Sunday, September 22, 2013

Hail to the (Winona) Chiefs!

Like all good Kashubian boys and girls, I was raised Roman Catholic. But looking back over the years, I think I could just as easily list my religion as "baseball." Rivers of ink have been spilled and countless electrons slaughtered explaining why baseball is a religion. Some of it makes for pretty good reading, but it's not necessary reading for those of us already "in the know." And being Laura Mae Bambenek's oldest son, I suspect I was born "in the know."

Mom certainly told us kids stories of the Winona Chiefs and their fearless leader, Max Molock. Sad to say, though, I was most impressed that his name rhymed with "Polack." Back in early 1970s Milwaukee, the Chiefs couldn't begin to compete with the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers were pretty awful back then, but we all backed our True Blue Brew Crew. They didn't make 'em any truer and bluer than Mom. I mean, I rooted for the Brewers too, but Mom listened to them, watched them, read about them, and even kept score during their games. And talked about them. God, how she talked about them. It was pretty cool being the only one of my friends whose Mom really understood baseball, but it wasn't always easy keeping up with her. I can't even guess how many Brewers games she toted us (and Dad) to, but my favorite memories are of the games she and I attended together.

Reading Kent Stever's wonderful new book, Growing Up on the Mississippi: 1950s Winona, Minnesota, has filled in another part of the picture for me. Stever has a flair for making old Winona stories come alive - even if (like me) you never lived in Winona and (also like me) weren't even alive in the 1950s. I won't try to summarize, because if you are reading this blog, you are interested in Winona - and if you are interested in Winona, you need to own Growing Up on the Mississippi. I couldn't help but be delighted by this description of Gabrych Park:
These were evenings to remember. Thousands of local townspeople and neighboring farmers crowded into Gabrych Park, a high-ceilinged structure built on donated land in memory of a war hero from the East End neighborhood of the park. It was a monument to the ambition and dedication of Polish-Americans who had settled on their “shotgun,” forty-foot lots in the 1870s—not far from the Mississippi River and the logging industry that brought them here. Along with their immense and marvelous St. Stanislaus Polish-Catholic Church a few blocks away, this field of dreams was a major source of pride to all.
This is much more than a mere name-check. Stever clearly appreciates how Winona's Kashubian Polish community was (and remains) part of the fiber of Winona's history. He also points out that the Winona Chiefs were a rebranded version of the PNA (Polish National Alliance) baseball team which had flourished in Winona for decades. Score another one for us Kashubians!

Stever also captures beautifully how passionately Winona felt about the Chiefs.
The Chiefs were our super-stars and heroes of summer. They related to baseball-minded young boys, to wide-eyed local girls of all ages and to fathers and family members who plunked down the 35 cent admission. A night at the ballpark was an escape from day jobs in the factories and processing plants with their ever-so-repetitious tasks. Some slugged cattle or hogs all day in the packing plant, while others watched the continuous welds of links of chain pass by their station in the excessive warmth of the riverside Peerless Chain Factory...
I can very easily see my Mom as one of those "wide-eyed local girls." In fact, Mom was so crazy about the Chiefs, that she and her friends would take the train to watch their heroes play on the road. Here she is (at far left) with some of her pals at the Chicago Great Western station in Dodge Center, MN, circa 1950, on her way to watch the Chiefs somewhere. Even back in the day, Mom took her baseball extremely seriously!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Piotr Konopacki

Piotr Konopacki (1827 Gdansk - 1880 Sharon)
Szarlota Weronika Toczek (1839 ? - 1906 Sharon)

The Konopacki family is regularly counted among Portage County, Wisconsin's earliest Kashubian settlers. In her 1996 article "The Kaszuby Region," Adeline Sopa tosses out the tempting hint that "Peter Kronopeski was identified as also coming in 1859, or the next year, from Winona, Minnesota;" she also mentions that "a Peter Konopecky filed an intent in Winona County, MN, on March 4, 1859." She also mentions that Stanislaw (1788-ca. 1880) and Malgorzata nee Piechowska (1795-1880) Konopacki sailed from Hamburg on June 15, 1859 for Quebec aboard the "Amelia." My interest was piqued. Kashubian extended families generally settled down in Portage County or in Winona, not both, with the Milanowski (and possibly Libera) families being rare exceptions.

It looks like there is another rare exception. The precise date on which Walerya Barbara nee Konopacka Molski (1859/1860-1946) was born to Piotr and Szarlota is open to question, as is the precise date of her birth. But the evidence points strongly to 1859 and Winona, Minnesota. James Keck has preserved her obituary from the Stevens Point newspaper, which gives her birthdate as November 1, 1860 in Winona, Minnesota. On the other hand, the 1860 US Census, enumerated on July 24, 1860, places the Peter Konopasky family, including two-year old Walleria, in the Portage County township of Sharon. I think it far more likely that Walerya was born on November 1, but not in 1860. The census sometimes misleads, but it doesn't lie. Somewhere along the line, as sometimes happens, Walerya got a year younger. On subsequent censuses, Waleria (also listed as Valerie and as Laura) is listed as being born in Minnesota. At worst, this is just a very likely guess. But now I want to know why Piotr and Szarlota tried their luck in Winona first, and only then rejoined their extended family in Sharon.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Old Stone Road

Mankato Avenue has an extremely interesting history. The postcard at left shows it as "The Old Stone Road" -  an important intercity arterial, running from Winona's southern boundary along east end of Lake Winona and continuing along the east end of Sugar Loaf up to the prairies beyond. Myself, I think of Mankato Avenue as the "Main Street of Kashubian America" for the numbers of Kashubian Poles and Kashubian Polish businesses to be found along it. But that is another blog post. Today, Mankato Avenue veers southeastward right around the Riverport Inn, as it heads toward the Highway 61 intersection. But this was not always the case. Andrew Munsch, the proprietor of, points out that Mankato Avenue - or "The Old Stone Road" - once headed directly out of Winona along what is now Sugar Loaf Road.

Although "The Old Stone Road" referenced in the picture is now Sugar Loaf Road, you can get a definite idea of what it was like to come into Winona from the south, one hundred years ago. Having come into Winona along Mankato Avenue literally dozens of times as a kid, I find this to be a pretty incredible visual. If you look closely you can see the Wisconsin bluffs to the north. The road just to the left of the carriage is Lake Boulevard. At the bottom of the hill is the Winona and South-Western Railroad, later the Chicago Great Western Railway. As one headed north toward Winona, the road would become somewhat wider and would eventually become paved with bricks. As "The Old Stone Road" passed through the marsh land to the east of Lake Winona, it was more like a causeway, built over a swamp, than it was like a street. After a short and slight jog to the right, the "Old Stone Road" intersected with East Mark Street and, shortly afterward, the Milwaukee Road's Chicago-Twin Cities mainline.

Today, of course, the view is quite different. As this picture by Andrew Munsch shows, one can still look straight down Mankato Avenue from what is now Sugar Loaf Road. But what was once a marsh now contains Winona Health, Target, Wal-Mart, Mills Fleet Farm, the Riverport Inn, and countless other businesses. The Winona and South-Western's right of way along the south end of Lake Winona is long gone: the tracks were pulled up in the 1930s and the four-lane US Highway 61 was built in their place during the 1950s. Next time you are in the vicinity, you might consider a short visit to Sugar Loaf Road and looking down into Winona from the top of that little hill. It was a postcard-quality view at the turn of the 20th century and it is still a nice (and informative) view today!

Special thanks to Andrew Munsch for all of his spectacular work on the history of Highway 61 - the main street of my life.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Good Ship "Elbe"

On May 14, 1859 the good ship "Elbe" sailed from Hamburg for Quebec. Included on its passenger list were 62 Kashubian Poles. Some of these immigrants were destined to settle in Ontario's Renfrew County colony, which had been founded in 1858: Canada's oldest Kashubian Polish settlement. Some went on to settle in the Portage County, Wisconsin colony, which had also been founded in 1858, making it the oldest Kashubian Polish settlement in the United States. Still others went on to Winona, Minnesota. Although not founded by Kashubian Polish settlers - the city had been established eight years earlier, in 1851 - Winona would in time become the Kashubian Capital of America. As best I can establish, the families which came across on the good ship "Elbe" were Winona's first Kashubian Polish settlers.

One of these families was that of Jozef and Franciszka von Bronk, long considered to have been Winona's first Kashubian Polish settlers. Though the names are spelled in German fashion, the passenger list from the Elbe matches the other Bronk family records perfectly: Jos. and Francisca come first, followed in chronological order by their sons Johann (Jan), Ignatz (Ignacy), Vincent (Wincenty), Lorenz (Wawrzyniec), and Jacob (Jakob). Even the listed ages pretty much check out.

