Saturday, June 16, 2012

Derdowski w Winonie (I)

Saint Mary's Cemetery sits nestled among the bluffs which mark the south-eastern edge of Winona, Minnesota. The south-eastern corner of St. Mary's rises steeply to a bluff-side mausoleum complex which marks the cemetery's southern boundary. This is the old Polish section, where a wild array of monuments, many home-made, mark the resting places of Winona's first- and second-generation Polish immigrants. Close to the road at the foot of the old Polish section is a simple granite headstone, more substantial than most of the humble markers surrounding it, but certainly not garish or even ornate. Beneath this stone, all but forgotten in his adoptive home town, lies the Kaszubian Polish culture hero Hieronym Derdowski.

Hieronym Derdowski was born on March 9, 1852 in the southeast Kaszubian village of Wiele, and emigrated to the United States in 1885, at the age of 33. By this time, Derdowski had already studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood in Rome, fought against the Prussians as a soldier in the French army, been a five-time visitor to German jails, and (for the last five years) a prominent newspaper editor in the city of Torun. However, Derdowski was far better known for his poetry. He was equally at home writing in the "good" Polish of the literary elite as he was in the Kaszubian vernacular he had grown up speaking. Indeed, his 1880 poem O Panu Czorlińscim co do Pucka po sece jachoł (Mister Czorlinski Goes to Puck for Fishnets) is commonly regarded as the start of Kaszubian literature.

Derdowski was not, at the time that he emigrated, under threat of arrest. He was broke, but he always had been broke and he always would be broke. His precise reasons for emigration are still the subject of much speculation, but it seems to me that he felt he had exhausted his possibilities in German Poland. America offered a growing Polish diaspora along with financial opportunities and other freedoms he would never know in his homeland. In America he could start again, make a fortune, win new fame... and start a family. He had already identified his future bride, Joanna Lubowieczka of Gostomie. Once he had established himself in the new land Joanna would come over to become his wife. In the spring of 1885 Derdowski mortgaged his share of his inheritance for 300 crowns and took the big step.

In America, Derdowski moved from city to city, from newspaper to newspaper. He found new causes, started new quarrels, and quickly made himself a name. But he had not started to make a home. His Kaszubian friend, Father Jan Romuald Byzewski, had become the pastor of Winona's Saint Stanislaus Kostka Church in 1875. The Polish newspaper he and some parishioners had recently started, Wiarus (Faithful Defender), needed an experienced editor. Would Derdowski consider a move to Winona? In the middle 1880s Winona was still a thriving, blossoming town with a bright future. It also contained one of the nation's largest concentration of Kaszubian Polish immigrants. The culmination of his dreams was almost completely within reach.

The missing part of Derdowski's happiness soon appeared in the person of his beloved Joanna, who arrived from Poland in October 1887. On October 29 of that year Father Byzewski united them in marriage  in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Mr. and Mrs. Hieronym Derdowski took the train to Winona, where they were met at the Milwaukee Road station and conducted to their new living quarters over the Wiarus offices at Second and Carimona. And there I will leave them for the time being. But I have a modern side note to pass along.

I gleaned most of this information from articles in a book I found, quite by chance, and purchased at The Book Shelf in downtown Winona this spring. I could not wait to get out to the corner of Second and Carimona to visit the site of the Derdowskis' first home. But there was no two-story building within a block of that intersection. Could the author, Dr. Leo Ochrymowycz, have confused something? Doubtful. But I could not doubt the evidence of my eyes, either. Further research turned up a Wiarus office with upstairs living quarters at 329 East Third Street. But 329 East Third Street is not on the corner of anything, and Dr. Ochrymowycz had definitely said "corner." Then, a picture from The Kaszubian Community of Southeast Minnesota caught my eye. A publication from the Wiarus press clearly stating that it had been published "Second and Carimona."

I started searching again. This time I started looking through Winona city directories, and found that there had been a pharmacy at 579 East Second Street in 1906. It was later the Marouschek grocery. Searching for "579 East Second" at the Winona Newspaper Project turned up an an article dated September 6, 1887 stating that the city had granted "Mr. Frank Drowskowski" (that is, Frank Drazkowski, president of the Wiarus) to move his business to that location.

Dr. Ochrymowycz had been right all along - but what had happened to the two-story building on the corner of Second and Carimona? It turns out that the Marouschek grocery had been leveled by a gas main explosion in January 1919.


  1. Józef!
    You have made a big work and a long walk!
    Joanna Lubowiecka came to America after her father death.
    Her father, organist did not accept Hieronim as candidate to marriage with Joanna because he was not stabilized.
    Despite of father's standpoint Hieronim and Joanna were in contact however Hieronim tried to unite with Marcela Dudzińska.
    After Marcela's marriage with local wheeler Hieronim had a fit of nerves.

  2. What a fascinating individual! Would you believe he has no Wikipedia article in English... yet?

  3. Hello again,
    I have noticed that Hieronim Derdowski was mentioned in Wikipedia in Polish language and that "page was last modified on 21 February 2014 at 15:46".
    I suppose that you had hand in it.
    And by the way....
    I printed almost all your blogs from Smiles in Boxes and sent to Father Szulist.
    He is traditional and don't like internet.
    He appreciated it very much.
    He draw my attention to the fact that you have mentioned in some place that Derdowski's mother was born in Golub. Actually Golub is part of Golub Dobrzyń.
    Father Szulist wrote a new book about Kashubian diaspora and it will be ready mid of May. He told us that you and your family will be mentioned also. I am curious of this book. We will visit f. Sz. in May. We also wait for your one.