Friday, October 10, 2014

Pulaski Day in Schenectady

Monument to Revolutionary War Hero Polish Count Casimir Pulaski, friend of America in the Revolutionary War. The monument can be found near the intersection of State Street and Nott Terrace in Schenectady. Photograph from the private collection of Phyllis Zych Budka.  

This blog entry is written by SCHS Member Phyllis Zych Budka.

Driving past Pulaski Plaza at the intersection of Nott Terrace with State and Albany Streets in Schenectady, my thoughts do not turn to the military exploits of Revolutionary War hero Kazimierz Pulaski honored in a granite monument, but rather to a lost era in my own cultural heritage, Schenectady’s citizens of Polish descent. The monument, erected in the fall of 1953, was the location of annual October ceremonies honoring this Polish hero who fought for freedom in both Europe and the fledgling America, ceremonies that my family and I participated in as I was growing up.

Pulaski Day Essay Contest Winners, October 1955: Phyllis Zych (Budka), 8th grade, St. Adalbert’s School, and Lawrence Ott, 8th grade, St. Mary’s School. Left to Right: Rev. John Harzynski, Assistant Pastor, St. Adalbert’s Church; Lawrence Ott; Schenectady Mayor Archibald Wemple; Phyllis Zych; Unknown; Rev. Ladislaus Guzielek, Pastor, St. Adalbert’s Church; Unknown. The photograph was published in the Schenectady Gazette. Photograph from the private collection of Phyllis Zych Budka.

The discovery among my mother’s keepsakes of the photo of the Pulaski Day Essay Contest I won in the fall of 1955 brought a flood of memories. Luckily, the Schenectady Gazette caption reminded me of the long-forgotten contest topic, the poetry of Adam Mickiewicz. My sister, Elizabeth Zych Kislinger, provided another, slightly later, photo of ceremonies at Pulaski Plaza.

These photos gave me a sense of loss for my cultural heritage that cannot be shared with my children and grandchildren. They also made me curious about the history behind the Schenectady Polish American community’s efforts to commemorate Casimir Pulaski in such a prominent place in the city.

Pulaski Day Celebration, ca. 1956. Pictured are Schenectady city and Polish community dignitaries as well as my sister (first row, far right), my cousin Marjorie Norris Brophy (2nd from left) and my grandmother Victoria Korycinski (back row, right, between flags). Photograph from the private collection of Elizabeth Zych Kislinger. 

In researching the origins of Schenectady's Pulaski Day celebrations on the historical newspaper website, I was surprised to find a Gazette entry from 1929:

Anniversary of Pulaski’s Death Celebrated in School Auditorium, Large Crowd Attends Exercises Honoring Polish Patriot

A fitting climax to the exercises commemorating the 150 anniversary of the death of Count Casimir Pulaski, which have been in progress here since Thursday when Schenectadians filled the big Schenectady High School Auditorium to capacity to pay tribute to the Revolutionary War hero. (Gazette 10/14/1929, p. 11)

According to a 11/16/53 Gazette article, the Polish Welfare Council petition to the Schenectady City Council to erect the Pulaski monument was adopted on November 15, 1948. The city of Schenectady donated $2,000 toward the nearly $15,000 cost of the monument. The monument is 34 feet long and 14 feet 6 inches high at the center. The General’s statue is 7 feet high.

The Pulaski monument was dedicated on November 18, 1953, complete with a parade from the Polish National Alliance Home on Crane Street to the Pulaski Plaza. Representatives from Syracuse, Utica, Amsterdam, Watervliet, Cohoes, Troy, Albany and Poughkeepsie participated in the festivities, which also included a banquet.

Below are the words inscribed on the monument, words which ring true even today:

Union makes valor stronger

Count Casimir Pulaski, friend of America in the Revolutionary War, distinguished himself on General George Washington’s staff in the Battle of Brandywine, commissioned Brigadier General. Fought at Germantown and other battles in winter 1777-78. By resolution of Congress was authorized to form the Pulaski Legion. Mortally wounded at Savannah, Georgia, and died October 11, 1779.

To the memory of an immortal hero who gave his life in the cause of freedom and thereby left a living message to all Americans. May God grant that the liberty of mankind, which only brave souls win and only vigilance can guard, shall live on with greater vitality. Dedicated by the people of Schenectady.

This memorial made possible by Americans of Polish descent.

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