A Hagel/Westergom union fits my granny

The only grandfather I ever knew was a hobo.

He rode the rails from East to West Coast, eating chicken and other foods he’d gather” during the years crossing this great land, even ending up in Alaska, where he prospected for gold.

He was a Hagel, Peter Hagel. The second one my “mother’s mother” had married. Both were from Hungary. Not sure of the town. While Grandpa was the second Hagel to marry Grandma Anna, he was third in line to sire children, after my biological grandfather produced four children with my Granny, and Hagel’s older brother three. 

And what about that Westergom fellow? He was possibly from Canada. With another wife he never revealed to the one and only grandmom I ever knew. (The Greek side doesn’t count. Achilles Contoveros, my father, sired me in his 50s long after emigrating at age 15 from Greece. His parents passed before I knew much about ’em or got a chance to travel to the Greek “homeland.”)

Step-grandfather Hagel was a bum. He told my cousin, Rosemarie Lieb, why he  asked grandmom to marry him when she already had seven children. “I always believed it best to marry a woman with kids who would look after her . . .  and me,” he told Rosemarie sometime during the Eisenhower years.

Each summer, Hagel would leave the comfort of his home in the Mays Landing, NJ, to sleep in his “hobo shack. a dilapidated one story, one-room structure more like a shed than a residence. Most times, he’d sleep in the woods under the stars, where I guess he was comfortable.

Got shanghaied in San Francisco, according to Rosemarie. Was drinking with some friends when he passed out, having been drugged. They woke up on a ship miles away from the shore. There was no where to go,” Hagel  told Rose and other grandkids who got him talking in between puffs of a pipe that will always remind me of a tobacco-smokin’, stinkin’ old man. (Always smelled of tobacco. Even when dressed up with a white shirt and not smoking!)

Hagel remained with the ship two years. Went to Alaska. Panned for gold there. Took part in the “gold rush” of the Klondike around 1898, according to Rosemarie. No, he was no where near San Francisco when the Earthquake struck in 1906, although he did have friends there at the time, someone said.

Learned he was a hobo at a family reunion the past weekend. Met a son of my cousin, Tom Westergom, at the gathering. Hope he’ll research the history of my other grandfather, his great-grandfather. Grandpa Westergom had fathered two sons and two daughters before he left the New Jersey “farm,” making my grandmom a single parent who made ends meet by travelling to nearby Atlantic City to sell flowers, eggs and crafts she made at the nearby Hamilton Township home.

She learned that Westergom was married with a wife in one of the “provinces” of Canada. Kicked him out upon returning to his “second” family. Westergom reportedly got a rifle, entered the home and threatened to kill everyone, including my mother, also named Anne, before my Uncle Rudy got him out of the house and into the Trenton, NJ, State Prison for the Criminally Insane, where he lived until his death in 1952. There’s a gravestone for him, my Uncle Joe told us years ago when he was still living, having gone to Trenton to get more information but got stonewalled by such a tight-lipped institution.

Wish I had more, but a lot of facts have been hushed up. I always knew grandmom was a pioneer in her day. Never knew how strong a lady she must have been to raise eight kids while being a widow at one time, “marrying” a bigamist next, then finding a life-long companion in a hobo.

God Bless ’em all. But you in particular, Grandmom.

9 comments on “A Hagel/Westergom union fits my granny

  1. […] (For another look at my hobo grandfather, please see: Grandma’s hobo husband) […]


  2. flightsrhodes says:

    ahhhhhh very good, bookmarked 🙂 keep it up, JusyKassy. http://www.flightsrhodes.org


    • contoveros says:

      I will keep this advertisement at my grandmom’s site in order to check on flights to where my other grandparents lived. In Greece.

      This is for flights to Rhodes. That’s pronounced “Rho das.”

      michael j


  3. Helen T says:

    Your story is great!
    My great-grandmother was 32 when The Great patriotic war began in 1941. She and her husband had 4 children. The oldest one was my grandma, 11. My great-grandfather was taken to army and, nobody saw him ever since.
    There was hard time. USSR. War. Siberia. Hunger.
    I join you and celebrate our strong female predecessors.


    • contoveros says:

      Joan of Arc had nothing on them, Helen T. Neither did Catherine the Great or Queen Elizabeth I. They held firm to their beliefs yet offered love and compassion.

      At least, we can honor their memories with such recollections. Isn’t that what history is all about? His story? In this case “Her” story?

      We choose to remember them in the light most favorable to them and to our story-telling.

      Like to hear more of the hardships you and your family faced. Must have been incredible to most standards yet “common place” among those who lived in, and through, it.

      michael j


  4. A Hegel/Westergom union fits my granny « Contoveros…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…


  5. Whew. Somehow I get the notion that at one time someone may have “blessed” your grandmother with the phrase “may you live in interesting times.”

    I’ve heard similar stories, about fierce and hardened women who’ve put up with a lot. One in particular comes to mind – a woman who had a litter of kids and who specifically divorced her philandering husband, at a time when the idea of divorce was a despicable and ugly thing in society. She built up her own sewing business and also established a “bed and breakfast” business and managed to thrive with her kids on those.

    And I have to get out of bed today and make my five minute way into a cushy job, all the while complaining “because it’s Monday”. Heh.


    • contoveros says:


      Women have been the backbone of many a family, including mine. My mother was the first one of seven to graduate in her family, followed by my uncle Dominick. She paid the taxes and the bills, because my pop had only a 6th grade education and never learned to read and write English too well.

      I’ll drink to my grandmom while you lift a liter in recognition of your granny. Here’s to the sweetest ladies ever to walk the face of the Earth. Well, Canada and the USA, at least.

      michael j


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