His boots ground down as soldiers with pointed sticks jabbed at him for resting. He was forced to march 40 miles a day. So Bedros Keljik, a 15-year-old Armenian thirsting to emigrate to America, shredded his shirt and wrapped the strips around his inflamed feet.
“A terrible journey, and I shall never forget it,” Keljik told the New York Times five years later, in 1894. “The sun beat down upon us, the ground was scorching, but we had to march on. In two days our boots had been worn off, and the hot ground being unbearable we had to tear off our clothes and bandage our feet.”
A few days later, Keljik and two older brothers were tossed in a prison on the banks of the Euphrates River — “one great dark hole, no distinction being made between murderers, thieves, or so-called political prisoners.”
Fast forward a decade. After stints on the East Coast, Keljik opened a downtown St. Paul rug cleaning and repair shop in 1900. He’d soon count as customers railroad tycoon James J. Hill and the Mayo family in Rochester.
“He used whatever he could — his accent, his wit — to find an edge, and he never grew discouraged,” said Thomas Keljik, 69, who was 10 when his grandfather died in 1959.
Tom and his brother, Mark, have shared their grandfather’s inspiring immigrant story in a new 40-page article in the University of Minnesota’s Modern Greek Studies Yearbook.