Journey Around The City by: Jasmine Smyles


Polish Triangle: We Need Support

By Jasmine Smyles


They came in three major waves, flowing from Europe. Chicago held the second largest population of Polish people in the world behind Warsaw.

On December 5, 2013, the intersection Division Street, Ashland and Milwaukee Avenues was officially named the “Polish Triangle.” Although today, the Polish Triangle doesn’t resemble the Polish culture, which has died out.

“I remember seeing the old vibrant photograph and I compare it to now… yes I do get sad a little bit,” said Julita Siegel, 39, who lives in Elk Grove Village and works as a photography correction curator at the Polish Museum of America.

These photographs exist in the three elaborate levels of this museum. Adam Aksnowicz, 22, lives in Arlington Heights and is a docent and a collection care assistant for the museum, explained how there were three different waves of Polish immigration to Chicago.

The first wave was the largest in the 1870s due to the Franco Prussian War. The second wave was WWII and the nazi take over of Poland. The third wave was because of the “Solidarity” immigration as a result of the martial law in Poland in 1981.

But Why Chicago? Aksnowicz explained that during these mass immigrations there was a lot of work in Chicago with its steel mills, stockyards and railroads. Polish came and created their own town and comfort zone within Chicago.

Although now this Polish Triangle has change drastically and is more seen as a melting pot.

This might sound like a positive outcome, but Siegel expresses her concern of the lack of support for the Polish Museum of America. She stresses “we get only a small article in the paper or small recognition and advertising… if we had more support we can fix some of the issues within the building.”

However, the biggest event for the museum is on Pulaski Day, when all the politicians and the community come out to support and celebrate with them. This holiday always brings the neighborhood how it once was, vibrant and full of Polish culture. They work together as a team to gain members and support for the museum. “I don’t want this museum to be known as a Polish Institution,” Aksnowicz passionately states, “but as a Chicago Institution.”


A Dull Glow: The Polish Museum of America

By Katie Eppley

In the dull glow of distanct lighting a cleaning woman Helena Glinczak methodically cleanses the of photos and ceramics of a time long past. She descends the steps as a hundred painted eyes stare at her she feels as if she’s not alone, not as if there’s someone there but rather, something.

As she finishes her duties and begins to leave see hears the music of Ingnacy Paderewski’s minuet wafting through the still air.

Is it the ghost of a long departed pianist, or rather the memory of a culture long dead?

“The Polish Identity is part of the history.” says Adam Aksnowicz.

The 22-year-old docent and collections care assistant of the National Polish museum of America. He, like his coworkers Ferdinand Furnmor , 25, and Julita Sigel, 39, are passionate about Polish culture.

The National Polish Museum of America, located in Chicago’s Wicker Park, was established in 1935 in the former building for recruitment of Polish soldiers in the First World War and is now the largest collection of artifacts from the 1939 World’s Fair’s Polish Pavilion in the world. This beautiful museum also holds traditional costumes, military medals and uniforms, historic photographs and many artistic masterpieces.

Many of theses relics from the World’s Fair such as the striking pieces like “Poland’s Past”, “Poland’s Future” as well as a large collection of post impressionistic and Polish color style paintings. However, also in the year 1939 Poland was invaded by Germany and returning the art from the Polish pavilion to Europe encompassed a huge risk of their destruction so it was instead sold to the city of Chicago and eventually given to a safe heaven in the Polish Museum of America.

The museum also has annex known as the Paderewski Room in honor of the “Polish Elvis” Ingnacy Paderewski, a famous pianist and spokesman for Polish independence. The Paderewski room is the largest collection of Paderewski memorabilia in the entire world including his practice piano, and the pen, he used to sign the Treaty of Versailles.

But within with this already intriguing collection is a much more intriguing object of the metaphysical variety, the ghost of Paderewski himself is said to haunt this room where his deathbed is displayed. Some of the cleaning staff has heard the sound of his typewriter typing or piano playing. Regardless of weather or not the Polish Museum of America is haunted, it’s a gem of the polish culture in an area where the culture is fading.

According to photography collection curator Julita Sigel, 39, though the Polish culture is less vibrant then it used to be in the Wicker park area you can still find it if you know where to look.

