They knew nothing about each other until a night in 2016, at the 3rd Annual Photo Tour, sponsored by the Greek American Heritage Society of Philadelphia. An insignificant and unassuming photograph, taken forty-six years earlier, brought them together, and they realized they shared a common history nearly lost to time. As a result of that Photo Tour event, they have become fast friends and associates of the museum that brought them together. The moment was, to say the least, priceless.
Chris Christakis and Chris Kotsakis even have similar names, but that’s really where their association ends until we look back at a historic moment that took place on the Philadelphia Navy Yard docks. It was Greek Orthodox Easter in 1973 when a decommissioned United States submarine was sold by the government to Greece. While it was docked at the Philadelphia Navy Yard for repairs, Greek naval officers were also stationed there to be trained on the submarine before it would be sailed to Greece.
Kotsakis’ father, also named Chris, was a familiar salesman in the Greek duty-free industry in the area and knew many of the Greek seamen. The navy personnel invited Kotsakis and his family, including Chris, who was just three years old, to the docks to celebrate Greek Easter. It was a traditional Greek Easter in an unlikely place. Their backdrop was the Schuylkill River and a fleet of US Naval ships. Lambs were being cooked over an open fire, other Greek food, drinks and, of course, dancing. American officials were also invited, and all enjoyed the cultural treat with their guests.
Chris Christakis was also a guest at the Easter celebration, invited by his cousin, a medical doctor in the Greek Navy. He brought with him his then-girlfriend, Cheri Flood, who would become his future wife. At the festivities, Cheri snapped the iconic image of Christakis’ cousin dancing with another naval officer on the docks, and the photograph was eventually developed and put away with all of the other memories of the Christakis family.
Fast forward forty-six years, while Kotsakis is walking through the 2016 Photo Tour, he observed the large image on display, that was vaguely familiar. It was of a Greek naval officer dancing, the one that Cheri Flood, now Cheri Christakis, took in 1973. Kotsakis, a first-time attendee, took a double take and reached for a folder where he had a photograph of the same event from a different angle. Although he was only three at the time, Kotsakis vividly recalled the event and then walked over to introduce himself to Christakis. They reviewed the two images and identified people from both sides and talked about the event. Although the two are more than twenty years apart in age, the moment solidified a friendship between two fellow Hellenes and preserved a place in history for the Greek-American community of Philadelphia.
A chance photograph in 1973 and a chance meeting in 2016, brought two families together. That’s what the Greek American Heritage Society of Philadelphia does. Above all, it unites a community and helps preserve our culture and the rich past.
On Saturday, March 16, 2019, the Photo Tour 2019 “Axia, A Celebration of Extraordinary Greek Women” will be the latest event to capture that same magic, where a Greek community will unite, preserve its culture, and share it’s past.