in our youth. But for me, a visit to a cemetery – most especially, a Rusyn cemetery – is usually a peaceful, heartwarming exercise. It inspires my imagination as I think of the early immigrants buried there, the vastly different world they left even long before I was born. I ponder their lives as I see their pictures, as many of the traditional stones will have. I feel at ease, knowing that I'm among my own people – gone from this life but still present in the memory of the living, present likewise in the hereafter.

St. Michael the Archangel Greek Catholic Cemetery, Shenandoah, Pa. – the oldest Rusyn cemetery in the U.S.
My reverence for their memories increases with each visit - knowing that their legacy, humble as it may be, reduced to a few lines of Slav expressions on the simple stones, surrounds me while I'm there, and is carried with me every time I meet their descendants, see the churches they lovingly built and supported, and uncover a new story about their way of life we can only imagine.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Then & Now (Bradenville, Westmoreland Co.)

Then and now, in Bradenville, Westmoreland County.
Specifically, Snydertown, St. Mary's Byzantine/Greek Catholic Church and Cemetery.

Then: (1932)

Now: (2016)

Also in Snydertown, in the shadow of St. Mary's Church, are two social clubs of the local Rusyn and Slovak American residents. I'm looking for information on the names of their founders, vintage photographs of the inside of the clubs or their members, etc. Please get in touch if you can help with this info.
The American Greek Catholic Beneficial Society, founded 1916.

The American Slovak Society Home, founded 1923.

Original material is © by the author, Richard D. Custer; all rights reserved.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Rusyn Spotlight on: Centralia, Columbia County

Assumption of the B.V.M. Greek Catholic Church, Centralia
The prayers, thoughts, and eyes of many will be focused on Centralia, Columbia County, Pa., this weekend. The historic Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is hosting a pilgrimage for the Catholic Church's Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.

The church in Centralia was selected to have one of the special Doors of Mercy in the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia for the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy inaugurated by Pope Francis.
CONYNGHAM TOWNSHIP, Columbia County — Centralia is the spookiest and saddest place in Pennsylvania. An unquenchable 54-year-old underground coal fire compelled the relocation of virtually the entire population of the borough through federal government buyouts in the 1980s.

From a population of more than 1,000 in 1980, only a half-dozen holdouts remain in the Columbia County community — residents who struck an agreement with the government allowing them to stay until they die.

Improbably, however, there is life beyond their scattered homes. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church — perched on a hilltop just outside the borough line — is still active, drawing congregants from afar on Sundays and holy days.

This Sunday, the church will host a daylong event welcoming the faithful for liturgy and prayer. It's the first such event since Assumption was declared a holy pilgrimage site. (Morning Call, Aug. 26, 2016)

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Tribute to American Rusyn Olympians from PA and with PA Roots

With today's closing of the Summer Games of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, we want to remember a pair of American Olympians of Carpatho-Rusyn heritage. One of them is a Rusyn Pennsylvanian, and the other is a Rusyn American of probable Pennsylvania roots.

First, our Pennsylvania native:

Christa Harmotto Dietzen (born Christa Deanne Harmotto), of Hopewell Twp., Pa., is a 29-year-old indoor volleyball player who plays the middle blocker position. She competed on the U.S. Olympic Team this year in Rio, as captain of the U.S. Women's Volleyball Team. The team lost to Serbia in the semifinals, taking home a bronze medal. Congratulations!

Monday, July 25, 2016

"Old Countrymen, New Neighbors," My Latest Published Article

The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, just released the latest issue of Slovo, its bi-annual journal. The Summer 2016 issue's theme is "A Carpatho-Rusyn Renaissance: Bringing the Rusyns (Back) to Life."

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Sgt. Michael Strank: A Carpatho-Rusyn Pennsylvanian

“Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue”
(Photo by Joe Rosenthal)
Михал Стренк / Mychal Strenk
Born in 1919 in Jarabina, Czechoslovakia;
Came to the U.S. in 1922, known as Michael Strank;
Died in 1945 on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands;
Buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, USA.
(Originally appeared as "A Rusyn American Hero: Sergeant Michael Strank" in the New Rusyn Times (Pittsburgh, PA), May/June 2000.)

Sergeant Michael Strank (1919-1945) was one of the five Marines and a Navy corpsman who during the battle with the Japanese on February 23, 1945, raised the American flag on the island of Iwo Jima in the Pacific theatre of World War II. The photo of this event, taken by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal, became one of the most recognized images of the 20th century, and in it, Mike stands for the legions of Rusyns who, like him, left their Carpathian Mountain homeland, full of hopes and dreams, to begin a new life in America – the country for which many of them and their children would give the supreme sacrifice.