And in her own words “ I would like to see more Polish influence in the community again, to see Poles come here and support the museum…it would be great to have more support from the Polish community”



Paderewski: The Polish Elvis

By Roy Purdy

Polish influence in Chicago has a history going back 150 years. Ignacy Jan Paderewski was a Polish politician as well as an accomplished pianist.

He was born on November 6, 1860 and died June 29, 1941.

He was a member of the Polish National Committee in Paris, and soon became representative of the organization.

He played an important role in getting Poland its independence. He signed the treaty of Versailles.

IMG_3397Paderewski was a supporter of the Polish Museum of America. He has a whole section in the Museum dedicated to him. In this section, the actual hotel room that he died in is preserved. The Polish Museum helps keep his long lasting legacy alive.

In 1922, he retired from politics to focus on composing music. He was tremendously famous for his piano playing abilities. He toured the world playing at big concert venues.

“He was the first musician to perform at Madison Square Garden,” said Adam Aksnowicz, 22, tour guide at the Polish Museum of America.

His last composition lasted an astounding 75 minutes.

His life may be over, but his music lives on.

“Paderewski’s fame was equivalent to that of Elvis Presley,” Aksnowicz said.

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Diamond in the Rock

By Maisha Kasole
In a dark empty museum along Milwaukee Avenue, in Chicago’s Wicker Park, Julita Maria Sigel, 39, a photographer, talks with melancholy of the old photographs.

“ Look at those photographs, you can tell it was a very vibrant community,” she said of the photographs in the Polish Museum of America.
The black and white photographs of crowded streets, in front of museums, theaters, and restaurants.
Glimpses of the past, men laughing and kids running.

Today, Walgreens and Starbucks has replaced the little Polish shops.

Visitors to the so-called “ Polish Triangle,” which is Division Street, Milwaukee and Ashland Avenues, see little evidence of the Polish culture.

A Polish restaurant, a theater, and a museum, are the remainders of that original Wicker Park. Today, it looks like any other neighborhood touched by gentrification; it looks random.

First in 1870, Polish came to Chicago to escape a war, they didn’t believe in. It was the first wave. During World War II, a second wave of refugees came. The last wave was the third wave, they arrived after the collapse of communism, in 1980’s.

The Polish people are now spread in the suburbs, some of them return to Poland to look for jobs. There is no hope for a fourth Polish wave of immigrants.

Those who did come 40 years ago didn’t fit in with the old generation, and their perspective of a Poland that doesn’t exist anymore.

Wicker Park is a museum. Each and every street has been once crossed, by a Polish immigrant. Some man or woman who believed in the American Dream.

Every day, 13,000 human beings cross those streets, they live on those houses.

The Polish culture is like a diamond, in the rock, for tourists. They try to find it, but only the ghost of it is left.

Ferdinand Fornmoi, a 25-year-olds is Hispanic. The young man always has been interested in the Polish culture. “ Polish culture can still be found,” he said,” but you have to look for it. “

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A Linger of a Soul

By Jamison Harold Terbrack

Polish Museum of America

It is said by some that on the West Side of Chicago, on Milwaukee Avenue, there is a building haunted by the ghost of a past famous pianist.

The cleaning lady at The Polish Museum of America said that at night, she has heard the piano play by itself as well as the typewriter type on its own.

“Different people have claimed there is a ghost here, I have not heard it, but a few people have,” Adam Aksnowicz

The Polish community has left the neighborhood, but the spirit of Paderewski is still lurking. While people may have a different address now, their soul resides in the neighborhood.

What was once a prominent city run by Poles is now a quite diverse area.

Established in the year of 1935, after a fire wiped out a Polish library, The Polish Museum of America still stands tall today 80 years later.

This crown jewel of the Polish community stands in a close proximity to another focal point of visitors, the Polish Triangle.

The Polish Triangle is in the neighborhood Wicker Park, where Divison street, Milwaukee, and Ashland avenues all meet.

It is one of the oldest ethnic museums in the United States as well as the old standing museum of its type.

Aksnowicz, 22, who lives in Arlington Heights, has worked as a docent and collection care assistant for a year now.

“We want to also be a Chicago landmark rather than just a Polish one,” Aksnowicz said.