As a professor of classical languages and literature, I realize that legends, by their very nature, contain a kernel of historical fact. But this particular legend goes back to the spring of 1859 and no further. I will continue to peruse passenger lists as time and opportunity allow, but I doubt I will find anything that researchers such as Anne Pellowski, Adeline Sopa, Larry Reski, and Ron Galewski haven't already seen. That being the case, I have to conclude that Winona's Kashubian Polish settlement is but the second oldest in the United States, and the third oldest in North America. None of this information, however, changes the fact that Winona remains the Kashubian Capital of America.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Marcin Sikorski

Marcin Sikorski (1794 Półczno - 1854 Kłączno)
Konstancja Wika Czarnowska (1794 Półczno - 1828 Półczno)
Anna Janta Połczyńska (1809 Czapiewice - 1866 Rekowo)

It has taken a little time, but I believe I have the Sikorski families of Winona. This is particularly important because two separate Sikorskis - Teofil Jakob Sikorski (1840-1913) and Ludwik "Louis" Sikorski (1845-1902) - were prominent early leaders among Winona's Kashubian community. Although both were born in the Bytow region, their branches of the Sikorski family seem to have been connected only by marriage. Since the most numerous branch was that of Teofil (also known as "Theodore," "Jacob," and even "T.J.") I will deal here with the branch headed by his father, Marcin Sikorski.

None of Marcin Sikorski's five children by his first wife, Konstancja Wika Czarnowska, emigrated to the United States. Their third son, Wilhelm Onufry Sikorski (1822-1870) married Michalina Sikorska (1828-?); three of Wilhelm's sons emigrated to Winona. Antoni Sikorski (1856-1908) married first Wiktoria Orlikowska (1859-1885) and then Marianna Pellowska (1866-1937). Jan Pawel Sikorski (1867-1922) married Mary Lepsch (1860-1940). Maksymilian "Max" Sikorski (1869-1912) married Augustyna Rompa (1870-1952).

Marcin Sikorski had nine children with his second wife, Anna Janta Połczyńska; two emigrated to Winona. Teofil Jakob Sikorski married Jozefina Rogalla (1851-1932) in 1867 at Winona. Jozefina's surname strongly suggests Silesian descent but is actually Kashubian, per Father Rekowski's list. Teofil and Jozefina had eleven children, ten of whom lived to adulthood. Teofil served three terms as alderman and was elected to the Minnesota State legislature in 1900; he also played an important role in the "Battle of St. Stan's" in the early 1890s. Maciej Sikorski (1846-1830) also married a Silesian Pole, Tekla Malik (1854-1936) at Winona in 1872. Maciej and Tekla had ten children; I have not yet had the time to investigate their family further. In any event, it is a very safe bet that there are numerous descendants of Marcin Sikorski living among the Kashubian American community to this very day!

Monday, July 22, 2013

These Things Take Time

I could have visited the Pellowski farm at Szwedzki Ostrów on my very first trip to Kashubia in 2011. I had been thinking about it; I know that if I had made it a priority, my dear friend Małgorzata Mazur would certainly have made it happen. Visiting Leśno was a far wiser choice for my first trip. Leśno is an actual town still served by the gorgeous 17th century wooden church where generations of Bambeneks and Stoltmanns were baptized, married, and sent on to their eternal rest. Even without this family connection, just seeing the Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross was worth the drive out from Gdansk. Speaking with the priest and his chatty neighbor was a treat, as was the walk through the cemetery afterward. The Stoltmanns and Bambeneks resting there may or may not have been my relatives, but I felt very much at home nevertheless.

Szwedzki Ostrów, on the other hand, is literally in the middle of nowhere. A very beautiful nowhere, surrounded (as the map shows) by lakes and hills and ponds and forests. The surrounding area is known, with good reason, as the "Switzerland of Kashubia." Even when one makes the correct turn (Wyrówno) off the beaten path (Route 295), Szwedzki Ostrow is not easily found. Our guide today -  my 52nd birthday - is Reverend Władysław Szulist, the celebrated priest and historian from Lipusz. Father Szulist has been here before: several years ago, he guided the Kashubian-American novelist and activist Anne Pellowski (my late mother's first cousin and high school classmate) to the site of the cottage where our ancestor Franciszek Pellowski was born on January 26, 1829. Still, Father Szulist himself feels called upon to stop at a farmhouse for directions, just to make sure we reach Szwedzki Ostrów. Of course, the locals confirm that we are headed in the right direction.

Father Szulist is not the type who leaves things to chance. At least half of his flat in Lipusz is taken up with his office and library. Before guiding us to the Pellowski farm, Father Szulist has insisted on treating the birthday boy to a simple but abundant lunch of sausages and breads, with sweets and even Napoleon brandy. He also had a present for me: a copy of his very latest book, Lipusz: dawniej i dziś. On page 59 of this book, he has included pictures of our last visit to Lipusz in September 2012. Małgorzata whipped up a birthday cake from a huge, delicious chocolate sweet. And sporting my new Kashubian hat (a gift from Małgorzata  and her husband Eddie), I was treated to the Polish birthday classic, "Sto Lat." With that part of the birthday celebration complete, we left with Eddie's cousin, Edmund Zielke at the wheel of his VW Jetta wagon. Once Father Szulist has confirmed we are going the right way, we arrive in just minutes.

Down a little hill is a two story farmhouse; modern, but simple. Across the road are a couple of outbuildings. Three men and a woman are sitting at a table in front of the house. The men are brown as trees: they work outside. A lot. The Stempnikowskis are very friendly, and they are familiar with the old Pellowski cottage which once stood on the hill up from the pond. They are pleased that people have come from the city to visit. Edmund decides to sit and visit with the Stempnikowskis while Malgorzata, Fr. Szulist, Eddie, and I walk up to the site of the old cottage. Absolutely nothing remains to indicate human habitation. But if Fr. Szulist says my great-great grandfather Franciszek Pellowski was born on this spot, that is more than sufficient for me.

The view from the cottage site is literally breathtaking. To the south is the lake Wyrówno, with thickly wooded hills on the western horizon, and a wheat field in the foreground where the Pellowski family once literally grew its daily bread. To the north is a stand of trees and a pond, large enough to cross in a boat. It suddenly strikes me how painful it must have been to leave this little corner of heaven. I can't help but ask the question out loud - how could anybody have left such a beautiful home, to find their fortune across the Atlantic Ocean in the United States? I don't recall who responded to me, or in what language. Malgorzata and Eddie both speak excellent English, and Fr. Szulist understands it well, even though he does not speak it. But I will remember the answer forever: Poverty.

I doubt this revelation would have produced anywhere near the same effect on me two years ago. I have since read and even written a good deal more about the Kashubian American experience since then. And while I have been so far been spared poverty, I have certainly acquired more experience in dealing with the long term emotional trauma which results from a permanent parting. To live the rest of one's life with a landscape such as this in one's heart, knowing that one would never return there, or return to the family members and other loved ones who remained there... it must have been a terrible cross to bear. Imagining how strange the new life in Winona or Pine Creek must have seemed to the Kashubian immigrants has become much easier for me now. My admiration for their courage in making their way to America and their determination to succeed in the new country has only increased. I am all the prouder and more grateful to be Kashubian American myself, and I am all the more determined to help preserve the legacy left by these brave, pioneering families. Yet Szwedzki Ostrów has also taught me a lesson about patience. One cannot have experiences like this every day, or even every year.

These things take time.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Pòmiwôk, or A Pilgrimage

For every day of her seventy years on this planet, my beloved Mom was proud to be a 100% Polish-American from Winona, Minnesota. She had no idea that she was really of Kashubian Polish descent, but that's all right. Her parents didn't know they were Kashubians either. At any rate, Mom took great pains to make sure her three children took pride in their Polish heritage. For example, she taught us to sing the first verse and the chorus of the Polish national anthem, which began with the stirring line
Jeschka Polska nezha gee-whah; Kiddie mezhee emmy...
March, march, Sikorski! Zhunday dunday Polski!
Zhot voyee-vzha vodem - Shoshem zeener odem!
At the time, the words themselves meant nothing to any of us, not even Mom. Had she known that Poland was not yet dead, she would have told us and we would have remembered it. Still, after all this time I am pleased that the Old Country gibberish I learned as a kid was in fact pretty close to what patriotic Poles sing proudly today. Mom also used certain "Polish" expressions and words, one of which I still remember. In our household, a kitchen washcloth was always referred to as a poomyvook. To this day, I still use a poomyvook to wash my dishes. It makes me feel closer to my Mom.

