History of Pulaski Monument in Utica, New York
Casimir Pulaski was one of several young and idealistic foreign soldiers instrumental in training and organizing colonial forces during the American Revolution. Others in this group of foreign military leaders included Marquis de Lafayette, Baron von Steuben, and fellow Pole, Thaddeus Kosciusko. These European officers played a crucial role in the success of the Colonial forces under the leadership of General Washington.
General Kazimierz (Casimir) Pulaski came from Poland in 1777, eager to assist the 13 Colonies in their war against Great Britain. His role as an expert horseman in the Battle of Brandywine in Pennsylvania on September 11 quickly brought him to prominence in the war effort. Shortly after that battle, he was made a Brigadier General in charge of a brigade of cavalry.
In 1778, he helped recruit and train a special corps from a pool of American, Polish, Irish, French and German troops. This became known as Pulaski's Legion. He later became known as the "Father of the American Cavalry."
During the Siege of Savannah, Georgia, on October 9, 1779, Pulaski was seriously wounded. Removed from the field, he was taken to the USS Wasp and died two days later on October 11, 1779.
General Cosimir Pulaski Day
October 11 is by Presidential proclamation, "General Pulaski Memorial Day." This day may go largely unnoticed to many Americans. However, it is often observed with parades, special dinners, and speeches in communities with a large Polish population.
The State of Illinois has celebrated Pulaski Day on the first Monday in March since 1977. This recognizes his birthday (March 6) rather than the date of his death.
History of Pulaski Monument in Utica, New York
Pulaski Day has a fairly long history in the Mohawk Valley. As there are many Polish Americans in the area, this is often a highlight of observances related to October's Polish American Heritage Month.
During the 1920s, a Pulaski Memorial Committee was formed as the 150th anniversary of Pulaski's death in 1779 was approaching. The goal was to raise enough funds to erect a statue of Pulaski. This was unveiled on October 12, 1930. At the conclusion of a large parade, about 10,000 people gathered at the monument site on the Parkway and Oneida Street in Utica.
The program chairman was W. Pierrepont White. The pastor of Holy Trinity Parish, Rev. Dr. Michael Dzialuk made the dedication, and then presented the statue to the City of Utica. J. Herbert Gilroy, the city's corporation counsel, formally accepted this gift on behalf of the city.
From the Utica Airport, two airplanes made a flyover of the crowd. Representatives from the Polish Government made speeches. Parish priests, as traditional leaders of the Polish Community, played an important role in the festivities. With the large turnout and participation of Polish guests and the Polish-American community, and the resulting monument to Pulaski, this event was a huge success.
After World War II, a General Casimir Pulaski Memorial Association was formed. For many years, this group sponsored a parade and wreath laying ceremony, usually followed by a large banquet. This was traditionally on the first Sunday in October. The crowds for this ceremony gradually decreased in number over the years.
Many years later, a portion of New York State Route 12 was named the Casimir Pulaski Memorial Highway. There are still signs commemorating this along the highway which runs through the largely Polish neighborhood of West Utica.
In 2008, the wreath laying ceremony fell on Sunday, September 28. The Polish Flag was raised at Utica's City Hall in recognition of the month of October as Polish American Heritage Month. Ceremonies at the monument included the Proctor National Junior ROTC, with a performance by the Little Poland Dance Ensemble. The afternoon gathering was followed by a dinner that evening at the Polish Community Club on Columbia St. in Utica.
Whether this will continue to be held late September, or on the more traditional second Sunday of October, closer to the actual date of Pulaski's death, remains to be seen. However, with a large Polish-American community in Utica and the surrounding area, it is likely to be observed in some manner for many years to come.
Pulaski remains an important symbol of close ties between the U.S. and Poland that began with assistance from Pulaski and other Poles during the war for American independence.
Pula, James, Editor. Ethnic Utica. Utica, New York: Ethnic Heritage Studies Center at Utica College, 2002. Chapter 9, "Utica's "Polonia," by Eugene Dziedzic.
Utica Observer Dispatch, September 26, 2008
33. U.S. Consulate in Krakow
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History of Pulaski Day