Nicholas Gage Essay

Nicholas Gage

Nicholas Gage

Born: 1939


Nicholas Gage (born Nicholas Gatzoyiannis in the village of Lia in Epirus, Greece in 1939) is a Greek American author and investigative journalist. He uses the dramatic events of his life in both Greek and American cultures as the raw material for his books; he has written exposes and novels based on his award-winning investigations as a reporter, as well as memoirs about his family, both of which have garnered wide acclaim and prestige throughout the world.

Gage is most famous for his two autobiographical memoirs, the best selling Eleni and A Place for Us. Eleni describes the life of his family in Greece during the Second World War and Greek Civil War. In Eleni, Gage used his skills he learned as an investigative reporter for The New York Times to tell the story of how his mother arranged for her children to escape from their Communist-occupied village, how she was tortured and executed in retribution by guerrillas, and how he tracked down those responsible for her death thirty years later. The book is renowned internationally and has been translated into 32 languages, as well as a motion picture. A Place for Us relates the Gage family’s experiences as immigrants in 1950s America in the city of Worcester, Massachusetts. When Nicholas Gage was nine years old, after his mother was executed during the Greek Civil War, he and his sisters fled Greece to live with their estranged father in the United States of America. It is a definitive story of the modern immigrant experience, relating the triumphs, heartbreaks, and misadventures of the children as they try to assimilate to their new country and stern but well-meaning father. It is a memoir of Gage's personal and family life, and describes in detail pivotal moments that helped shaped him to be the man he is today.

Nicholas Gage first came to America in 1949 with three of his sisters aboard a ship to meet the father they had never known. They left behind their mother who had been executed by Guerrillas, as well as their sister Glykeria who had been captured and nobody knew where she was. At the time Gage was a nine-year-old boy who knew no English, except for the few words he had been taught by a friendly passenger on the boat from Greece. He and his sisters arrived in New York harbor where he scanned the crowd “trying to recognize the father [he] had never seen”. It was the first time that Gage and his father, Christos, had met and it marked the start of their complex relationship of discovering each others identity and learning their love for one another through trying times. After going through customs and exchanging somewhat awkward hellos, the family drove to Worcester, MA where the Gatzoyiannis children would grow up.

Throughout his adolescence, Gage was often found at the Greendale Theater spending his precious spare change to be lost in the dramas on the screen. Gage also enjoyed boxing with the neighborhood boys, and attending Church and Greek School with the majority of the local Greek community. He also worked part-time at various Worcester locations like the Worcester Gazette. He and his father helped hundreds of Greek immigrants come to America their whole lives, and Nick helped by writing to local politicians for their assistance.

In 1949, Gage and his sister, Fotini, first attended class at the Greendale School where they were both placed in a classroom for mentally retarded and learning-disabled students because there were no public school instructors trained to teach English as a foreign language. His other sisters, Olga and Kanta, attended the Day School for Immigrants on Lamartine Street, because according to their father it was more important for a man to be educated to support his family, and because you had to be thirteen years old to enroll. Gage was an avid student who quickly learned the language of his new country, and his literary career was largely shaped by the encouragement of a junior high school teacher, Miss Marjorie Hurd at Chandler Junior High.

It was at Chandler Junior High that Gage joined the school newspaper, where Miss Hurd was the teacher-adviser, and taught him how to write articles for the Chandler Echo. He first found talent in poetry, and was so gratified by Miss Hurd's encouragement that he asked the assistant principal to transfer into her English class in addition to the newspaper club. In that class she picked out Greek literature and inspired Gage to pursue a career in journalism rather than engineering. In eighth grade she asked Nick to write about what happened to him in Greece during the war- a more than emotionally challenging assignment – and marked a lot of closure for Gage in reflecting on the tragedy surrounding his mother and her sacrifices for her family. After writing it he hoped to never read the essay again, but unfortunately for him, not only did she share it with the class but also submitted it a competition by the Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge and Gage's winning essay was published in the Evening Gazette. At this point Gage's father was extremely proud of his son and Gage made a name for himself in the Greek community at a young age. He became the editor of the junior high and high school papers, and the award clinched his decision to become a journalist. He worked for the Worcester Gazette the summer before college, and he went to Boston University with a promise to return there the next year.