I also felt closer to my Mom last week as I marched with fellow members of the Kashubian-Pomeranian Organization at this year's World Kashubian Meeting. I am proud and happy to be a Kashubian. I embrace being a Kashubian. I was in Poland to be with my fellow Kashubians and, hopefully, to find out what being a Kashubian American means. There are many Kashubian Poles to tell the Kashubian Polish story; I would soon be meeting again with one of the most famous, Father Wladyslaw Szulist of Lipusz. There are Kashubian Canadians who have written extensively about the Kashubian Canadian story. There exists no English-language book which comes close to telling the story of Kashubian emigrants to the United States. And even if there were, I have come to Kashubia on a pilgrimage - to learn the things about being Kashubian which cannot be taught by books.

As I wandered down the streets of Wladyslawowo after the parade, I was approached by two friendly men wearing gold and black shirts. One was an older man with distinguished looking gray hair. He was wearing a black and gold shirt inscribed "KASHUBIAN GRIFFINS." He excused himself and politely asked in English if I was Professor Hughes. "Yes, I am," I said. "Who might you be?" I thought to myself. He introduced himself as Marian Jelinski of Zukowo. He had read my Wikipedia articles on Kashubian subjects and found out on Facebook that I would be attending this year's World Kashubian Meeting. He had brought me a gift. I was now the owner of the Polish-English-Kashubian Dictionary compiled by Marian Jelinski and David Shulist. I had been trying to find and purchase this book for more than a year. And just now one of the authors had walked up to me on the street in Poland, introduced himself, and presented me with an inscribed copy!

Unexpectedly receiving a copy of this coveted book was the first of several epiphanies I would have on my trip. The concise, no-nonsense version of my experiences can be found in the trip report I posted earlier this week. The full effect of my experiences will have to rattle around in my mind a little bit more before I commit them to words. But I left Kashubia, and left Poland with a firm sense that these crazy Kashubians were truly my people, and that I was truly one of them. Moreover, if anybody was going to tell the story in English of the Kashubians who came to the United States, it would have to start with me. The entire story will require someone younger, trained as a historian, and who possesses fluency in Polish. But a history of the Kashubian Americans of Winona is within my reach. More than that, it is within my heart.

I packed up quite a few pounds' worth of books on this trip to Poland. My checked baggage clocked in at 22.7 kilograms - that's 49.9 lbs: maybe an ounce and a half under the limit. My new dictionary traveled with me on the plane. It sits on the table next to my bed, where I often look at it before I fall asleep. Not that I will ever learn Polish in this lifetime, much less Kashubian - which is considered more difficult. But I like to pronounce random Kashubian words to myself as I fall asleep, hoping someday I may at least get that much right. Two nights ago I saw, in the upper right hand corner of page 22, an old childhood memory. In "good" Polish, the word for washcloth is myjka or ściereczka. The Kashubian word for washcloth is... pòmiwôk.

Poomyvook. Pòmiwôk. So my Mom had been speaking some Kashubian to us kids after all. Without even knowing it, admittedly. Even so, she had successfully passed the torch to her firstborn. It is his turn to pass it on to someone else... brighter and stronger. The humble washcloth has given point to my pilgrimage.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Holiday in Kashubia

As much as I’ve enjoyed my three previous trips to Kashubia, my fourth trip has been simply amazing. The adventure began on the afternoon of Friday, July 5, when my guide and dear friend Malgorzata Mazur picked me up at the Gdansk airport and called us a cab into town. She very graciously kept me awake and walking around until 6 pm, when I checked in to the Mercure Hevelius Hotel for a good night’s sleep. Thanks to my “Kashubian family” - Malgorzata, her husband Eddie, and Eddie’s cousin Edmund Zielke - I was in for a hectic but inspiring week of sightseeing and meeting other Kashubians.

Saturday, July 6 was the day of the XV World Meeting of Kashubians in Wladyslawowo. The streets of this resort city on the Baltic Sea were packed with delegations from every region of Kashubia and even one from Canada. Several people asked me why there was no delegation of Kashubians from Winona. I promised I would try to do something about this! Sunday, July 7 was a day of rest until Malgorzata, Eddie, and I took a ferry to Sopot, which is a resort town on the Baltic Sea between the ports of Gdansk and Gdynia. We enjoyed coffee on the longest wooden pier in Poland and then a wonderful fresh fish dinner at one of the many restaurants along the beach.

On Monday, July 8, Malgorzata, Eddie and I visited the library at Gdansk’s branch of the Polish Academy of Sciences. There Dr. Maria Otto, who is affiliated with both the Academy of Sciences and the University of Gdansk, showed us several very rare print editions of ancient classics and some original works by Gdansk’s own great astronomer, Jan Heveliusz. We then visited the Polish Academy of Science’s map library, where we viewed maps of Kashubia made from the 16th century to today. Malgorzata and I spent Tuesday, July 9 on a trip to Torun, three hours away, where we wandered through this beautifully preserved Gothic town and visited sites associated with the other great Polish astronomer, Mikolaj Copernicus. On Wednesday, July 10 we visited the newly restored fortress and watchtower built in the 16th century to guard the mouth of the Vistula River.

Thursday, July 11 was my birthday – the high point of the whole trip. With Edmund as our chauffeur, we drove out to visit the great historian of Kashubian America, Fr. Wladyslaw Szulist, in his Lipusz flat. Fr. Wladyslaw graciously welcomed us with an elaborate lunch, and joined us in a chocolate birthday cake. He then guided us to Szwedzki Ostrow, the beautiful little settlement where my great-great grandfather Franciszek Pelowski was born in 1829. After returning Fr. Wladyslaw to his flat, we visited Bytow. There we had the chance to meet three people well known to Winona: Mayor Ryszard Sylka, Council Chair Leszek Wichiewicz, and Ms. Joanna Malek. Our meeting went well past the hour they carved out of their busy schedule for us – it was literally too much fun! Friday, July 12 was a day of rest – for me, at least. After her morning tour group, Malgorzata took me to see the remains of the massive Prussian fortifications still to be found around Gdansk.

On Saturday, July 13 Malgorzata and I visited the Faktoria in Pruszcz Gdanski, just south of Gdansk: a reconstructed trading post where Romans came to buy amber from the local Goths. We also had a guided tour of the museum from Ms. Agata Kierunska and an opportunity to try some “ancient” food prepared fresh on the site over open fires. We then met up with Eddie and their son Kamil, and took a taxi to Warzno, where the Kashubian-Pomeranian Organization’s Karczemki chapter was ready to celebrate the birthday of its only American member. As president of the Karczemski chapter, Cousin Edmund made sure that everyone had a great time – complete with food and drink, dancing and singing, and an extremely rare Kashubian picture book given me as a present. Sadly, I had to leave early. Sunday, July 14 brought a 4:00 am wakeup call for a 6:40 flight back home – home to the United States, that is.

Proud as I am to be an American, this trip has made it clear to me that Kashubia is no longer just a place I visit whenever I can. It is my second home. All of the Kashubians I met during my trip were very interested to meet a real live Kashubian American, and were just as interested to hear about the Kashubian community of Winona. Together with my ever growing Kashubian family, I encourage everyone who reads this to come and visit Kashubia for yourself. The land is beautiful and the people are incredibly welcoming. Arranging for flights and accommodation is less expensive and less of a hassle than one might imagine. And the memories will be priceless. I have already promised to return for next July’s XVI World Kashubian Meeting in Pruszcz Gdanski. Might you be interested in joining me there?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Stockton Quarry

Stockton Quarry, ca. 1880
Winona's Kashubian Polish community grew rapidly during the 1870s. The first generation had settled in and was raising families - usually very large ones. Meanwhile, the pace of emigration from the Old Country picked up rapidly after the German Empire was established in 1870. Under the Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, Poland was subjected to active Germanization. Moreover, Bismarck declared a feud with the Roman Catholic Church - the so-called Kulturkampf. It was a better than ever time to leave the Old Country, and many Kashubians did just that. Pretty much all of the decent farmland near Pine Creek had been bought up. Starting in the middle to late 1870s, some Kashubian families migrated further west into Minnesota, or even into the Dakotas. Those newcomers who remained in Winona were only to happy to take whatever jobs they could get - even in the Stockton Quarry.

