What great serendipity we enjoyed this past Easter Sunday. Our walk through Central Park brought us to a Polish Easter party at the base of the impressive King Jagiello Monument. This celebration by New York’s Polish community has been held each Easter for the past 15 years.
It was a lively affair, with friendly folks eager to share what they had, to make friends, and celebrate a beautiful day. There was joy in the air, as well as the Polish language. It was too late for me to wish everyone Szczęśliwego nowego roku, Happy New Year. It is the only Polish I know. I learned it for our 1998/1999 Christmas/New Year’s trip to Poland.
This is the perfect spot for Poles to party, under the intense gaze of King Jagiello. The blue stone circle that stretches between King Jagiello and the edge of Turtle Pond plays host to traditional Polish and Lithuanian folk dancing during the summer.
New York City’s Central Park has twenty-nine sculptural works of art. My favorite is the equestrian bronze monument to the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, Wladyslaw II Jagiello. The Monument overlooks the Turtle Pond, across from Belvedere Castle; nearby are the Great Lawn, Cleopatra’s Needle and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Polish sculptor Stanslav K. Ostrowski (1879-1947) created this striking bronze monument. It stood at the entrance to the Polish Pavilion for the 1939 New York World’s Fair, which was held in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in the NYC borough of Queens. On both sides of the reddish brown granite plinth the word ‘POLAND’ is chiseled.
When the Nazis invaded Poland on the 1st of September 1939, marking the start of the Second World War, the personnel and equipment related to the New York World’s Fair Polish Pavilion were forced to remain in the United States. That included the King Jagiello Monument, which was placed in storage. In July 1945 it was donated to the City of New York by the King Jagiello Monument Committee, with support from the Polish government in exile. It was permanently placed in Central Park with the help of the last pre-Communist Consul General of Poland in New York, Kazimierz Krasicki.
The inscription at the front the plinth reads as follows:
King of Poland
Grand Duke of Lithuania
1386 – 1434
Founder of a Free Union of the
Peoples of East Central Europe
Victor Over the Teutonic
Aggressors at Grunwald
July 15 · 1410
I was told that the woman in the center wins the Easter bonnet competition each year!
With the Polish nation under the Nazi boot, and then that of the Communists, the King Jagiello Monument took on added significance as a symbol of the proud and courageous Polish people.
King Wladyslaw Jagiello, the Grand Duke of Lithuania united Lithuania and Poland as the leading power of Eastern Europe, after marrying the eleven-year-old Queen Jadwiga of Poland in 1386 and becoming king.
The monument illustrates the moment at the 1410 Battle of Grunwald when the King crossed two swords over his head symbolizing the combined force of the Lithuanian and Polish troops. The swords had been given to the King before the battle by Ulrich von Jungingen, Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights of the Holy Cross, the adversaries of Poland and Lithuania. The Battle of Grunwald, known as the First Battle of Tannenberg in Germany, saw Polish and Lithuanian forces, aided by Ruthenians, Czechs and Tatars, defeat the Teutonic Order, which had the support of German, Dutch and English knights.
There were monumental Easter bonnets to match the monumental setting.