Gage won a scholarship to Boston University's School of Public Communications. During his first week at B.U he was appointed to be the paper’s drama critic, and enjoyed attending campus theatrical productions and interviewing the occasional theatre celebrity. In addition to working for B.U News, he took up a part-time job at a local newspaper called the Hellenic Chronicle in downtown Boston. This was his first chance to practice real journalism and write about Greece. His second year at B.U he was named city editor of the newspaper and the post paid half his tuition. With the money, he was able to go home on weekends to visit his family more often. It was after writing a controversial piece for the B.U News that lost him his job there, that the New York Times contacted him and suggested he go into journalism his junior year. That year in 1963, he received the Hearst Award for the best college journalist and was presented the award by John F. Kennedy at the White House.

The June after his college graduation ceremony, Gage left for his first return to Greece. On that trip he interviewed relatives and fellow villagers to try and gather more information on what had happened to his mother and would later return to continue his personal investigation on his family’s history and search for self-identity.

In 1964 Gage earned a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and began a reporting career that took him to The Associated Press. From 1970 to 1980, Gage worked for many newspapers including The Boston Herald Traveler, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times, as an investigative reporter and a foreign correspondent. During those years he wrote two novels, in addition to three books on organized crime. He also received the Sigma Delta Chi prize and the Newspaper Guild's Page One Award for his outstanding reporting. In 1980 Gage left The New York Times to fulfill a lifelong ambition to write the story of his mother's life and death. The book, Eleni, published by Random House in 1983, was a Bookof-the-Month Club main selection, was nominated as the best biography by the National Book Critics' Circle, and was awarded the Heinemann Prize for best book of 1984 by the Royal Society of Literature of Great Britain. In 1985 the motion picture Eleni, starring John Malkovich and Kate Nelligan was released.


  • Nicholas Gage (born Nicholas Gatzoyiannis in the village of Lia in Epirus, Greece in 1939)
  • 1949, Nicholas Gage first came to America in 1949 with three of his sisters aboard a ship to meet the father they had never known.
  • 1949 Move into house on Greendale Ave (pg. 55)
  • Fall 1949, Gage and his sister, Fotini, first attended class at the Greendale School where they were both placed in a classroom for mentally retarded and learning-disabled students because there were no public school instructors trained to teach English as a foreign language.
  • 1950 Glykeria reunites with family in America
  • 1952 Family moves to Lincoln Street home
  • 1952 October 21st, sister Olga marries Dino
  • 1953 Christos buys house at 369 Chandler Street (picture on pg.185)
  • 1954 May 30th consecration of new Church of St. Spyridon (at Russell and Elm streets opposite Elm Park)
  • 1955 sister Kanta and Evangelo marry
  • 1956 June, Nick Gage graduates HS as class president
  • 1958 Olga and Dino have Eleni (named for mother) their fourth child and the first granddaughter pg. 313
  • 1963 he received the Hearst Award for the best college journalist from John F. Kennedy at the White House.
  • 1964 Gage earned a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and began a reporting career that took him to The Associated Press
  • 1968 left for Athens pg 389
  • 1970 to 1980 as an investigative reporter and a foreign correspondent. During those years he wrote three books on organized crime and two novels and received the Newspaper Guild's Page One Award and the Sigma Delta Chi prize for his reporting.
  • In 1980 Gage left the Times to fulfill a lifelong ambition and write the story of his mother's life and death. The book, Eleni.
  • 1983 published by Random House, was a Book-of-the-Month Club main selection, was nominated as the best biography by the National Book Critics' Circle
  • 1983 July 13 Buried his father in Hope Cemetery (14 months later, Eleni's body was buried with his) pg. 418-419
  • 1984 awarded the Heinemann Prize for best book of 1984 by the Royal Society of Literature of Great Britain
  • 1985 The motion picture Eleni, starring John Malkovich and Kate Nelligan, was released.


List of important locations in Nicholas Gage’s life – specifically in Worcester, MA

  1. Greendale School
  2. Chandler Junior High
  3. First House on Greendale Avenue
  4. Second house on Lincoln Street
  5. Third house at 369 Chandler Street
  6. New Church of St. Spryridon at Russell and Elm Street
  7. Spent hours at Greendale Theater
  8. Hope Cemetery
  9. Locations where Nicholas Gage worked (i.e. Worcester Telegram, etc)