Winona's first railroad, the Winona and St. Peter, was established in 1862 and bought out by the Chicago and North Western Railway in 1867, although it kept its name until around 1900. Sold to the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern in 1986, it is now the property of the Canadian Pacific. As originally built, it twisted and turned its way up through the Stockton Valley to the prairie beyond. The tracks were continually improved; after 1880, numerous trestles were either filled in with gravel or replaced by massive stone arches such as the pair at Farmers' Community Park. The Stockton Quarry, located across the railroad tracks from what is now the park, provided much of this stone. Getting to and from work was an issue - the quarry was 11 miles away from downtown Winona. Even by special train, it took time.  Digging the stone out and either crushing it for gravel or making blocks of it was dangerous work. So was transferring the finished product to the work sites, which required the construction of a narrow gauge railroad with its own miniature locomotive.

The finished results - bridges like the famous "Arches" - were beautiful, but costly in human life. On 23 December 1881, the newly-arrived Walenty von Zuroch Czapiewski suffered massive internal injuries when a bank of clay collapsed on him at the Stockton Quarry. He died at home the next day: Christmas Eve. On 9 August 1882, Jan Ostrowski was run over and "horribly mangled" by a gravel train. He was transferred to Winona by train but died in a wagon as he was being brought home. Finally, on 2 January 1883, Jozef Bambenek had his right arm and right leg crushed when he was thrown from a gravel car and run over. His mangled limbs were amputated after he was taken home. The standard of medical care was obviously appalling; I'm sure he died of his injuries but I have not yet been able to tell exactly when. The Stockton Quarry evidently shut down for good around 1906, with no further fatalities I have been able to discover. But obviously it remained a very dangerous place to work, and serves as an illustrations of how hard the Kashubians of Winona had to work just to survive.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Riot at New City, Wisconsin

As Hieronim Derdowski observed, "There is no Kashubia without Poland and no Poland without Kashubia."

Poland, as Derdowski's words clearly imply, could not be at its greatest without embracing its entire range of ethnicities: Poles, Mazurians, Kujawians, Ukrainians, Gorals, Silesians, and Kashubians. So too with the Polish community of Winona and Trempealeau Counties. Winona is indeed the "Kashubian Capital of America," but Poles of all ethnicities have contributed to our Polish community's proud achievements. As the story of the Riot at New City demonstrates, we Poles have always stuck together.

The little settlement of New City was established in Burnside Township around 1869, where Travis Creek flowed into the Trempealeau River. The first business was a mill, followed by the combination store and saloon of Michael Fugina and the tavern of Peter Eichmann. A blacksmith shop and another store appeared later. When the Green Bay and Western Railroad came through in the early 1870s, there were hopes that a depot would be built in New City. Instead, a depot was built during 1876 in the newly platted town of Independence, a mile and a half northeast. The businessmen of New City hastened to set up shop in Independence, and the site of New City has been a farm field ever since. Thanks to some careful research by La Vern Skroch, we now know the precise location... what is today a big, open field!

One could never guess it from this picture, but in the spring or summer (to judge from the reference to clothes drying on a line) of 1873 this field was the scene of what one observer called a "race riot" between Poles and English-speakers. I have taken the liberty of screen-capturing Merle E. Curti's account from his 1959 book, The Making of an American Community. For what it's worth, I believe anyone with even a passing interest in Trempealeau County history should obtain this book, since it is literally all about Trempealeau County. Best of all, good used copies are very easy to purchase online. Curti's points about the significance of this "riot" are well taken, but for the purposes of his book, only the Polish vs. English aspect is important.

Examined just a little bit more closely, the story also illustrates the traditionally friendly relationships between the Slavic population of Winona and Trempealeau Counties, and especially between Kashubian Poles and Silesian Poles. Michael Fugina (1841 Ceplje - 1901 Chicago) was a Slovene; his wife, Julia nee Woychik (1856 Popielow - 1882 Independence) was Silesian born. Peter Eichmann (1847 Lipusz - ?) was a Kashubian; his recently deceased wife, Susanna nee Sura (? Popielow - 1873 Burnside), was the daughter of the area's first Silesian settlers, Peter and Tekla nee Kachel Sura. Although the town of New City was primarily Silesian, it was the Kashubian, Peter Eichmann, who went to Galesville to speak on behalf of the community. Local educator and attorney Stephen Richmond (1848 Louisville, NY - 1912 Arcadia) remembered "Pete Eichman" as Trempealeau County's "leading saloonkeeper." Paradoxically, Peter Eichmann appears on the 1880 US Census as a "day laborer" in Independence  - and then disappears from the record entirely. That is not to say that I've given up, though.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Franciszek Rumpca

Franciszek Rumpca (1846 Przetocyno - 1901 Grenville, SD)
Anna Retzlaff (1850 Przetocyno - 1882 Delano, MN)
Kunegunda Hulda Brilla (1865 Germany - 1930 Grenville, SD)

I began researching the Rumpca family by request of a visitor to the Winona Polish Museum website. The surname did not ring a bell - it sounded Polish, certainly. As it turned out, exactly one Rumpca family settled in Winona, that of Felix (1881-1936) and Ida nee Gonsior Rumpca (1886-1961), at some time before the First World War. But the Rumpcas more than make up for their lack of quantity with the interesting variety of the family's experiences after emigrating to the United States.

The first wave of the family was led by Jozef (1820-1882) and Elzbieta Ludwika "Louise" nee Romptz Rumpca (1824-1909) of Przetoczyno, a Kashubian village near Wejherowo, who arrived in New York aboard the Hammonia on March 28, 1872. It is likely that their oldest son Franciszek (1846-1901) and his wife Anna nee Retzlaff Rumpca (1850-1882) arrived in the United States at around the same time.

Franciszek and Anna first settled in Chicago, where their children Franciszek, Jr. (1874-1967), Matilda (1876-1948), and Bertha (1878-1892) were born. By the time of the 1880 US Census, Franciszek and Anna were living on a farm in Delano, Minnesota, next to the family of Jozef and Elzbieta. In 1881, Franciszek and Anna became the parents of their youngest child, Felix Rumpca. Anna died in 1882; in 1884 Franciszek married Kunegunda Hulda Brilla (1865-1930) in Delano. To date, I can find no further information about Kunegunda; my guess, for what it matters (zero) is that she was of German descent. They had eight children together: Joseph (1884-1950) and Mary (1886-1962) were born in Delano; Rose (1888-1967), Jacob (1891-1960), Anton (1892-1982), Leo (1895-1979), Bernard (1896-1965), and Anna (1899-1984) were all born in Grenville, South Dakota, making it possible to date their big move to about 1887.

On February 12, 1907 Felix Rumpca married Ida A. Goncior (1886-1961) in Grenville. The 1910 US Census finds them still in Grenville, but at some point after 1913 (after the birth of their youngest child, Clara) they relocated to Winona. Kashubian Poles from Winona (and occasionally Pine Creek) had begun to move to western Minnesota and the Dakotas. starting in the late 1870s. In the beginning, they moved primarily to obtain inexpensive farmland; sometimes they returned. Once Winona's lumber business started winding down at the turn of the century, the town's economic stagnation added another reason to go west. Felix and Ida, on the other hand, moved east. Felix's job in the Chicago and Northwestern's Winona Shops does not provide a clue; since the C&NW never ran anywhere near Grenville, it is more likely that he did not move due to a job transfer.

Nor is it likely that Felix and Ida moved to Winona to be near other Kashubians. Frank was Kashubian, but from a different part of Kashubia (with a different Kashubian dialect) than that of the Winona Kashubian Polish community. Moreover, the Rumpcas frequently socialized outside of the Kashubian Polish community, to judge from references in the Winona Republican-Herald - the 1910s being a time when Winona's Kashubian Poles still remained rather clannish. By all accounts they seemed very happy in Winona until Felix's untimely death on November 11, 1936, while being treated in Minneapolis for injuries incurred in a taxicab crash. In October 1937, the Rumpca estate obtained a judgement of $1,500 against the cab driver, Robert Hines.


The picture at left could have come straight out of Michael Lesy's 1973 book Wisconsin Death Trip, a work I have loved and admired for literally forty years now. As Lesy observes in his Introduction,

You should know that none of the pictures were snapshots, that their deepest purpose was more religious than secular, and that commercial photography, as practiced in the 1890s, was not so much a form of applied technology as it was a semimagical act that symbolically dealt with time and mortality. 

Notice the elaborate floral displays with funeral themes (the anchor, for example). The photograph of the deceased superimposed on a photo of the flowers. The plaintive inscriptions, complete with "My Husband" spelled with backwards letter N. This picture didn't speak to me. It literally cried out to me.

