Mr Hannā Mikā'īl Māmā was born near Zghartā, al Shamal, Lebanon on 10 February 1892 1 before moving to Tripoli, Lebanon in later years2.
He was the son of Max Māmā and he is known to have had several siblings. He lived in Tripoli where he worked as a farm labourer and it has been suggested that he and his family originally hailed from Kfar Hātā, Zghartā although there are reports that they were from Ehden.
Apparently financially comfortable in his native Lebanon, Hannā had fallen in love with the daughter of neighbours, a girl named Jasmine Butrus (Betros). She and her family left Lebanon around 1909 after which Hannā was inconsolable and spent his time with Jasmine's brother Tannūs Butrus-Kawi who had remained behind. He tended his olive grove, cultivated silkworms and went shooting to distract his sorrow but when Tannūs Butrus-Kawi made plans to join the rest of his family in America Hannā eagerly decided to accompany him, seeking Jasmine's hand in marriage, with the young woman's family in approval of the betrothal.
Reportedly before leaving Lebanon an aged Maronite monk, who lived among the cedars of Mount Lebanon gave Māmā a relic which the monk is said to have prized above anything else in the world. The relic, a small locket, was said to contain a piece of the cross on which Christ was crucified. The monk assured Māmā that if he remained in a state of grace he would be saved from peril both by land and sea if he carried the relic on his person.
Having started his journey from his home on 25 March, Māmā boarded the Titanic in Cherbourg as a third class passenger (ticket number 2677 which cost £7, 4s, 7d) having made the voyage from Beirut to Marseille. His destination was to the home of Thomas Butrus of 1001 Ellsworth Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He travelled with Tannūs Butrus-Ka'wī and Sarkīs Lahhūd Ishaq Mu'awwad of Zaghartā, among others from that locale, including the Nakid family. As the ship set sail from Cherbourg Māmā clutched his chest to make sure he still had the locket around his neck, secured to his person by a piece of strong cord. Whilst aboard the ship he enjoyed the company of many of his fellow Lebanese passengers.
Māmā survived the sinking, possibly in one of the aft starboard lifeboats (possibly 15). He related that he managed to get to the upper decks and fell in prayer at the feet of Father Byles. The story that came down through the family was that he had been picked up out of the water by Mrs Astor's boat but there is no evidence to support the claim.
Reaching New York aboard the Carpathia, Māmā was described as a 20-year-old unmarried farmer, stating his point of contact as his father Max in Tripoli. His intended destination was to 1001 Ellsworth Street, Philadelphia, the home of Thomas Butrus, described as a cousin.
Arriving in the Syrian colony in Philadelphia Māmā was reunited with his family and friends where he was later interviewed by the press. In an interview reprinted in the Calgary Herald Hannā Māmā related his story of survival which he credited to his carrying of his Holy relic. The article also stated that Māmā and Jasmine Butrus were to wed in St Maron's Church. Whether they ever wed remains uncertain.
Hanna, who had anglicised his name to John Mami (still listed as Mama in some records), was married in New Jersey in 1914 to a woman named Elizabeth "Lizzie" Starr (b. circa 1892)(3) who was born to Sarkis and Katherine Starr, Syrian migrants.
The couple had no children and by the time of John's circa 1917 draft registration the couple had an address in Washington, DC, with he being described as a self-employed man standing at 5' 6" and with black hair, brown hair and a dark complexion. They appear on the 1920 census living at 929 Ellsworth Street, Philadelphia with his wife's parents and he was described as a shipyard labourer. Having become a naturalised citizen in 1927, by 1930 John and his wife were living at 1124 South 10th Street, Philadelphia and Mami was described as a dry goods proprietor. At the same address for the 1940 census, Mami then had no stated profession.
Mami initially worked as a grocer before operating a public house, Titanic Cafe, until his license was revoked for buying $1200 worth of stolen alcohol.
COURT RULES ON LIQUOR LICENSE
Pittsburgh, April 16--(UP)--The State Superior Court today reversed a ruling of the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court that revoked the license for the Titanic Cafe, operated by John Mami, at 1124 South Tenth street Philadelphia.
The State Liquor Control Board had revoked Mami's license when 731 bottles of whisky, stolen from the Schwenksville liquor store July 28, 1939, were found on his licensed premises.
Mami appealed the board's ruling and the Common Pleas Court changed the revocation to a 90-day suspension. The liquor board appealed from the ruling and he Superior Court held the Common Pleas Court erred because no evidence altering the board's findings had been produced.
(Delaware County Daily Times, 16 April 1941)
Placed on probation for five years, Mami then ran an ice-cream parlour before moving to Washington, DC in the mid-1940s where he operated a Pool room.
Hannā Mikā'īl Māmā (aka John Mami) died in Washington, DC on 18 April 1952 and he was buried in Fort Lincoln Cemetery, Suitland, Maryland. What became of his widow is currently unclear.