CHELMSFORD, Mass.—Like a model ship wedged inside a bottle, Gary Koltookian feels that’s where he belongs.
It would be quite natural for the antique bottle-collector. One look at his collection and you’ll see why. It comes in all shapes and sizes, most all vintage, secured above and below the ground, yard sales, flea marts, and hand-me-downs.
His calling card reads “Bottle Gary.” That’s how people around the Merrimack Valley know this community activist.
One day in 1991, Koltookian was meandering through a flea market in Hollis, N.H., searching for bottles, when he crossed paths with a document that caught his attention
There, in some remote part of the country, Koltookian’s eyes were drawn to an 1855 issue of the Lowell Courier on a dealer’s table, containing an advertisement placed by a chap named “Menas Garabed, cabinet-maker, who once lived in his very own community—next city over.”
“Wow. 1855. An Armenian in Lowell,” he remarked.
Come to find out, the man’s given name was Khachadour P. Garabedian. He worked in the Lowell mills and became the only known Armenian to have served in combat during the American Civil War.
Koltookian gathered information from mid-century Lowell newspapers, old Lowell city directories, a record book of Union Navy officers, and the National Archives, namely the military pensions division.
From the documents, he learned that Garabedian was discharged as a sailor in Philadelphia, and worked, married, died, and was buried there upon his death in 1881. He called his nephew’s father-in-law in Philadelphia to investigate the gravesite and was stunned by the news. There was no surviving marker or stone commemorating Garabedian’s death.
Based upon the information he had received, Koltookian wrote an article for the Armenian Mirror-Spectator in 2004 telling Garabedian’s story, which caught the attention of Paul Sookiasian.
The Philadelphia college student read his article and was inspired to raise funds for a fitting memorial. With the aid of the Philadelphia Armenian-American Veterans, enough money was collected for the project.
Last October–eight years after that article was published–a dedication ceremony and requiem was conducted at Garabedian’s final resting place in Lansdowne, Pa., where a traditional Armenian khatchkar was erected in his honor.
An Armenian Civil War sailor’s honor had been restored at last, thanks to a chance encounter.
“There were not many Armenians in America during the 1860’s,” said Koltookian, whose ancestors arrived here after the turn of the century. “Those like Khachadour were among the few making America their home.”
The 78-year-old Koltookian is a retired social studies teacher, historian, researcher, collector, and member of the Lowell Historical Society. He’s served on local Armenian Genocide commemoration committees and belongs to the Merrimack Valley Knights of Vartan.
He will present a talk on the subject on Thurs., Feb. 7, at noon, during an Avak luncheon at St. Gregory Armenian Church, 158 Main St., North Andover, Mass. The public is cordially invited to attend.