The deceased brother and husband, Jacob Wieczorek, was born in 1871 in the village of Zabiczyn in Wielkopolska, and died in Winona on September 15, 1904. Jake was the son of Wawrzyniec (1839-1901) and Katarzyna nee Wachowiak Wieczorek (1840-1904); his siblings were Jan (1863-1942), Stanislaw (1870-1950),  Marianna (1875-1946), and Piotr Wieczorek (1878-1961). Since Marianna and Piotr were born in the United States, it would seem the family emigrated to the United States between 1870 and 1875. Piotr was also the grandfather of my uncle and godfather, Gene Henry Wieczorek (1929-2001).

On January 16, 1894 Jacob married Marianna Cierzan (1876-1961) at Saint Stanislaus Kostka Parish. Almost two years afterward, on December 28, 1896, "Jake Wieczorek" became a naturalized citizen of the United States. The 1900 US Census shows Jacob and Marianna living at 121 Chatfield Street, with Jacob employed as a "tall sawyer" at one of the lumber mills. At some point after the census they adopted their only child, Mildred B. Wieczorek (1898-1982), who was born in New York City and came to Winona on an "orphan train." Mildred and her husband, Bernard Schultz (1896-1969) raised a family of three sons and three daughters. The originals of these scanned items were donated to the Polish Museum by their oldest son, the educator and local historian Bernard "Ben" Schultz (1923-), who was inducted into Winona's Polish Hall of Fame in 2011.

The next historical record available is a statement in the September 12, 1904 Winona Republican Herald that "Jacob Wieczorek is in a very low condition as a result of an attack of brain fever." At this point, the Winona Newspaper Project failed me temporarily. A slight flaw in the PDF scan of September 15, 1904's Republican Herald rendered this preliminary obituary invisible to the search engine. I would not have discovered it had I not, finally, drilled down to the individual issue. I have not found Jake Wieczorek's final obituary yet. Neither have I given up. Marianna never remarried, and lived as a widow for fifty-seven years.  I have been a widower for only two and a half years now. It gets less awful with time, but only slightly. I can only imagine her pain.

It would be churlish, of course, to blame the Winona Newspaper Project, which has afforded me hundreds of hours of solipsistic bliss, and which will no doubt console me well into my dotage. I think Lesy is rather too dismissive of those who have made this sort of work possible:
...each issue was reduced to the size of a stamp by technicians who had no time to notice anything but the title and date of each brittle paper rectangle they placed underneath the copy lights of their cameras.
Me, I'm just grateful to anyone and everyone who has assisted my research, intentionally or otherwise. Lesy, of course, has been a titan in my estimation ever since Wisconsin Death Trip was serialized in the Sunday Milwaukee Journal 's "Insight Magazine." But we also serve who merely remove the smiles from the boxes, dust them off, and put them where perhaps someone might find them someday... and enjoy the same flash of perception I enjoyed when I first set eyes on the floral displays from Jake Wieczorek's funeral one hundred and nine years earlier.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Jakub Skroch

Jakub Skroch (1804 Popielow-1869 Popielow)
Anna Schwiec (1803 Popielow-? Popielow?)

Jakub and Anna Schwiec Skroch never emigrated to the United States, nor were they Kashubian. Instead, they lived their lives in Popielow, a village near Opole in Silesia. Like the Kashubians, the Silesians are a minority ethnicity living in what is today Poland. Also like the Kashubians, the Silesians found themselves living on the fault line between the Germanic and Slavic civilizations, a fact which helped to make emigration attractive. Beginning in the late 1860s, numerous Silesian Polish families settled in Trempealeau County, near the towns of Arcadia and Independence. Among them were the families of Jakub and Anna's four adult sons: Jan, Franciszek, Jakub, and Wojciech.

Jan "John" (1830-1916) had one son by his first wife, Julianna nee Bedok, and six children by his second wife, Maria nee Sobotta (1840-1910). They seem to have emigrated from Poland in 1882, because only their youngest child, George D. Skroch (1882-1940) was born in Trempealeau County.

Franciszek "Frank" (1836-1894) and his wife Agnieszka nee Sobotta (1847-1903), had ten children, seven of whom survived to adulthood.  The first of their children to be born in the United States was their sixth child, Michael Clarence Skroch (1877-1953). Michael married Anna Bambenek (1884-1976), daughter of the late Walenty Bambenek (1856-1888) and Paulina nee Rozek Bambenek Bautch, in 1903 at Independence.

Jakub "Jake" (1838-1917) and his wife Renetta nee Filla (1846-1897) had eight children. Their fourth child, Urban Skroch (1878-1967) was the first to be born in the United States. Urban's oldest son, James Peter "Jake" Skroch (1905-1995), longtime supervisor on the Green Bay and Western Railroad, was named to the Winona Polish Hall of Fame in 2013.

Wojciech "Albert" (1843-1888) and his wife Christina nee Lukaszczyk (1849-1888) had six children. First of these to be born in the United States was their fifth child, Michael Alphonse Skroch (1883-1970).

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Milanowski Grocery Store

At first, the two-story building at 557 East Second Street looks like nothing more than an exceptionally well-cared for house. However, it served for more than 80 years as a grocery - and, at times, as a dance hall and saloon. Although the grocery was operated by three separate families - in turn, the Milanowskis, the Brezas, and the Wieczoreks - it has always been known as the Milanowski grocery.

As early as 1872, Jozef Milanowski (1840-1885) was purchasing real estate on Front Street, namely Lots 10 and 11 of Block 6 of Hamilton's Addition. But according to the 1894 Winona plat map, 557 East Second Street sits on Block 9, Lot 5. So perhaps his grocery business began on Front Street; the 1880 US Census lists him as a grocer living (and presumably doing business) on Second Street. As covered in more detail on my Kashubian Cemetery Gates blog, the Milanowski family suffered a terribly when Jozef died unexpectedly at the age of forty-five. His widow, Anna Goven Milanowska (1846-1925), took charge of the grocery and eventually passed it on to their son, Hieronim "Jerome" Milanowski (1878-1940). Upon Jerome's death, the grocery was purchased by Vincent and Josephine Scharmach Breza, who passed the business on in 1957 to their daughter, Annette Breza Wieczorek and her husband, Ralph Wieczorek. The Wieczoreks closed the store in 1965 and converted it to a house, where Annette Wieczorek still lives. Until very recently, that was all I knew about the business: I had been far more interested in the Milanowski family itself.

Last week, though, I had the opportunity to meet Annette Wieczorek at the Polish Museum, where she is a volunteer. It turned out she had some of the record books (or "ledgers") from the Milanowski Grocery in her basement, and was waiting for someone to pick them up. With a big grin, Father Breza generously offered my services. What a treat! One ledger contained account information for the families of Jakob Bronk, Walenty Radomski, Pawel Rudnik, and even an account for Fr. Romuald Byzewski, pastor at St. Stan's from 1875 to 1890. It would seem Father Romuald enjoyed his three-cent stogies: he bought a hundred at a time, right around once a month. The same three dollars would buy the Bronks, Radomskis, or Rudniks three sacks of flour. But if anyone on the East End deserved a little luxury, it would be the good Father! These ledgers are not only fascinating for their beautiful handwriting, but they provide a gold mine of information about how Winona's Kashubian Polish families lived back in the day.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

M.J. Kowalewski Drug Store

If going up to Winona and staying at the Bambenek abode at 578 East Fifth was the coolest thing in the world back in the day, hitting up the candy store at 601 East Fifth Street was the second coolest thing. When I was a kid, the candy store was owned by Mom's uncle, Ralph Bambenek (1918-1988) and aunt, Bernice Stolpa Bambenek (1919-1977). No trip was complete without multiple trips to Uncle Ralph's to stock up on penny candy and (coincidentally, I'm sure) get out of the grownups' hair, if only for a short time. Uncle Ralph was always friendly enough to us kids. Mom claimed he could make himself sneeze whenever he wanted just by looking up at the sun, which only raised his status in my eyes. Aunt Bernice was another matter. She would stand behind the huge glass counter and just glare daggers at us while we dithered over exactly what we wanted her to fish out. Too bad. If she didn't like kids, she shouldn't have married a guy who owned a candy store. Oh yes, there was a liquor store with a separate entrance on Carimona Street, which the grownups no doubt found quite convenient.

The building at 601 East Fifth has enjoyed a long and interesting history. According to the Winona Herald, it housed a private business school in the late 1880s. At the turn of the century it housed the store of Mieczyslaw J. "M.J." Kowalewski, pharmacist and city political figure, who died in a tragic car accident in 1915 at the age of 61. Interestingly, M.J. Kowalewski was not related to the Kowalewskis of Hot Fish Shop fame, nor was he even of Kashubian descent, having been born in the Poznan region. The Kowalewski family did not live in the apartment over the store, but in the house next door at 208 Carimona. Sigmund Kowalewski, the oldest son and also a pharmacist, took over for a short time; by 1917, he had relocated to Minneapolis.

