Pulaski: the hero, not the highway

Statue rededication honors Polish general

October 14, 2001|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

The highway helps. If it weren't for that, Revolutionary War hero Casimir Pulaski's name may have been buried in obscurity long ago.

But the name of the Polish-born general has probably been uttered by everyone familiar with Pulaski Highway, making the rededication of his monument in Patterson Park yesterday notable -- even for those who know little about the Revolutionary War and who are not part of the loyal Polish community that has recognized him as a hero since his death in 1779.

Several hundred people showed up at the parade and ceremony yesterday to honor Pulaski and glimpse the refurbished bronze statue of him, now in its 50th year.

"It's tremendous," said Edward Wojnowski, 82, president of the Polish Home Club in Fells Point.

The statue of the general had long been missing its sword. That was replaced, as were the reins connecting Pulaski to his horse. Graffiti was removed, and Pulaski's nameplate was restored.

"Maybe the younger generation no longer remembers, but he's a great hero," said Raymond J. Dombrowski, president of the Pulaski Monument Restoration Committee and commander of the Polish Legion of American Veterans-Pulaski Post 209. "He formed the Pulaski Legion right here in Baltimore."

Pulaski, born in Poland in 1747, joined the American forces in 1777 under George Washington, who asked him to organize a corps of cavalry. He recruited men from Maryland and named the troop "Pulaski's Maryland Legion." Pulaski became "Father of the Cavalry."

He was wounded in the Battle of Savannah, Ga., on Oct. 9, 1779, and died two days later.

The statue, designed by Baltimore sculptor Hans Schuler, is so vivid that "you can practically hear the horses," said Kathleen Kotarba, staff director for Baltimore's Commission on Historical and Architectural Preservation.

CHAP, the city's Department of Recreation and Parks, and Friends of Patterson Park helped the restoration committee raise money to restore the monument and landscape the surrounding area. The project cost $51,000 and took a year and a half to complete.

Many watching yesterday's ceremonies were elderly people of Polish descent, who remembered what it was like when the area around Patterson Park was heavily Polish and when Pulaski was a household name. It was common knowledge then that he fought to free Poland from imperial Russia, then became an outlaw and moved to Paris, where he met Benjamin Franklin and learned of America's struggle for freedom.

"I moved right over there when I was 14 years old," said Margie Wojnowski, 82, of Lutherville, pointing across the park. "It was completely Polish then."

Her brother was named Casimir because he was born on the anniversary of Pulaski's death.

The idea for the Pulaski monument started in 1929, when the Polish-American community formed a committee to bring it to the park. The funding for the monument was virtually lost in a bank during the Depression. But the committee persevered, and in October 1951, the monument was unveiled and presented to the city.

Fifty years later, their descendants are still looking out for Pulaski and his story.

"If it wasn't for Pulaski, America would not be the way it is today," said John Szrom, 50, who lives in Graceland.

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