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PRICE -- While taking his elderly mother on walks through the serene pathways of Price City's cemetery, Andrew Hillas learned of a historical injustice.

In a Greek section of the graveyard were buried 29 miners who died in the 1924 Castle Gate No. 2 Mine disaster, men who had no headstones to mark their final resting places.

"There was no memory of them," he said of the young immigrants who perished far from the families they left behind, mostly on the island of Crete. "Those guys were poor, worked in horrible conditions, didn't have any family here. You just don't realize the hardships these people had to deal with, at least nothing I could comprehend."

So Hillas, who is himself of Greek descent, set out to rectify the situation. He spearheaded a drive within Price's Assumption Greek Orthodox Church that raised $1,700 to erect a stone monument bearing the names of the 29 who have spent the past 81 years in unmarked graves.

Today, two days before the anniversary of the explosions that killed 172 miners -- Utah's second-worst mine disaster, exceeded only by the 1900 Winter Quarters explosion in which 200 died -- the memorial will be blessed by Metropolitan Isaiah, the Greek Orthodox prelate over Utah and 13 other states, who is coming to Price for the 1:30 p.m. ceremony.

"I'm very grateful I can be part of it," Isaiah said, noting that the consecration coincides with his church's traditional pre-Lenten observances for departed souls. "We should remember those who came here and sacrificed their lives. It's a warm and touching thing that we care, not just for our friends but for strangers."

Fifty Greeks in all died that cold Saturday morning when three explosions ripped the mine. It took nearly a week for rescuers to clear the mine's tunnels of deadly carbon monoxide gas (costing one rescuer his life), extinguish fires spawned by the blasts and recover all of the bodies.

"Because there were so many, Assumption Church was too small so they had to use a public hall to hold all of the caskets," said Hillas, who became an amateur historian in researching the disaster.

As The Salt Lake Tribune reported March 13, 1924, "The funerals were conducted with the usual ritual by the Rev. Father Smyrnapoulas. The caskets were laid side by side across the center of the floor, and were completely covered with floral offerings evidencing the deep sympathy felt for the bereaved."

Assumption Church bought the plots where all but one of the Greek victims were buried (the 50th was interred at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Salt Lake), but headstones were erected only for those with families in Utah and enough savings to pay for the markers. The rest slid into obscurity as time passed, generations died off and descendants moved away.

Enter Hillas.

On one of his walks through the cemetery, he encountered monument maker Bernie Morris, who said, "There's a Greek section where there's a lot of empty graves." That struck Hillas as odd, so he started comparing cemetery records to information he gathered about the victims in written publications and from the Internet.

"It kept sucking me in because I kept finding something out," said Hillas, citing the challenge of matching original Greek names, such as Stelios Papadoganakis and Demetrios Delakis, with their Anglicized versions -- Steve Pappas and Jim Dallas.

"I found the names of all the Greeks who were killed and went back and tried to locate them. I walked and walked and walked," he said. "I located a certain number of them right away, but I kept trying because I didn't want to leave anybody out."

With help from cemetery secretary Brianna Welch, he determined "there was one guy, then four buried together, then a few more graves, then three buried together, then a couple more and a whole bunch buried together." Eventually, he managed to account for every one.

Assumption Church officials readily endorsed his plan to memorialize those in unmarked graves. "This needed to be done," said the Very Rev. Anasthasios Emmert, church pastor.

Definitely, added historian Allan Kent Powell, who has written extensively about Utah coal mining and the Castle Gate disaster.

"The community is to be commended for that kind of remembrance," he said. "So often these kind of people are forgotten. They were just laborers. But the contribution they made working as coal miners was vital to the economy of Utah."

Hillas' painstaking effort also elicited praise from Salt Lake City resident Ted Sargetakis, who will attend today's observance with his family. His grandfather died in the Castle Gate disaster, leaving behind a widow, four children younger than 6 and a fifth on the way.

His grandfather was not one of those buried without a headstone, but Sargetakis said he gets a chill when thinking of the sacrifices made by all of the victims.

"They were practically indentured servants to the coal companies," he said. "They worked in the mines all day long for very little money, lived in company housing, were paid in company scrip, had to shop in the company store. . . . We're where we are now as a result of their hard work."

And for some of the disaster victims to "almost fall through the cracks of history," he added, would have been an injustice -- one that Hillas has overturned.

"Hopefully, somewhere up there in heaven, they'll see they're being recognized and know he did it."