Notes from Nicholas Gage Interview 10/15/08, conducted by Julia Berg

Worcester was a huge influence on your life and your writing of A Place for Us, how do you feel about it now?
Well I'm still here aren’t I? Worcester is a great city for immigrants and it gave a lot to me. My only hope was that it had been more developed…
Pg.403 your father said his country was America, his home. Where do you call your home or do you have many? And Why?
Well with travel being so much easier these days, people are able to have multiple homes. I definitely consider this one home and Greece my other. I still visit 3-4 times a year.
Are you still close with the families of Greek immigrants you helped come to America?
Yes, I am with several of them. The original immigrants that my father and I helped come to America, we are still in touch. There is a fraternity? Social group of us and they were just over here last week. We organize events and put projects together to do back in Greece.
Is there still an annual Liotes' glendi in Worcester?
No, there is no longer an annual glendi; you need 200-300 people to have a good one. But we do all meet, about 80-100 of us to gather. Many people have spread and moved away so it is harder to get a large group together.
Do you visit Hope Cemetery in Worcester?
Yes, I go to church every Sunday on Russell Street, by your school, and I stop at the cemetery on the way home. I go there probably twice a month. My parents are there as well as many other family and friends. As you know, the past is important to a writer.
Did you regret that you and your father did not make it to your Grandfather in time to see him before his death?
Yes, I do regret it, but I had wanted to go back, it was that I when I found out how sick he was it was too late. But maybe it was meant to be, in some way. He should have helped us and saved us from Lia.
Do you think your father ever forgave him? Or himself?
[I don't remember your response for this one, my apologies]
Although you were 30 and had gone to grad school and were prepared as an investigative reporter to return to Greece for the second time, how were you emotionally? Were the distractions of girlfriends enough then to be reminded of your family history?
I wasn’t ready; I needed more experience before going to interview the many communists and guerrillas that I wanted information from. It wasn’t just girlfriends and friends; I wasn’t ready at that time…
Did you get a same sense of strength from closure after writing this book?
What book? A Place for Us? I wrote it because I thought I owed it to my mother... there also wasn’t a book about the Greek war like this one and people should know.
Did you keep ever keep a journal when you were growing up? The detail that you were able to record every moment with was astounding.
No, I didn’t keep a journal. I was too busy with writing for the newspaper, writing articles, working on various things trying to get published, that also writing in a journal seemed too much. The detail that I write with is from my investigative reporting training, I asked many people very detailed questions. I did 400 interviews in 4 countries. I wouldn’t tell them who I was, what had happened to my mother. I just told them I was writing a book on the civil war. So the guerrillas agreed because they figured if I was interviewing them I was writing about their side of their story, and for the communists I hid the recorder right here in my sock. I just made sure my pant leg didn’t show it.
Did you ever consider using your original Greek name (not the wrong one written in America) instead of Nicholas Gage on your work? How did your family feel about not having Gatzoyiannis on the byline?
Well I still have my Greek name on my license and documents, just not on the book. I have relatives who came here with the phonetic spelling, but not me. They took my fathers first initial and added it to the last name, and misspelled it originally.
There were many moments that made your relationship with your father stronger, like your court appearance, meeting the President, your wedding, and your book Eleni- does he exist in your memories without any of the anger you felt towards him as a child?
No, of course not, we grew very close the last 20 years. Moments like my accident when he spoke out for me, made us stronger. I realized that he loved me as much as my mother did.
Did you tell your family about your research during this time?
I told my family I was learning about my mother’s past, but not in detail like that I was interviewing communists and guerrillas. That would have worried them. I did tell Joan though... she was very supportive.
Since you ended up marrying Joan, who was not Greek, did you allow your children to marry out of their ethnic group too?
Well my son didn’t ask, they don’t ask these days.
Although the ceremony was done as traditional as possible, with no spoken English,how was raising your family to include both cultures?
I tried to raise my children with the best of both cultures. American with honesty, the will to succeed, and [I don't remember the third quality you listed]. And Greek with family, expressing their emotion and [I don't remember the third quality you listed]. They all speak Greek.
What was the reaction to your books back in Greece?
The Left tried to ignore it for awhile. Whenever I did interviews I always said I was writing about the Greek civil war, I did not them about my family and what happened to my mother. When the book came out they were a little concerned because I told everything that happened, but it is the story of my family. Then it became the best selling book in Greece. It also did very well in London, Germany, and the US.
Did you keep in touch with your English teacher Miss Hurd?
Yes, she just had surgery a few weeks ago and I went to see her. I do keep in touch with her. In fact I wrote an article about her and it was published in Parade magazine and then again in like 30 books. It was how my teacher changed my life; you can see why it was republished because people like to know how teachers make an impact on peoples lives. I still have it here the original. I will make you a photocopy.
Did you pass on the power of words to your children?
My son is a screenwriter in LA. My daughter Eleni is a journalist for the New York Times and she is going back to Greece soon on assignment, and my other daughter studied and taught French and now does design.


