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Chicago Celebrates Polish Heritage On Pulaski Day

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Pulaski Day Band

A band plays traditional Polish music on Sunday at the Celebrate Poland festival in the Crystal Garden at Navy Pier. (2009 File Photo; Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Some people are fortunate enough get the day off for Casimir Pulaski Day Monday, as Chicago celebrates the city’s rich Polish culture.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Dave Dahl reports, Pulaski Day was added to the calendar in Illinois in September 1977, when a state law sponsored by then-state Sen. Leroy Lemke (D-Chicago) was approved making the day a state holiday.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Dave Dahl reports

The dedication of the first Monday in March as Pulaski Day is in recognition of the heavy Polish population of the Chicago area. There are more people of Polish descent in Chicago than anywhere outside Poland, points out Jan Lorys, director of the Polish Museum of America, 984 N. Milwaukee Ave.

“The Americans, in order to win the Revolutionary War, had to fight in a European manner,” Lorys said, adding George Washington’s experience in the French and Indian War left him in need to help from the likes of Pulaski.

Pulaski is honored in many other places besides Chicago.

“There are so many places named after Pulaski,” says Lorys, pointing out that Little Rock, Ark., is the county seat of Pulaski County, Arkansas. Illinois has a Pulaski County at the southern end of the state.

But there was another Polish hero in the Revolutionary War that has only a few places named in his honor, Lorys pointed out.

“There’s only a few places named after the Polish-American hero, Thaddeus Kosciusko, and one of them is Kosciusko, Mississippi,” the birthplace of Oprah Winfrey.

Lorys says as a former history teacher, he doesn’t mind schools opting to hold class today, so long as they do something to honor Pulaski.

The Illinois State Board of Education does not keep track of how many districts decide to skip the holiday and spend the day in class instead; a spokesman says districts handle this locally.

Chicago Public Schools and many suburban schools are closed Monday. All Chicago city and Cook County offices are also closed, as are Cook County courts – with the exception of Central Bond Court (Br. 1) which is holding its usual midday call.

Federal courts, and the Illinois Appellate and Supreme courts, will be open. Banks and financial markets are operating as usual, and mail will be delivered.

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