The poster intended to promote an upcoming music festival raised an unrelated question in the mind of Bob Mack.
Why, he wondered, is his great-grandfather shown holding a stick?
The centerpiece of the poster for Saturday’s Old Town Rhythm and Blues Festival is a photo that is iconic in Tacoma’s Croatian community. Gathered proudly in front of the newly completed Slavonian Hall in 1907 are many of the founders of the Slavonian-American Benevolent Society.
The names are still prevalent around Tacoma – especially in Old Town and Gig Harbor. Jurich. Ursich. Petrich. Barcott. Stancich. Carevich. Plancich. Babare. Skansie. Karabaich. Milisich. Bartich.
Tacoma photographer and historian Rod Karabaich remembers the photo was in pretty bad shape when it was given to him by Mary Love, a matriarch of the Old Town Croatians. He thinks the original was taken by Frank J. Lee. Karabaich restored it, made a negative and has sold many copies over the years, including one to the sponsors of the festival.
But there is a significant difference between the original and the way it appears on the poster. On the left remains an American flag held by George Trudinich. But on the right, where once there was a Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia flag displayed on a pole held by Sam Kazulin, there is nothing.
The photo has been digitally altered to fill in the bunting, molding and the rest of a window sill that were obscured by the flag in the original.
“We respect that photo for what it represents. I would never touch it,” Karabaich said, noting that among those in the photo are his grandfather Anton Karabaich and his great–great-uncle Nicola Fillippi.
Mack, a Tacoma native who is now the deputy director for public affairs at Tacoma Public Utilities, said whenever he sees that photograph he likes to point out his great-grandfather. When he saw the poster over the weekend, however, he noticed something was missing.
“I thought, ‘Why is he holding up a stick?’” Mack said. Then it dawned on him that someone had removed the Croatian flag.
There was a time when such an occurrence might have led to a fight. According to her history “Old Tacoma,” part of the Images of America series, Caroline Gallacci noted that across the street from Slavonian Hall once stood the Austrian Benevolent Society Lodge No. 1 that most immigrants from the region belonged to.
The emergence of ethnic conflicts in the old country that ultimately led to World War I was felt in Tacoma as well. Those who favored an independent Croatia broke away to form their own society in 1901 and opened their hall six years later. There were even separate boarding houses for new arrivals, she wrote: Sera Kate’s for Croatians, Sera Perina’s for Austrians.
Could this century-old ethnic conflict be making a reappearance in Old Town?
Probably not. Ted Brown is the organizer of the festival and commissioned the poster for Saturday’s event. He said that because it is being used for a summer music festival, he feared that some older members of the lodge might be insulted by the appearance of that flag and the caption beneath that reads: “Yes, we’re back! A little older, but way Better!”
His intent therefore was to avoid insult, he said, not to cause it.
“I’m a member of the lodge,” Brown said, having joined 25 years ago under the sponsorship of the late George Cucilich, and currently the treasurer. Slavonian Hall remains a venue for the festival.
Brown said the photo on the poster inspired a new tradition. Beginning at noon Saturday, a New Orleans-style funeral parade of musicians will march to the outdoor stage in Old Town Park where he will proclaim that the 2013 festival will be dedicated to a group of men in the photo. That would be the members of “Kelly’s Band” who played at the opening of the hall 106 years.
Now all they need is a Croatian flag.Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657