This does not come as a surprise, as the museum is trying to gather money to help with repairs, but the majority of the community around Chicago has not given enough for resources yet.

A few eye-grabbing artifacts around the museum come from the 1939 World Fair. This was the first time the Poles got to participate in the spectacle.

The building was used as a recruiting center for Poles to join the army in its earlier days, and there are pictures around the building, which show off these times.

Possibly the most noteworthy thing about the museum is that in there is a room dedicated to Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the famous Polish pianist, as well as former Prime Minister to Poland

The room has a vast span of artifacts relating to Paderewski. Among these are the bed he died in, his person piano, and many other exceptional pieces.

Julita Siegel, 39, of Elk Grove Village, is the photography collection curator.

“The museum was lucky that the Paderewski collection was donated to the museum by his sister after his death,” said Siegel.

“The closest relatable person to Paderewski is the American Elvis, he was that big so its amazing that we have his belongings here,” Aksnowicz said.



The Truth of Wicker Park’s Gentrification

By Katrina Nickell

Thirty years ago, Helena Madej, opened her family owned and operated Polish Restaurant in Wicker Park, once home to many other Polish Immigrants. The streets outside of Podhalanka restaurant used to be full of rich Polish heritage and liveliness as Madej recalled. Today, the streets outside are surrounded by pigeons and street people.

The vicinity of the Polish Triangle–identified at the intersection of Division Street, and Milwaukee and Ashland Avenues, what is remembered to be the heart of the once lively Polish community– would be unrecognizable to some returning 50 years later.

“Now we have 95 percent American people who live here. The younger generation, maybe later generations of Polish people, and American people working downtown,” Madej said. “A lot of people don’t have good jobs, and then they don’t have money and go to other places because rent is too expensive.”

Today, the Chopin Theatre and Podhalanka, are the only remaining Polish owned businesses around the Polish Triangle.

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Stained glass window that was apart of Poland’s first World Fair collection in 1939. Photo by Anjali Patel

Madej has been very aware of the decline in the Polish population.

While gentrification is to blame for the decline in this once lively Polish neighborhood, there are other causes to the effect. Some not as obvious as many think.

Due to Poland joining the European Union in 2004, this was one cause to the decline.

“That changed things drastically,” said Adam Aksnowicz, 22, Polish Museum of America docent, Adam Aksnowicz, 22. “Now they are European citizens which means they can travel work and live freely in any other European Union country. Now that there are these greater opportunities in Europe many are staying and going back.”

The decline of Polish residents in Wicker Park is also the result of people seeking a better lifestyle. They often found a better lifestyle in the suburbs.

Julita Sigel, 39, a Polish immigrant herself and photography collector curator at the Polish Museum of America  said, “having a house where you can have more space, a garden, a place where your kids can run around and play freely.” This was the better lifestyle they found.

“They were not really pressured out but were becoming richer and could afford more,” Siegel said. “It was a natural process.”


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Gentrification of Wicker Park

By Anjali Patel

Gentrification: the once festive Polish triangle

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Photo by Anjali Patel

of Chicago has become littered with garbage.

Gentrification: the streets that were once lined with traditional Polish shops and bakeries has been taken over by the newer, more upscale businesses.

Gentrification: the place that was once home to many Polish immigrants looking to form a community has been compromised by wealthier urban settlers.

Wicker Park, Chicago first became a settling place for Polish immigrants in the early 1870s due to a war in their country. This was followed by two more waves of immigration. One after World War II another in the 1980s following the fall of communist Poland.

The concentration of Poles allowed for the growth of community and traditional Polish culture in this new country. And although immigrants were not always accepted as equals in American society until much later, the Poles of Chicago could group together to support each other and their lifestyles.

As times changed, however, newer Polish immigrants could no longer relate with the older immigrants; this created a division in the population resulting earlier establishments to die out. From here, it only became more difficult to keep the Polish culture alive.

Ferdinand Furnmor, 25, an intern at the Polish Museum of America moved to Chicago from Mexico. His perspective on Polish culture is reflective of the fact that he was not here to see Wicker Park as it once was– a primarily Polish community.

