Friday, June 19, 2015


You've seen the photos before. You've heard the stories. This is merely a refresher course. I'm in the mood for encores, reruns, regurgitation. A collection of characters, a photo album of my relatives.

I know a lot more about my mother's side of the family than my father's. All of my ancestors are from Hungary. My father's relatives were mostly from Budapest. His mother, my grandmother Szofia Santos, came from a tiny village near the Romanian border - not far from Transylvania.

My mother's relatives were from the Bakony Mountains, the Austro-Hungarian region. Her grandfather Janos Gurdon (or Gurdanyi) was of royal blood (no bullcrap - - it's true).

The photos are from my dusty archives. The descriptions are from the cobwebs of my memory.

 My maternal great-grandfather Janos Gurdon (1863-1936). His Americanized name was John Gordon.

Born into a royal family, he was disinherited when he married a peasant girl named Justinia Schmidt. They moved to American around 1893 and had twelve children. 
Their eldest child, Katalin (Kate), was murdered when she was eighteen. Ironically, the man who murdered her was her own uncle - the brother of her mother Justinia.

This is the birthplace of my great-grandfather John Gordon - near Borzavar, Hungary

This is Katalin Gordon (1887-1906), eldest child of John and Justinia. She was my great-aunt, sister of my maternal grandmother Anna. This photo was taken only a week before she was murdered, in April, 1906. The white Easter dress that she's wearing is the dress she was buried in. 

Katalin (Kate) was eighteen when she was killed by her uncle Frederick Lang (her mother's illegitimate brother). Lang was only 21 at the time. He was passionately in love with Kate and wanted to marry her. When she refused (and teased him) he pulled out a revolver and shot her through the neck at point-blank range.

Moral of the story? Don't ever tease a temperamental Hungarian.

 Frederick Lang (1885-1909). The brother of my great-grandmother Justinia Gordon (does that make him my great-uncle?).
After murdering his niece Katalin in April, 1906, he managed to escape and wasn't captured until July. The trial took place in Middlesex County, New Jersey, where he was found guilty and sentenced to death.

During his three-year-imprisonment, Lang tried to kill himself numerous times. Among other things, he set fire to his jail cell and braided a noose out of bedsheets and tried to hang himself. He was publicly executed by hanging in March, 1909 at the age of 24. The last man to be executed by hanging in New Jersey.

Despite his tough exterior, Frederick Lang wrote tender, impassioned letters to his mother in Hungary - begging for forgiveness. All the letters were confiscated by the authorities. His mother never saw them.
He was buried in an unmarked grave. My relatives refused to claim the body.

 Maria Gordon (known as Mary). She was a sister of Katalin, and my great-aunt. Mary was with Katalin when she was murdered (Mary was 14 at the time).  After Fred Lang shot Katalin, Mary tried to escape. As she was running, he managed to shoot her in the elbow. 

Mary is wearing a traditional Hungarian outfit in this photo. She eventually left New Jersey and established a ranch in Tucumcari, New Mexico (where she was known an Tucumcari Mary). She was always a flamboyant and colorful character. 

 My great-aunt Mary in New Mexico, with her favorite horse.

 Two more of John and Justinia's twelve children. Lizabeth (on the left) and Anna (right). Anna is my maternal grandmother.
She was 10 years old in 1906 when Katalin was murdered.
This photo was taken around 1916.

Catholic Communion.
Three more of the twelve Gordon children (my grandmother Anna's siblings).
Juliana (left), John (Jr.), and Gizella.

I knew all three of them when I was a small child in New Jersey. Juliana (my great aunt Jule) had an unhappy life with a very abusive husband.

Gizella (known as Aunt Gussie) never married. Her lifelong fear of men came from the fact that, at an early age, she had been roughed up by a drunk and nearly raped.

John Jr., by all accounts, was kind, humble, and led an exemplary life in upstate New York.

My great uncle George (Gyorgy) Gordon. The youngest of the Gordon children. Like his sister Mary, George left New Jersey and went to New Mexico, where he had a ranch near Clovis.

I saw him many times when I was young (he died when I was 20). I seldom knew a kinder, more generous person. And he told fascinating stories about life on the ranch.

This blog post is much longer than I intended it to be. I initially wanted to include photos from my father's family, too, but that will have to wait for a future post.

I wrote an article about the murder of Katalin Gordon, which was published in the December, 1997 issue of the New Jersey Monthly. I have since uncovered much more information and would like to write another article.

Perhaps the biggest character of all the relatives - - photo taken in the heyday of his vanished and sorely misspent youth (about 150 years ago).
Jonathan, Janos, alias "Maestro", "Faux Cowboy". And a few unmentionable names.

Pianist, writer, poet, artist, dreamer, blogger (I despise that term - it sounds so demeaning).


  1. Quite an interesting array of relatives! And you're right about the term "Blogger", it's never sounded right to me either --more like a plumbing tool-- but it appears to be fixed in our vocabulary.

    1. Unfortunately, it is indeed fixed in our (or somebody's) vocabulary. We're stuck with it.

  2. you handsome dude! your family tree has an interesting and very violent history. it's a wonder you survived.

    1. I'm more tough than I am cute (*smile*).

  3. What a highly spiced family ! I'm glad George managed to keep smiling through it all

    1. My mother's relatives were all very spicy characters - I could write a book. My father's family was probably just as interesting, but they kept their secrets well hidden.

  4. Masterblogger ... me thinks.

  5. There's 'something' about old photos that intrigues me! Maybe it's the subjects' quiet dignity and unsmiling expressions? Hard to believe they were kids - just being kids and horsing around - a few minutes before, ya know?

    I share your sentiments about "Blogger", particularly as it applies to your writing, Jon. How about "Essayist"?

    1. Essayist? I'll take it.. I desperately need all the compliments I can get.

      Old photos always hold a special fascination for me. You're right about the "quiet dignity". The somber and serious expressions often betray the fact that they were human beings.

  6. What an array of past family members. I'm trying to think of the correct term - colourful perhaps?! Well done too for what must have been a lot of research work. An interesting read.

  7. I suppose colorful would aptly describe them - - and I hardly scratched the surface. Much like my relatives, I used to be a colorful character. Lately, however, I seem to be much more monochromatic.....

  8. We know almost nothing about my mother's family, I think she spent decades trying to run away from home. My father's family, had a few colorful characters in it, a great uncle with two wives, bootleggers, gamblers, and such.

  9. Wow, your father's family was indeed colorful. I don't know much about my father's family, but I have a feeling they were related to Vlad the Impaler (smile)

  10. you have a rich family history full of fascinating people, each with their own story to tell. The photographs are a haunting reminder that the past is always a part of us.

    1. I love old photographs because they say so much. Ironically, the only ones in the family who loved family history were me and my mother.

  11. I love walking down your families' history path and certainly don't mind a rerun. I'd so love to delve into my own families' stories but can't imagine there'd be much drama. But you never know!

    1. You'd probably be surprised at what you would find if you dug deeply enough.

  12. Enjoyed seeing the old family pictures again. Wonder why a nice looking man like yourself with so many talents would consider "blogger" demeaning when you have so many followers who blog.

  13. I actually like blogging, but for some odd reason I don't like the term "blogger" It's just a personal quirk.

  14. does that make him my great-uncle? = yesh :)


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