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Polish Heroes Honored in Washington D.C. in 1910

General Casimir Pulaski died fighting in the American War for Independence on October 11, 1779. The U.S. Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia received word of the Pole's death and on November 29, 1779 passed a resolution to erect a memorial to honor the hero. Alas, no money was appropriated for it, due to the fact that the United States' finances were stretched so thinly in those early years.

    More than a hundred years passed. Around the turn of the 20th century, Polish Americans rediscovered the Pulaski Memorial resolution, and Polish American organizations petitioned Congress to again consider the issue. They were successful. An act of February 27, 1903 signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt appropriated $50,000 for erection of a statue of Pulaski in Washington, D.C.

Pulaski by Chodzinski    Meanwhile, the Polish National Alliance (PNA), the premier Polish American society of the time, felt that a memorial to that other great Polish general who fought for America in the Revolution, Thaddeus Kosciuszko, should also be put up in our nation's capital. For this monument, they decided to raise the money themselves. A joint resolution of Congress on April 18, 1904 accepted the gift of a Kosciuszko statue from the PNA and the Polish American people. Eventually, $60,000 was collected by the PNA, not only from its members, but also from other Polonian organizations and individuals.

    A committee of four was chosen by Congress to handle arrangements, including design and site selection for the memorials. The sculptor selected for the Pulaski statue was Polish American Casimir Chodzinski, who had designed the Kosciuszko statue in Chicago. For the Kosciuszko statue, a competition was held during which twenty models were considered. Even President Roosevelt took an interest in the selection. The one by Antoni Popiel of Lwów, Austrian Poland, was selected. Popiel had worked on the statue of Pulaski that stands on Wawel Hill in Kraków. Pulaski was cast in bronze by Graham Manufacturing of Rhode Island. Kosciuszko, also in bronze, was fabricated at American Foundry in Chicago.

    Finally, by 1910 all was ready. The site selected for the Pulaski monument was between Pennsylvania Avenue and 13th Street near E Street NW, in an area now called Freedom Plaza. It is less than half a mile from the south lawn of the White House. Kosciuszko was sited in Lafayette Park across from the front of the White House, one of five statues of military heroes that surround a statue of General Andrew Jackson. On February 25, 1910, Congress appropriated $8,500 for site preparation and unveiling of the memorials. The dedications were set for May 11 of that year.

    At 2:30 pm, the ceremonies got under way. More than 10,000 people were gathered round the base of the Pulaski memorial and on a special reviewing stand. Most were proud Polish Americans, but the crowd also included many European Poles invited for the occasion. A great grandson of General Pulaski was in attendance. The ceremony was opened by a prayer by Bishop Paweł Rhode of the Roman Catholic Church. Dedicatory speeches were then read by Secretary of War Jacob Dickinson, President William Howard Taft and PNA President M.B. Stenczynski. After the Pulaski statue was unveiled, the participants moved to the site of the Kosciuszko statue, three quarters of a mile away, where the scene was repeated. President Taft noted that it was "appropriate that we should give enduring evidence of our gratitude" to the two men. 

    The dedications were attended by officials of the Daughters of the American Revolution, who in their magazine gave the following description of the event:

    It was a splendid pageant - great masses of U.S. troops in their glittering uniforms and trappings - the blended strains of the Polish and American national anthems borne upon the air - young Polish maidens, some of them brought from overseas for the occasion, passed in a stately procession around the statues, bearing between them immense wreaths and floral emblems, that they massed in great heaps at the base of the monuments.  Company after company of Polish societies in the regalia of their orders encircled the monuments, and in a sort of ceremonial rhythm, waved splendid pennants of Polish provinces, as the folds of our own Starry Banner were drawn, exposing the noble figures of these immortal heroes.

    The larger-than-life statue of Pulaski portrays the hero on horseback in caped and hatted Hussar uniform, noble, dignified, yet serene and natural. It rests atop a tall granite pedestal. Kosciuszko stands erect with soldierly bearing in his American uniform atop a 15 foot detailed pedestal, clutching a map of West Point in one hand, his sword in the other. At the center of the base is a globe showing the U.S. with the American Eagle atop it. At the rear is a globe featuring Europe with the Polish Eagle fighting the serpent of despotism. Side sculptures feature Polish and American officers and peasants.

    After the ceremonies, the Polish Americans and Poles met for four days under the auspices of the PNA in what was called the Polish National Congress. The group discussed scenarios regarding the future of Poland and Polish Americans, and what could be done to improve their welfare and standing. The group was critical of President Taft for declining an invitation to attend their banquet.

This article was originally posted in Polish-American Journal

ZamoyskiI recomment The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History of the Poles and Their Culture, by Adam Zamoyski

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