Mike Strank (Mychal Strenk) was born in 1919 in the Rusyn village of Orjabyna [official name: Jarabina] in the heart of the Rusyn-inhabited northern Spiš County in present-day Slovakia. His parents, Vasyl' and Marta (Grofik) Strenk, came to the United States with young Mychal in the early 1920s and settled in Franklin Borough, near Johnstown, Pennsylvania, with many of their fellow villagers from Orjabyna. They attended Holy Trinity Rusyn Greek Catholic Church just across the river in Conemaugh.

Holy Trinity Greek Catholic Church in Conemaugh, the Strank family's spiritual home in the U.S.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A Super-Awesome Late-Spring Research Trip

All set for Memorial Day: St. Mary's
Orthodox Cemetery of Dickson City.
When in the early years of this project I still lived in Pennsylvania, research trips might last just a few hours and for the most part involved places I could easily reach without too much advance planning. These days, when it takes me more than two hours just to arrive in Pennsylvania, I like to extend my trips as long as reasonably possible. And usually I can manage just two a year: around & including Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.

This spring I managed to schedule eight whole days around Memorial Day to devote to fieldwork. The first part was in western PA, the second part in northeastern PA. It went so well, mostly according to plan but with some wonderful surprises, that I want to share a travelogue. And perhaps this will help readers appreciate some of how I've been spending my time all these years without a finished product to show for it. (Yet.)

First Leg: Western PA

I spent a lot of time in cemeteries on this trip, mainly to either photograph them thoroughly for the first time, to improve my existing archive of photos, or to investigate the Rusyn immigrants, if any, buried in various non-Rusyn cemeteries. While my book will include lots of cemetery and gravestone photos, in recent years I've felt it worthwhile, if not actually essential, to photograph most of the graves of Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants buried in PA and elsewhere, as time, the elements, and vandalism are constantly reducing the readable stock of these tombstones. Beyond the limited number I'll be using in my book, if nothing else I will also have a protected digital record of these valuable memorials to our people's presence and lives.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Shamokin, Pennsylvania: First Center of Lemko Business in America

Bogdan Horbal and I wrote an article, "Shamokin, Pennsylvania: First Center of Lemko Business in America," that was recently published in the Річник Руской Бурсы / Rocznik Ruskiej Bursy 2015 (Gorlice, Poland), which has just been issued.

The text is in Lemko Rusyn, but there are bits and pieces in English, with lots of illustrations. (I hope that one of these days we'll publish it in English somewhere.)

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Sharing my research story in Annandale, Va.

I was graciously invited to be the guest speaker for the monthly meeting of the Men's Club of Epiphany of Our Lord Byzantine Catholic Church in Annandale, Virginia. On the evening of April 7, 2016, I spoke for about an hour and took questions from the approximately 20 members of the Men's Club in attendance.

At the end of the meeting, I was given this lovely framed certificate.

Many thanks to the Epiphany Men's Club for the opportunity and for being such a good audience. I hope to find more such opportunities in the future.

Original material is © by the author, Richard D. Custer; all rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

John Kasich: A Carpatho-Rusyn Pennsylvanian

While Governor John Kasich has been involved in Ohio state politics since 1983, he was born and raised in Pennsylvania.

He also describes himself as
the son of a postal worker and the grandson of a coal miner. His grandfather was so poor, Mr. Kasich recently told voters in New Hampshire, that he would bring home scraps of his lunch to share with his children. “They would even be able to taste the coal mine in that lunch,” Mr. Kasich said. “Some of you can relate to that.”
("John Kasich Balances His Blue-Collar Roots and Ties to Wall Street," New York Times, Aug. 24, 2015)
Wikipedia currently describes his background and ancestry as follows:
Kasich was born in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, an industrial town near Pittsburgh. He is the son of Anne (Vukovich) and John Kasich, who worked as a mail carrier. Kasich's father was of Czech descent, while his mother was of Croatian ancestry. Both his father and mother were children of immigrants and were practicing Roman Catholics. He has described himself as "a Croatian and a Czech". ("John Kasich," Wikipedia, accessed March 8, 2016)
We know that Czech immigrants in Pennsylvania were few and far between. Is Gov. Kasich really, as he has said, of Czech ancestry?

His parents, who both died in August 1987 as a result of an automobile accident, are buried at Mount Calvary Cemetery in McKees Rocks:

(Photo: R. Custer)

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Press Coverage: Eastern Catholic Life, January 2016

As I continue trying to place articles on my book & blog in some print publications read by Americans of Rusyn background, the latest is in the Eastern Catholic Life, the newspaper of the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Eparchy of Passaic.

While there's no new ground here for those who have already been reading the blog, here it is for your interest. Thanks to ECL editor Father James Badeaux for publishing the article, and for devoting an entire page to it.
Original material is © by the author, Richard D. Custer; all rights reserved.