John Horvath’s quest for a better life was splashed with secrecy, faith and stamina.
Like many fellow countrymen from Hungary and citizens of other eastern European countries in the early 1900s, Horvath was impoverished. But what he lacked in wealth, he commanded in audacity.
When Horvath couldn’t afford passage, he secreted himself aboard an ocean liner carrying immigrants to a new life in America.
As the ship approached New York Harbor, the stowaway leaped into the water and swam to Ellis Island.
Not every immigrant from Hungary who settled in Cambria and Somerset counties in the late 1800s and early 1900s had to be so daring.
Their reasons for coming, however, were the same: To build a better life for themselves and their families. Some also came to escape the civil unrest of their homeland.
No doubt Horvath carried thoughts of his wife, still in Hungary.
Horvath followed the path of others from their hometown of Szendro in northeastern Hungary to Windber, said his grandson, Dave Kormanik of Windber.
Horvath planned to establish himself in Windber and then bring his wife, Julia, whom he married Feb. 7, 1910, to America, Kormanik said.
He said his grandparents were going to have their first child, but it is not clear if his grandfather knew that upon leaving Hungary.
He said his grandmother bore a child, Margaret, in 1911 and stayed in Hungary for a couple of years to raise Margaret before leaving Margaret with her parents to join her beloved husband.
It must have been heartbreaking for her to leave Margaret, he said.
The couple planned to eventually bring Margaret over, he said.
He said his grandmother already was an American citizen, being born in April 1892 in Pocahontas, Va., to parents who had already immigrated. He said his great-grandparents then returned to Hungary, where they raised his grandmother.
Places called home
Immigrants from Hungary during the late 19th century and early 20th century settled mainly in the Windber area of Somerset County and in Johnstown, Portage, Nanty Glo, Mundys Corner and Vintondale in Cambria County.
While most found work in the steel mills and coal mines, a number were farmers.
All worked hard to raise their families, support their churches, and be successful.
For many Hungarians and other immigrants settling in Somerset County, their first stop was generally a boarding house in Macdonaldton, just outside Berlin.
Another Windber area family, headed by Andrew Molnar, also left Szendro around 1910 and managed the boarding house in Macdonaldton before moving to Wilbur and settling for good in Mine 37, located in Richland Township but near Windber.
Barbara Horvath, who married Kormanik’s uncle, Joseph, said her father, Andrew Molnar, was born in 1881 and her mother, Theresa, in 1883. Her mother also was from Szendro.
The Windber area woman said her parents knew each other in Hungary. Her father came first with the couple marrying shortly after she arrived, Horvath said.
She said while in Macdonaldton, her parents had 18 boarders at a time, many of whom were Hungarians. The boarders stayed until they found jobs in the mines.
Margaret Tarsovich of Southmont said her mother, Margaret Lipan, was born in Homestead, located near Pittsburgh, only to move at the age of 7 months with her parents to Czechoslovakia.
She said her mother grew up in Hungary and married her father, Bert, who was from Budapest, Hungary.
Her mother, who thus was an American citizen by birth, moved to New York City after being married six months to start building a better life for themselves.
Back then, the word was that people in New York City were doing well economically and that “money was being swept up off the streets,” she said.
She said the plan was for her mother to find a job and a place to live while saving enough money to bring her father to New York City under her citizenship.
“When my mother arrived at Ellis Island, employers were there looking for workers,” Tarsovich said.
“My mother was interviewed by a Jewish family who had immigrated from Hungary. The husband was a lawyer and they wanted to hire domestic help.
“They liked my mom from the start and asked her to work for them. They gave her room and board.”
After six months, she saved enough money to bring her husband.
Tarsovich’s mother continued working for the couple, with her father finding a job selling fruits and vegetables on the street for A&P supermarket, she said.
“He was living with four other boarders, and in his spare time enjoyed drawing 3-D pictures of animals, she said.
“One of the boarders worked at a toy factory that made stuffed animals. The boarder suggested that my father apply for a job designing animals at the toy factory.”
After showing management his drawings, he was hired, she said.
While working at the factory, her father attended night school to learn English and to get his citizenship.
After five years of working at the toy factory, her father was able to open his own toy factory in New York City.
Called Gloria Toy Inc., the factory eventually employed 150 people and sold toys to Macy’s, Woolworth’s and other well-known stores.
Tarsovich said her father was the first person to design Bambi, a stuffed deer, and the only one in the industry who could make the thin legs of the deer stand up.
Her father ran the business until retiring in the 1960s and moving with his wife to Johnstown.
Lived in a tent
Mary Lieb of Ebensburg said her grandfather, Alex Mata, and her grandmother, Pauline, were born in the late 1800s in Eger, Hungary.
She said her grandparents knew each other well in Hungary, with her grandfather arriving first in central Cambria County. Her grandmother followed a short time later, in 1914, at the age of 24 with the couple then getting married.
She said the couple moved to Colver, where they lived in a tent before moving into a house in that town. Later, they bought 10 acres of land in Mundys Corner and built a farmhouse.
Lieb’s grandfather worked in the coal mines and steel mill and also farmed. She said her grandmother was an amazing lady and the matriarch of the family – taking care of the house and raising the family. The couple had seven children, two of whom died at childbirth.
Her grandmother made rugs to supplement their income and, having learned carpentry skills from her father in Hungary, wasn’t afraid to use that skill around the house.
Lieb said her grandfather was a wonderful man who was jovial, kind and loved his grandchildren.
“They came for opportunity,” she said, adding that they also wanted to flee civil unrest.
Lieb said her grandmother’s brother was killed around 1910 during that civil unrest.
Many other Hungarian families in the Mundys Corner area also came from Eger, she said.
Land of opportunity
Often, finding the land of opportunity meant losing someone they loved.
The Horvaths never did get to bring Margaret to America.
The couple wanted to return but World War I prevented that from happening, Kormanik said.
After the war, they didn’t have the money to return, plus the grandparents had grown too fond of Margaret to give the girl up, he said.
He said it must have been heartbreaking for both his grandparents to leave Margaret there.
He said his grandfather never saw Margaret, who remained in Hungary her entire life. John Horvath died in the 1960s.
Kormanik said his grandparents, who lived in Windber their entire lives, had five more children.
The oldest, Julia, died at the age of 6. The others were Stephen, Louis, Joseph and John, and another daughter, whom they named Julia in honor of their first daughter and whom is Kormanik’s mother.
In 1975, a joyous reunion took place when son Stephen arranged a trip to take his mother and siblings to see Margaret.
It was the first time the siblings saw Margaret and the first time Julia Horvath saw Margaret since leaving for America.
In 1985, son Stephen arranged to have Margaret and members of her family visit Windber.
Shortly afterward, Stephen arranged a family trip to Hungary for the wedding of one of Margaret’s children.
John Horvath’s quest for a better life was splashed with secrecy, faith and stamina.
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