The establishment then did business as Max A. Goltz and Sons (a branch of the Goltz Pharmacy at 274 East Third), and from about 1921 to 1923, by J.M. Czapiewski as the "East End Drug Store." In 1923, the "Young Ladies' Onward League" maintained a clubhouse upstairs. In April, 1923 Henry Jezewski and Lawrence Jaszewski purchased the store. On March 1, 1962 Uncle Ralph took possession of the store from Lawrence Jaszewski and operated there until Aunt Bernice's death in 1977. At that point, Mary Pendleton and Mary Bergland then purchased the store and opened up Mary Twyce Antiques and Books. Ms. Bergland soon left the business, but Ms. Pendleton kept the store open until she retired, at age 89, in 2007. At present it hosts the "Find Your Peace" art studio and yoga school - a nice return to the building's original function!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Leokadia Weronika Pellowska 1892-1946

My maternal grandmother, Leokadia Weronika Pellowska was born on 16 November 1892 on the family farm in Trempealeau County, Wisconsin. She was the fifth of eleven children born to Jakub (1859-1937) and Franciszka nee Zabinska (1862-1938) Pellowski. By the time Leokadia was five, the Pellowski family had moved across the river to Winona, where her father Jake operated a saloon at 769 East Fifth Street. The saloon was evidently a family business: Jake's brother Anton Pellowski and his brother-in-law Joseph Olszewski also lived and worked there. Joe was the husband of Anna Pellowska Olszewski (1871-1844), who is the main character in Anne Pellowski's First Farm in the Valley.

But life in the big city must not have suited the Pellowski family, because Jake and Franciszka were back in Trempealeau County in time for the 1905 Wisconsin Census. By 1913 or so, Jake Pellowski was still farming, but he also operated a sawmill in Dodge. When he purchased a piece of woodworking equipment from a factory in Winona, the factory sent one Karol Bambenek (1864-1937) to accompany the equipment on the train to Dodge, and teach its new user how to operate it. For company, "Charlie" Bambenek brought along his son Jan Karol Bambenek (1891-1966); as luck had it, Leokadia Pellowska was hanging around with her dad at the sawmill. On November 17, 1914 they were married at Sacred Heart-Saint Wenceslaus Parish in Pine Creek.

My second cousin Becky Kaldunski was kind enough to share with me the beautiful picture of the Pellowski women at left, which dates back to the early 1910s. Leokadia is at upper right, standing beside her sister Wiktoria Pellowska Hermann (1888-1921). In front, from left to right, are Marianna Pellowska Kaldunski (1886-1963), Sophia Pellowska Dorava (1907-1970), Emeline Pellowska Lilla (1904-1993) and the materfamilias Franciszka herself. About the turn of the century, Polish women started to be called (at least in the English-speaking general public) by their "English" names - so this could also be called a picture of Laura, Victoria, Mary, Sophie, Emaline, and Frances.

I know only a few stories about Grandmother Bambenek; she died of a heart attack in 1946, when my  Mom (who was named after her) was only thirteen. As long as I can remember, we had these two pictures in our living room; looking back on it, it was weird that our only pictures of Grandmother Bambenek were taken while she was in her coffin. But that just means I have Mom to thank for my Wisconsin Death Trip streak.Just before Mom passed away in 2003, I took the time to scan some of the family photo collection and discovered this missing gem. It was taken in the Bambenek family home at 578 East Fifth Street, and I was able to date it to February 1942 from the calendar in the background. Grandma actually looks in very nice shape for a fifty year old woman with six children ranging in age from five to twenty-seven. Grandpa looks, well, hirsute for a fifty-one year old man from whom (I am told) I inherited my own distinctively receding hairline. I could also swear that he is photobombing Grandma.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Franciszek Eichmann

Franciszek Eichmann (1800 Lipusz - 1891 Burnside)
Katarzyna Maszk (1808 Lipusz? - bef. 1880 Burnside?)

The senior branch of the Eichmann family reached the United States first, but turned out to be rather less prolific. The 1860 US Census has "Frederic and Catherine Ashman" living in Dubuque, Iowa: a tip of the hat to Larry Reski at Poland to Pine Creek for making a connection I don't think anyone else would have caught. Assigning Franciszek to Lipusz seems a pretty safe bet, but Katarzyna earns a question mark. Although the PGSA's list of Kashubian surnames associates her surname with Lipusz, I have no hard proof as of yet.

The 1870 US Census finds Franciszek and Katarzyna living and operating a saloon in the town of Trempealeau. The 1880 Census finds Franciszek living in the town of Burnside with the family of his daughter Anna Katarzyna Kistowska and her husband Jakub Kistowski. Since Katarzyna is not listed in the 1880 census, I have to assume she was deceased by then, but the records are lacking.

The Franciszek and Katarzyna Eichmann family interests me because its members tended to settle not in the Dodge-Pine Creek area but in Trempealeau, or in the Burnside Township hamlet of New City. Founded in 1869 alongside Traverse Creek, New City's growth was cut short in 1876 when the Green Bay and Western Railroad built a depot one mile to the northwest, creating what became the city of Independence. As was the case with Arcadia Township, the majority of Burnside Township's Polish settlers had immigrated from Silesia, a region of Germany to the southwest of Kashubia. These Silesian Polish settlers included the Bautch, Gierok, and Sura familes.

The only one of Franciszek and Katarzyna's children I have able to trace is Peter P. Eichman, (1847 Lipusz - ? Burnside) in Lipusz. The 1870 US Census lists both Franciszek and Peter as "Saloon Keeper" in Trempealeau; Katarzyna is listed as "Keeping House" and one Lewis Sekoski (a boarder, perhaps?) is listed as "Works in Grain Warehouse." The grain warehouse reference strongly suggests that the Eichmann saloon was located in the town of Trempealeau, and that the saloon Peter established in New City was a later venture.

On 5 February 1872, Peter was married at Pine Creek to Susanna Sura, daughter of Silesian immigrants Peter and Tekla nee Kachel Sura. Sadly, Susanna passed away on 10 February 1873, perhaps from complications of giving birth to her son Paul P. Eichman (1873-?).  On 18 January 1874 Peter married Marianna Moga (1852-1942) at Saint Stanislaus Kostka in Winona.

Peter must certainly have been living in New City by this time, because Merle Curti lists him on page 102 of The Making of An American Community as a leader of the local Poles. When an 1873 fracas broke out between English speakers and Silesian Poles at Fugina's tavern in New City, it escalated into a near race riot. Although he was a Kashubian living in a settlement of Silesians (and not yet thirty years old, at that), Peter stepped forth as spokesman for the Poles of New City. He accomplished his goal so well that S.S. Luce, editor of the Galesville Journal and Record, commented positively both on Peter and on the Poles of New City in a followup article. Unfortunately, Peter drops out of the US Census records after 1880. In the 1900 US Census, Marianna Moga Eichmann is listed as both "head of the family" and "married." No sign of Peter... yet.

Alphonse Roman "A.R." Eichman (1879-1954), the son of Peter and Marianna, married Susanna Skroch (1879-1938) at Independence in 1901. He later operated a butcher shop in Trempealeau, and served as the town's postmaster from 1912 to 1935.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Wawrzyniec Eichmann

Wawrzyniec Eichmann (1807 Lipusz - 1880 Pine Creek)
Marianna Lipinska (1814 Lipusz - 1892 Pine Creek)

As the old tradition goes, Winona's first two Kashubian Polish families were the Bronks and the Eichmanns, both of which are said to have come from Wiele. The Jozef Bronk family of Wiele did indeed arrive in Winona in time for the 1860 US Census. The Eichmanns did not. Moreover, the Eichmanns who arrived after the 1860 US Census were from Lipusz. Wawrzyniec and Marianna nee Lipinska Eichmann were the second Eichmann family to reach the United States, after that of Franciszek and Katarzyna nee Maszk Eichmann. A sister, Marcianna Eichman Wera, also emigrated with her husband Maciej Wera to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1877.

Emigration and census data for Wawrzyniec and Marianna has not been found to date. The only material data is a headstone at Sacred Heart Cemetery in Pine Creek, inscribed "Maryana Eichman 1804-1892." That date would have made Marianna 56 when she gave birth to youngest of their twelve children, Franciszka Eichmann Spychala (1860-1937). Fortunately, two users list a range of birthdates for Marianna. I prefer the later end of the range, which is 1814, making her 46 at the birth of her last child.

