by Milana “Mim” Karlo Bizic; adapted for FEMigration by Joanne Tica; edited by Sandi Radoja
Andja Mamula was a former elementary school teacher from Vrelo, Jasenak, Ogulin located in present day Croatia. She left her home and traveled across the world to meet her immigrant brother in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in November 1900. Andja’s brother, Stevo, was the first in their immediate family to immigrate to America. He worked a difficult job in the steel mills and finally saved up enough money to send for his oldest sister, who had cared for him and his younger siblings after their young mother died leaving Andja in charge of the family.
After the 13-day journey to America, Andja arrived in Pittsburgh. Waiting for her at the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie train station was not only her brother Stevo, but an entire contingent of Serbian immigrants who had gathered to welcome their friend’s sister to her new home. The crowd, comprised mostly of strong young men, was happy, boisterous and excited to celebrate the arrival of their friend’s sister to their Pennsylvania community.
Because Slavic women in Pittsburgh were a rarity in those days, there was a lot of excitement about Andja’s arrival. The young men in the crowd worked long days, seven days a week. Many of them lived as boarders in rooming houses with very cramped quarters. Most of these men dreamt about the day that they would get married and start their own families. Imagine their excitement as they looked forward to meeting a single Serbian woman – one who could speak their language, cook the foods that they liked, keep their clothes and homes clean and eventually sing Serbian lullabies to their children.
Andja saw the crowd of men waiting for her at the train station and was hesitant to leave the train. Her brother was surprised at her shyness as he remembered her as a strong confident woman. He boarded the train and convinced her to step out on the platform. She held tight to her brother’s coat tails and to a metal platform pole that helped steady her as she started her new journey.
When Andja saw the crowd of young Serbian men gathered on the platform, she knew that they each was hoping to impress her enough to consider him as a potential suitor. From her perspective, she saw a group of men waving $50 bills in the air and vying for her attention. She was uncomfortable with the display as she had been unaware of her brother’s plans to marry her off the moment that she arrived.
What she could not have known at the time is that, before her arrival, Stevo promised that whoever could repay him for his sister’s travel fare of $50 might have her hand in marriage. It was a bold move that was meant to do two things: first, to show each man’s desire for his sister by providing a gift to the family and, second, it was a way for Stevo to recoup his investment in his sister’s travel expense. Perhaps then he could send for another family member sooner. Not knowing her brother’s plans and offer, Andja became frightened by the crowd and decided she wanted no part of this group.
As Stevo tried to reason with his sister and reassure her these men were his friends, she continued to cry and say, “No, no, no.” Eventually, though, she noticed a man whose head stood out from the crowd because he was so tall. She fixed her gaze on that tall man. She did not know him personally, but realized she had seen him before. She finally recognized him as being from the town in Serbia where she would go for water and other necessities. Although they had never spoken, his face was one that she knew and she hoped they something in common.
It was Nikola Mamula who was the man standing taller than the others in the crowd. At 6’ 1” he was almost a head taller than all the other men there. His nickname was Nikola Susak, a reference in the Serbian language that he was as tall as a tree in the forest. Andja selected him out of the crowd and told Stevo that she had chosen Nikola. Nikola, however, wasn’t one of the men waving a $50 bill in the air.
Stevo knew Nikola from the mill and knew he was a good worker and a leader. He was sure, though, that Nikola had no money because he sent most of what he earned back to the old country to take care of his family. He also knew that Nikola liked to have a good time with his buddies on South Carson Street where the mill workers went to drink and socialize after their shifts. For these reasons, he didn’t expect Nikola to make a move toward Andja and was surprised by what happened next.
When Andja and Nikola made eye contact, Nikola started pushing his way to the front of the crowd. He shoved aside many of his friends and colleagues, deciding that he was there not just to see this Serbian woman arrive in Pittsburgh but to make Andja his wife. Nikola confronted Stevo by facing him, chest to chest, and made his declaration of commitment and love. “I don’t have the money now,” yelled Nikola, “but I promise you I will pay you. You know I am as good as my word.”
There were many disappointed and angry young men who left the station that day. Andja had chosen Nikola and Nikola had chosen Andja. There was nothing left for Stevo to do but agree to their plan.
A few days later the marriage records show that Nikola Mamula and Andja Mamula recorded their marriage in the Allegheny County Courthouse. Although they shared the same last name, they were not related before marriage. The 1900 US Census taken on June 2, 1900 shows that Nikola Mamula had served in the Austrian Army under Emperor Franz Josif when he was 21 years old. He was one of six borders living with Petar Vujnovich, his wife Amelia and their three daughters on Pittsburgh’s South Side. Five months later, the 30 year-old Nikola was at the P&LE train station (now Station Square) where he claimed Andja Mamula as his bride. They had a long marriage and lived, for the most part, happily ever after.
In both the 1910 and 1920 US Census, the Mamulas stated that they were from Aust-Servia and that they spoke Servian. By 1930, they stated their country of origin was Yugoslavia and that they spoke Serbian.
Andja’s brother Stevo subsequently sponsored all of their siblings to immigrate to the United States. They all settled in the Pittsburgh area. Stevo eventually relocated back to Yugoslavia after tragedy beset several of their siblings in the USA.
About the Author – Milana Mim Karlo Bizic is the granddaughter of Andja. She is a frequent contributor to many publications with a rich family history she shares with readers. Read more of Andja’s story and learn the stories of Serbs in the Pittsburgh Tri-State area by visiting www.babamim.com.
Ms. Bizic maintains several learning and cultural web sites where people can share ethnic knowledge and general learning stories.
Learn more about “Mim” on her Not Retired from Learning web site.
Top Photo: Andja Mamula (left) and Andja with husband Nikola Mamula (right)
Such a fun post, Mim! I felt like I was on that P&LE platform watching the story as it unfolded. Thanks for sharing it with FEMigration’s audience.
Reading this was just lovely 🙂
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