  • Gage, N. (1989). A place for us. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Interview with N. Gage by Julia Berg 10/15/08) at his home in North Grafton, MA.

In 1848, a twenty-five-year-old construction foreman named Phineas Gage won nationwide fame by way of a hole in his head. While working on a railroad project in Vermont, he experienced a severe brain injury when a three-foot-long, fourteen pound tamping iron was violently propelled through his skull. Astonishingly, he lived to tell about it.

At the time of the accident, one of Gage’s duties was to set explosive charges to remove unwanted sections of large rocks. Typically, a long, narrow hole was drilled into the rock which was then filled with gunpowder and ignited. Before lighting the fuse, the hole was topped off with sand, and a three-foot-long, 1.25″ diameter iron tamping rod was used to pack down the gunpowder. However on 13 September 1848, Gage was distracted momentarily while in the process of preparing a blast, and he neglected to add the protective barrier of sand. When he thrust the iron tamper into the hole in the rock, it created a spark, and the gunpowder was ignited.

The resulting explosion propelled the fourteen pound iron rod straight into the air with the force of a cannon, causing it to pass through Gage’s skull in the process. It entered through the bottom of his left cheekbone and exited through the top of his head, then continued to fly in an arc across the sky, landing almost 100 feet behind him.

The unscheduled explosion got the attention of his fellow railroad workers, who rushed over to see if there was a problem. What they found was Phineas Gage slumped on the ground with a hole through his skull. Amazingly, the man was still alive and breathing. Even more amazingly, within moments his eyes were open and he was speaking to his fellow workers. The injured Gage was quickly loaded into a cart, and transported back to his boarding house, some 45 minutes away.

When Dr. John Martyn Harlow arrived, Phineas was conscious and had a regular heartbeat, and both of his pupils reacted to light normally. He was reported to be “in full possession of his reason, and free from pain.” He was under the care of Dr. Harlow for ten weeks, at which point he was sent home to Lebanon, New Hampshire. But while he was recovering, the doctor noted some changes in the man’s demeanor and personality. People who had known him before the accident described him as hard-working, responsible, and popular with his workers, but after the traumatic injury, Phineas Gage was not the same man.

In regards to his patient, Dr. Harlow wrote:

Gage was fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previously his custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint or advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times pertinaciously obstinate, yet capricious and vacillating, devising many plans of future operations, which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned in turn for others appearing more feasible. A child in his intellectual capacity and manifestations, he has the animal passions of a strong man. Previous to his injury, although untrained in the schools, he possessed a well-balanced mind, and was looked upon by those who knew him as a shrewd, smart businessman, very energetic and persistent in executing all his plans of operation. In this regard his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was ‘no longer Gage’.

Several months after the accident Gage felt strong enough to return to work, yet due to his personality changes, his previous employers would not entrust him with the foreman position he had previously held. In the following years, he took various jobs caring for horses, driving stagecoaches, and doing some farm work. He also briefly appeared at a museum in New York which was curated by the infamous P. T. Barnum, alongside the tamping iron which had impaled his brain.

Not much is known about his years after the injury, but eleven years after the accident, when he was aged thirty-seven years, Gage began to experience epileptic seizures. He died several months later, on 21 May 1860. His brain was not subjected to any medical examination at that time, but seven years later his body was exhumed so that his skull might be studied. It has since been subjected to much scrutiny.

It was determined that damage occurred to Gage’s skull in three places: There is a relatively small area under the cheek bone where the tamping iron first impacted, the orbital bone behind the eye socket, and very large hole where the iron rod emerged. The bone fragments over the exit wound were very skillfully put back in place by Dr. Harlow— so much so that it was hardly visible from outside the skull— but the original hole was about three and a half inches long by two inches wide.

There is still some controversy over the extent of damage to Phineas’ brain. It is certain that it passed through the anterior frontal cortex and white matter, but it has not been determined with certainty whether the lesion involved both frontal lobes or was limited only to the left side. In any case, the damage caused by the accident was roughly equivalent to a frontal lobotomy.

Today, Gage’s skull and the tamping rod which damaged it are on permanent display at Harvard’s Countway Library of Medicine. The incident did much to advance the field of neurology, as it was among the first evidence suggesting that damage to the frontal lobes could alter aspects of personality and affect social skills. Before Gage’s brain injury, the frontal lobes were largely thought to have little role in behavior.


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