The same two sources list Marianna's parents as Count Franciszek Ksawery Lubienski (1784-1826) and Paulina nee Potocka Lubienska (1793-1856). Neither surname is particularly Kashubian; rather, the Lubienskis and especially the Potockis were pillars of the Polish nobility. It's hard enough to imagine why such a storied couple would settle down in Lipusz, much less their marrying off their teenaged daughter to a humble son of the Kashubian soil. Maryanna was far, far more likely to be the daughter of plebeian Lipinskis.

The parents of twelve children, Wawrzyniec and Marianna headed the by far most prolific branch of the Eichmann family. I have come across some interesting stories about two of them: Anton Eichmann (1849-1908) and Zuzanna Marianna Eichman Betker (1851-1921).

Monday, April 29, 2013

Monica Barbara Kowalewska 1887-1954

Monica Barbara Kowalewska was born on August 5, 1887 in Winona. She was the first of nine children born to Jozef (1860-1930) and Anastasia nee Fortunska (1865-1938) Kowalewski. Like her slightly older classmate and (briefly) colleague, Franciszka Milanowska, Monica Kowalewska, better known by her married name of Monica Krawczyk, selected and pursued a rather different career track than most of Winona's young Kashubian Polish women. As a teacher, social worker, writer and activist, Monica Krawczyk's life and works illustrate and exemplify the transition of America's Kashubian Polish community.

Monica was a child prodigy, and her mother somehow found the time and energy to assist her talented daughter's education by teaching herself English. She attended Saint Stanislaus Kostka parish school and Winona High; as best I can tell she became in 1909 the second Kashubian Pole, after Frances Milanowska, to graduate from the Winona Normal School. After a short time teaching high school near the Canadian border in Tower, Minnesota she returned home to teach at Washington-Kosciuszko. Monica was very active in the church community and the Kashubian Polish community at large, founding the Outreach Club for her young countrywomen and directing a number of plays. But she was eager for new challenges, which led her to study social work at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

As a young social worker, Monica achieved literally spectacular success, going undercover to expose the exploitation of young Polish women in the Twin Cities. After marrying Mieczyslaw "Mitchell" Krawczyk of Minneapolis in 1916, she returned to a more traditional career as wife, schoolteacher and (eventually) mother. But deeply as she loved her Kashubian Polish traditions, her social outlook remained modern and American. The Winona Republican-Herald reported that she gave the dollars normally piled on a plate at a Polish wedding reception, to assist the young couple in buying a house, to a charity.

By the middle 1920s the Krawczyk family had grown to five with the addition of two sons and a daughter. Monica and Mitchell were able to hire a maid to take care of the housekeeping, which freed Monica to teach at Sheridan School and to write on the side. She was an extremely prolific contributor to a number of popular magazines and newspapers, which undoubtedly brought in additional money. She also began work on her own short stories, which focus on the challenges faced by Polish-American families, and which are collected in the anthology "When The Bough Breaks" or something like that. Also in the 1920s, she helped found the Polanie Club, which united young Polish-American women from the Twin Cities area in various social and cultural pursuits, and which still thrives to this day.

Monica was at work on a novel "Not By Bread Alone" when she died at the age of 67 in Minneapolis. Surely the manuscript must exist somewhere; it would be depressing indeed to think that the crowning work of such an educated, thoughtful, and socially active Kashubian Pole's literary career could just vanish into thin air. On the other hand, depressingly little of her work survives to this day, so maybe it is par for the course.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Jozef von Bronk

Jozef von Bronk (1810 Wiele - 1863 Winona)
Franciszka Grabska (1811 Gostomie - 1874 Winona)

Traditionally, the family of Jozef and Franciszka von Bronk was the first Kashubian Polish family to settle in Winona, in 1855. According to Ron Galewski on page 207 of Marshland and Whistler's Pass on Trail #35 (by the way, both of Ron's excellent books can be purchased at the Polish Museum Store), the von Bronks traveled to Winona from Gostomie, Polish Prussia by way of Quebec. This is true. They arrived in Quebec aboard the sailing ship ELBE, which left Hamburg on May 14, 1859; another passenger was Ron's own ancestor, Martin Galewski.

Paul Libera's celebrated article Polish Settlers in Winona, Minnesota states that "Mrs. Bronk, wife of one of the first two Polish settlers, died during the early days of Winona and was buried on the prairie outside the Polish settlement. When the City was plotted out shortly afterward a street was laid out directly over her grave." In fact, Franciszka Bronk is listed as a widow in the 1870 US Census, living in the house of her oldest son John. Sadly, the name of the actual decedent is lost to time; this is another example of why Libera's account desperately needs updating. Nor do we know anything more about Jozef and Franciszka. A little more is known about their five sons.

Jan "John" Bronk (1835-1898?) married Antonina Lukowicz (1846-1931) in 1873. They were arrested in 1880 for beating their children - quite an achievement in those times of "spare the rod, spoil the child." The children seem to have forgiven though, as the entire family moved out to Seattle, Washington just before the turn of the century. Antonia is listed in the 1899 Seattle city directory as the widow of John Bronk; whether John died in Winona or Seattle I do not yet know. I do know that he was not the John Bronk who died in Winona in 1931. In the Seattle directories from 1899 to 1907, the Bronk sons (Alexander, Lawrence, and Michael) are listed as employed in various segments of the lumbering industry and Frances Bronk is listed as a housekeeper.

Ignacy "Ignatius" Bronk (1839-1896) had three children with his first wife Maria (?-1873) and another six with his second wife Weronika Borszyzkowska (1850-1885). After Weronika died (perhaps in childbirth), he purchased a farm in Buffalo County, across the Trempealeau River from Dodge Township; he married his third wife Paulina Kubicki in Pine Creek. His eldest daughter, Katarzyna "Kate" Bronk (1873-1893) died in Winona under somewhat mysterious circumstances.

Wincenty "Vincent" Bronk (1842-1877) never married. Ron Galewski gives Wincenty's date of death as 1887, but there is no reference to him in the 1880 US Census. Wawrzyniec "William" or "Lawrence" Bronk (1848-1889) married Rozalia Kukowska (1852-1932); three of their seven children survived to adulthood. The youngest of these, Thomas J. Bronk (1888-1875) and his wife Helen Zielinski, were the parents of twelve children, all of whom survived to adulthood.

The youngest son, Jakub "Jacob" Bronk (1852-1919) was married three times and widowed twice. By his first wife Franciszka (1854-1880) he had six children, one of whom survived to adulthood. In 1882 he married Katarzyna Bambenek Czapiewska (1861-1888); this marriage produced two children, both of whom survived to adulthood. In 1889 he married Mary Mudra Kadlec (1860-1925) a Bohemian immigrant, with whom he had one child.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Walenty von Radowski 1836-1919

One of the first articles I stumbled upon after picking up the wheelbarrow last year was Sister M. Teresa OSF's 1948 work "Polish Settlements in Minnesota 1860-1900." It's been largely eclipsed over the years but still a fascinating read. In support of her point that most of Minnesota's Polish immigrants had originally intended to return to the Old Country someday, she cited an 1864 letter from "Walenty von Radowski" of Winona to the "Polish paper Echo z Polski" requesting back issues. I didn't stop to think about the newspaper or its contents, though I have since come to see them as fascinating. Instead, I was struck at once by the writer's use of "von." Why would the presumably patriotic Pole, Pan Walenty Radowski, use a title of German nobility in the United States? To a Polish paper, no less: didn't all good Poles despise Germans? And why would a nobleman emigrate to Winona anyway? Wouldn't his chances of enhancing the von Radowski family fortunes be better back in the Old Country?

I pretty quickly found the man in question. "Val. Radowski" arrived in New York on August 4, 1860 aboard the sailing ship Elise Rabike. Also aboard the Elise Rabike was another future Winonan, Jos. Milanowski. On January 9, 1865, "Valentin Radomski" and "Anna Kawalewska" were married in Winona. The switch from Radowski to Radomski is no big deal: even the Poles themselves are challenged by Polish names. The bride had in fact been baptized Antonina Kowalska, daughter of Szymon Kowalewski and Jozefina Styncel (Sztyncel, Stencel, Stencil, etc). Mr. and Mrs. Radomski relocated to a farm in Pine Creek shortly afterward, retiring to Winona at some point between the 1905 Wisconsin Census and the 1910 US Census.

