The first Monday of March is coming up, which means it’s Casimir Pulaski Day on March 6. A Pulaski Pils beer from Maplewood Brewery & Distillery (2717 N. Maplewood Ave.) is available at The General (2528 N. California Ave.) the evening of the holiday.
In honor of Casimir Pulaski, a Polish-American war hero, the holiday is particularly popular in Chicago.
After growing up in Poland, Pulaski opposed Polish King Stanislaw II, who many thought was a puppet of the Russians. Pulaski was exiled to France in 1775, where he met Marquis de Lafayette and Benjamin Franklin, who led him to immigrate to America. He then fought in the Revolutionary War, leading the Pulaski Legion, which consisted of many fellow “foreign” soldiers. They saw successful battles against the British. He later fought in Savannah, Georgia, and died of a wound.
Along with the U.S., the Polish population in America grew, especially in Chicago, but they didn’t have distinct neighborhoods in the city until the 1860s. Polish-Americans in Chicago lobbied for recognition of Casimir Pulaski, and they successfully saw Crawford Road become our Pulaski Road. It’s a sordid story with an ugly 20-year history involving anti-Polish sentiment, said Dan Pogorzelski, a writer and editor for Forgotten Chicago, an organization that shares the history of Chicago. Some business owners impacted by the name change handed out leaflets, “which were racist, to be quite honest,” Pogorzelski said. They likened Polish-Americans to African-Americans, using the same negative stereotypes. In the end, though, the road change is seen as a symbol of acceptance of Polish-Americans into American society. Polish-Americans’ struggle for recognition is a saga that’s definitely true in Logan Square, he added, along with the struggles of many other people. It was a struggle “from exclusion to acceptance,” Pogorzelski said.
The push for a statewide Casimir Pulaski Day then came in the 1970s, becoming official in 1977 and being a fully public holiday in 1985, providing schools and certain government offices the day off. However, public schools in Illinois now have an option not to observe the holiday, following a 2012 negotiation between the Chicago Teacher’s Union and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
There are nearly a million Polish-Americans living in Illinois, with 23 percent of them living in Chicago and 65 percent living in the suburbs, according to The Polish Community in Metro Chicago and Census 2000 data. Logan Square houses nearly 5,000. By comparison, Portage Park has more than 20,000, making it the largest Polish-American population in the city.
“Logan Square, like other neighborhoods of Chicago, Polish-Americans are not just part of the community, but they’re also part of the history of Logan Square,” Pogorzelski said. In Logan Square, there was a plurality of Polish-Americans, he said, so much so that in the 1950s and 1960s, a nickname for the Illinois Centennial Monument was The Polish Falcon. The Polish Falcons of America is also a Polish-American fraternal benefit society, whose first patron was Tadeusz Kosciuszko, whose ties to Logan Square are in the form of our Kosciuszko Park. In the past, Logan Square Masonic Temple — now Armitage Baptist Church (2451 N. Kedzie Blvd.) — was the home of the Casimir Pulaski Lodge. Naturally, Casimir Pulaski Day is part of Logan Square’s history, too.
In regards to tradition around the day, it’s still forming, Pogorzelski said. Some folks listen to the song Casimir Pulaski Day by Sufjan Stevens, for example, and others just use it as a day of rest. “There’s a lot of liberty because it’s still a rather new tradition,” he said.
The General will be celebrating its own version of Casimir Pulaski Day by serving fresh Paczkis from the restaurant’s in-house baker, along with Pulaski Pils, a beer from Maplewood Brewery & Distillery. “Boots” of the beer will be $4 during the March 6 celebration.
There is a strong tie of Pulaski to beer, as the most popular beer in Poland is from Warka Brewery, named after his hometown and featuring Pulaski on their label, Pogorzelski shared. The Pulaski Pils from Maplewood is inspired by the beers that are historically popular in both Poland and Chicago — easy drinking lagers and pilsners, said Adam Smith, brand manager and brewer at Maplewood. For this beer, brewers used a European and American hop hybrid, Santiam, to represent Pulaski’s roots. “We have a lot of Polish pride in the brewery and of course we wanted something that would encompass Chicago as well. Pulaski seemed perfect,” Smith said.
When asked what attendees should know about the occasion, Smith said that “Polish parties have been known to get a bit rowdy.” The event at The General will run from 7 p.m. to midnight.