by Sharon Niederman
DAWSON — With a name like Pappas and a forthcoming book about Dawson, you’d bet the proud first-time author holding his book like a bouquet of red roses was either a New Mexico native or close relative.
You’d lose that bet.
And as soon as he speaks, you hear why. Nick Pappas, retired Albuquerque Journal city editor, speaks with a New England accent Kennedy impersonator Vaughn Meader could market.
A lifelong New Englander from Lowell, Massachusetts, Pappas only recently – ten years ago – moved to New Mexico so he and his wife could be close to their five grandchildren. His interest in the coal mining town of Dawson, NM, a passion that grabbed hold of him one January day when he drove out to the cemetery that holds the remains of the 263 miners who lost their lives in October, 1913 in what still ranks as the second worst mining disaster in the US, is not something he understands or can clearly explain. Then, again, ten years later, another 120 lost their lives in a subsequent explosion.
With forty years in the newspaper business, Pappas never had the ambition to write a book, let alone one that expounds on one of the most tragic chapters of New Mexico history. Yet he found himself driven to interview dozens of Dawsonites and their descendants, who, he says, generously shared family photos, correspondence, and assisted him with translations from Italian and Greek.
As he comes from a Greek family, he resonates with Greek immigrants who came to work as miners in Dawson. “Next to Italians, there were more Greeks at Dawson than any ethnic group,” he says.
The strong, enduring sense of community Dawson inspires also moves him. “After so many years, you still have 600 people showing up, from all over the world, to the biennial Dawson picnic,” he observes. The town closed in 1950.
“I decided I wanted to pursue it,” he says.
In all his work, it was rare no one had a bad word to say about Phelps-Dodge, Dawson’s parent company, who strove to build an ideal working company town at Dawson.
Pappas has no other book proposal nor idea ready to go.
His book offers an in-depth portrait of Dawson, told through the memories of those who remember the original dwellers
“Crosses of Iron: The Tragic Story of Dawson, New Mexico and Its Twin Mining Disasters” is due out Oct. 1, 2023 from University of New Mexico Press. Pappas has several signing events scheduled. Follow him on https://nickpappasbooks.com/. He also publishes a newsletter, https://mailchi.mp/6a8d2c8aa1a4/nicks-dawson-newsletter-15819460, that lists his upcoming appearances and news he discovers along the way. The book sells for $21.95.