Tragically, the cemetery records from Sacred Heart-Saint Wenceslaus Parish disclose that the Radomskis buried five children there between 1869 and the cholera outbreak of 1877. The available census information is confusing. It discloses a daughter Paulina (born 1886) and a son Leon (born 1889), along with a grandson or two. The 1919 obituary with its headline PIONEER WINONAN CALLED BY DEATH does not reference Leon, who was called by death on June 26, 1916. Paulina is the Mrs. Hildebrandt mentioned; she died without issue in 1929. I am still trying to identify Mrs. R. Smith of St. Paul, and to find Antonina Kowalewska Radomski's date of death. I would dearly love to find surviving descendants of Walenty and Antonina nee Kowalewska Radomski somewhere on this planet. Wish me luck. The "von" still remains a mystery to me, though.

I have no problem believing Walenty Radowski was an highly intelligent and educated man; his younger brother Wawrzyniec (1838-1915) was a longtime schoolteacher in Prussian Poland before emigrating to Winona with his family in 1887. If, in fact, he intended to return to the Old Country someday, his interest in Polish affairs was understandable. But Echo z Polski turns out to have been a New York publication, founded in 1863 by supporters of the January 1863 insurrection against the Russians. Its purpose, according to James S. Pula, was to reprint European articles concerning the insurrection and to build support within the nascent American Polonia. When the insurrection failed, so did Echo z Polski. Still the question remains: was Walenty interested in returning to Poland and joining the fight? If so, this would indicate that Walenty already identified to some extent as a Pole in addition to (or even instead of) a Kashubian Catholic boy from the region of Koscierzyna. I myself tend to think that most of Winona's Kashubian Poles came to consider themselves as Polacy only after they had settled down in the United States. More likely, Walenty was an unusually well educated young Kashubian Pole. It would be interesting to know why he and Antonina decided to farm across the river in Pine Creek when he could have stayed in Winona and pursued a political career like his old traveling buddy Jozef Milanowski. Perhaps his inner Kashubian got the better of his inner Pole?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Pawel Libera

Pawel Libera (1834 Wiele - 1916 Winona)
Antonia Dolna (1846 Lubnia - 1920 Winona)

This article is based primarily on information published by Larry Reski at Poland to Pine Creek.

Pawel Libera and Antonia Dolny were married on 6 June 1857 in Brusy, and emigrated to the United States shortly afterward. The 1860 US census finds "Paul and Caroline Lebence" living in Winona with their one-year-old son Albert, born that year in Winona. All subsequent census data gives Mrs. Libera's name as Antonia, so "Caroline" can be attributed to enumerator error. All extant sources list the Liberas among the Pine Creek, Wisconsin community's first settlers; their eldest daughter Marianna Libera Platta was born there in 1862. In 1864 the Liberas formally deeded to Sacred Heart-Saint Wenceslaus Parish the land upon which the church and cemetery are located.

By the time of the 1880 US census "Paul and Antonia Lubby" had returned to Winona, where they would spend the rest of their lives. The two youngest children, Josephine (age 5) and Joseph (age 1) are listed as born in Wisconsin , implying that the move was recent. Their youngest child, Emma, was born in Winona in 1881. When he was not working, Paul found time to participate in the Polish Dramatic Society, which elected him as its librarian in 1884. So much for the sterotype of illiterate immigrant Polacks, right?

Seven of the Liberas' ten children survived to adulthood. Albert Paul Libera (1860-1920), Mary Libera Platta (1862-1930?), Michael Libera Sr. (1865-1934), Walerya Libera Literski (1866-1917), Mamert Libera (1867-1955), Joseph Libera (1875-1960), and Emma Libera (1881-1962).

In 1905, Michael Libera Sr. founded the Libera and Sons Grocery at 616 (later 682-686_ West Fifth Street, a long-time landmark on Winona's West End. He was also a prominent Republican, somewhat unusual in a city where Kashubian Pole almost always equaled "Democrat."

Emma Libera joined the School Sisters of Saint Francis Assisi, and as Sister Mary Apollonia, taught for many years in local parochial schools, including the one at Sacred Heart-Saint Wenceslaus.

Paul K. Libera (1917-1999), a grandson of Michael Libera Sr., published several works on the early history of Winona's Kashubian Polish community.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Seventh and Mankato

"Seventh and Mankato."So it said on the back of one of the photos I scanned at the Polish Museum last month. Right below this inscription was a note saying the building - whatever it was had been razed to make way for Washington-Kosciuszko Elementary School. An typical brick building in East End Winona, with some typical looking East End Kashubian Poles standing in front of it. No indication of what sort of building it was, or when the picture was taken. Probably sometime around the turn of the century. But even "typical" scenes are precious to me, so I marked this one for further inquiry. Typing the search string "Seventh and Mankato" into the Winona Newspaper Project's search tool quickly yielded the answer I was looking for.

This building was a combination of saloon and grocery store established in 1884 at 351-353 Mankato Avenue by Teofil Jakob Sikorski (1840-1913), an immigrant from Bytow. He features prominently in Winona newspapers of the time as "Teefel," "Jacob," "Theodore," or just plain "T.J." Sikorski; his obituary is at right. Getting back to the picture,  351 Mankato (the door at right) is clearly the grocery and 353 Mankato is the saloon. On either side of the saloon door are signs advertising Bub's Beer, a famous Winona product.  I should mention that the combination of saloon and grocery was not particularly odd on Winona's East End, although the grocery seems to have been closed down when Sikorski sold the tavern to Erick Lubinski in 1898.

The Winona Newspaper Project also pointed out a connection between this building and the Hot Fish Shop. As everyone who is over thirty and able to locate Winona on a map could tell you, the Hot Fish Shop was a landmark on Winona's outskirts at the intersection of Highway 61 and Mankato Avenue. Its founder, a former professional fisherman named Henry Kowalewski,  publicized it by giving his customers free postage-paid postcards of Sugar Loaf looming over his restaurant, like the one at left. The idea was that the customers would write to their friends about what a great time they had in Winona - especially while eating at the Hot Fish Shop.

But the Hot Fish Shop had not always operated in the shadow of Sugar Loaf. The original Hot Fish Shop opened its doors in the former Sikorski saloon either on Christmas Day or on New Year's Eve 1931. When the time came to build the new Washington-Kosciuszko School in 1934, the Hot Fish Shop was one of a number of buildings condemned to make room. It closed on August 4, 1934 and reopened in its brand new facility on December 26th of that year. The picture at right is pretty much how I remembered it. When I was a kid, passing the Hot Fish Shop meant that we had finally, finally, made it to Winona. Actually eating at the Hot Fish Shop was something Mom and Dad and our aunts and uncles did, on special occasions. I'll never forget how impressed I was when I finally, finally, got to eat there. Or how depressed I was when it closed for good in 1999. There is a Dairy Queen on the site now. Progress.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Jozef Milanowski

Jozef Milanowski (1840 Wiele - 1885 Winona)
Anna Katarzyna Govin (1846 Osława Dąbrowa - 1925 Winona)

Jozef Milanowski was born circa 1840 to Hipolit and Franciszka nee Zabinska Milanowski. He arrived in New York on 4 August 1860 aboard the sailing ship "Elise Rabike" but does not seem to have been traveling with his father, who emigrated at about the same time, remarried in Winona, and ultimately moved to Portage County.  Anna Katarzyna Govin (alternative spellings abound) was born on 10 November 1846 to Antoni and Wiktoria nee Breza Govin.

No record exists of Jozef and Anna's marriage exists, but their first child, Mary Barbara, was born in Winona on 29 December 1861. The new mother herself had just turned fifteen. Eight of their nine children survived until adulthood: Mary Barbara Bambenek (1861-1932); Aleksander "Alex" Milanowski (1867-1897); William Milanowski (1874-1903); Roman Milanowski (1876-1903); Hieronim "Jerome" Milanowski (1878-1940); Leonard Milanowski (1880-1945); Franciszka Joanna Milanowski (1883-1964); Joseph Milanowski, Jr. (1885-1912).

The Milanowski family operated a grocery store at 557 East Second Street until Jerome Milanowski's death in 1940. Jozef was very involved in the Democratic Party, not just at the ward level but the city level, and he served two terms as Fourth Ward alderman. He was seeking a third term at the time of his sudden and unexpected death on 4 April 1885. As the two clippings from the Winona Daily Republican show, Jozef Milanowski enjoyed a status in Winona's public life which belies the all too familiar "dumb Polack" stereotype. Indeed, even the pastor from the Luxemburgian-American town of Rollingstone preached a sermon at Jozef's funeral: in German, no less.

Alex Milanowski seems to have taken up his father's place both in the family business and in politics. He was elected Fourth Ward school director in 1888 at the age of just twenty-one. He remained politically involved until his premature death on 30 December 1897.

Frances Milanowski graduated from Winona Normal School, and was a long-time elementary school teacher and benefactress of Saint Stanislaus Kostka church. There is much more information about her at the Smiles in Boxes blog.