“I’ve only heard that this used to be a very Polish neighborhood, that it was teaming with a lot of Polish immigrants. Over the years it has changed; there are a lot of Hispanics, African Americans, and Eastern Europeans here now. But I have taken Polish classes around the neighborhood and there are still pockets of the city that still hold a number of Polish communities,” Furnmor said. “It has become very diverse.”

As more corporate entrepreneurs opened shop in the town, Wicker Park lost its sense of Polish identity. It, more or less, became a new and hip hangout for younger and richer people making property values unaffordable to locals. But, as a different crowd began to inhabit Wicker Park, the area became more diverse and the crime decreased significantly. However, with the original Poles left a lot of the culture that made Bucktown the Polish community it once was.

Julita Siegel, 39, is a photography collection curator at the Polish Museum of America and she moved to Elk Grove Village, Chicago from Poland 14 years ago. She believes in the importance of the Polish people of Chicago supporting their community by visiting the museum and making an effort to keep in touch with their roots.
“I would love to see more Polish influence in the community again and to see Poles come in here and support the museum. It’s inexpensive and if all the Poles in the city and in the suburbs would support us we would be a bigger organization,” Siegel said. “It would be great if we could have a greater support from the Polish community.”


The Hidden History of Wicker Park

By Erin McDermott

Within the countless coffee shops and independent businesses that line the bustling streets of Chicago’s Wicker Park lies an untold story of a culture that shaped the neighborhood itself.

Wicker Park is home to some of the trendiest restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries in all of Chicago. It attracts a growing number of young people either visiting or residing in the area. Although hipster culture and hipster residents mainly dominate the neighborhood, its strong Polish history speaks for itself in numerous ways.

Stained glass window at the Polish Museum of America

“You can definitely see it in the architecture… churches, the style in which they’re made is very very Polish,” said Adam Aksnowicz, 22, Collections Care Assistant at the Polish Museum of America.

That same Polish style architecture can be seen in private  residences and businesses all over Wicker Park. Polish culture in Wicker Park is celebrated more explicitly through the existence of the Polish Museum of America and the Chopin Theatre. Both places keep Polish history and traditions alive by making them accessible to the public, and offering educational opportunities in the forms of art and theatre.

The Polish roots connected to Wicker Park exist because of three major waves of immigration. The first wave was in the 1870s, the second was during World War II, and the third was in the 1980s. Each wave brought a part of Polish heritage with them in terms of the immigration of people, the construction of architecture, and the naming of the intersection between Division Street, Ashland Street and Milwaukee Avenue. The intersection is still known as, “the Polish Triangle,” today.

The history of Wicker Park is often overshadowed by the trendy element that attracts many to the area, but a rich Polish background permeates through the surface and tells the story of the seemingly new and up-and-coming neighborhood. Polish heritage lies within the passionate Polish people eager to share their history.

“It’s nice and I’m proud to be Polish… We know what we are, where we are,” said Zygmunt Aksnowicz, 63, owner of the Chopin Theatre.

An Unexpected Reality: Wicker Park

By Amy Tan

When Zygmunt Dyrkacz first immigrated to Chicago from Poland 27 years ago, he found a place that was far from what he had imagined back in Poland. He is one of the many Polish immigrants who saw greater economic opportunities in America and idealized the country in their minds. But instead of wealthy, pristine streets, he discovered a Polish neighborhood overridden with robbery and gang violence, Wicker Park.

“There were bullet holes in the windows of this place, which was considered normal,” said Dyrkacz, 63, describing his first years living in Wicker Park. Today, he owns the eclectic Chopin Theater in the center of the neighborhood.

Wicker Park is an ethnic enclave that lies in the north side of Chicago. At first glance, it looks like any other up-and-coming neighborhood in Chicago. The area is filled with trendy coffee shops and fast food chains, such as Wendy’s. However, only locals and experts know that this place is also at the heart of the “Polish Triangle”, bound by Division Street, Ashland, and Milwaukee Avenues.bucktown

The Polish Triangle established its roots in the 1870s, when the first wave of Poles immigrated to Chicago in search of economic and political freedom. They were under constant military distress, caught between the lines of the Prussian and French armies. To them, America seemed like a place of solace and prosperity, an ideal that held for subsequent waves of Polish immigrants.

“When I went back to Poland to visit, my relatives told me that I spoke like a peasant. That’s because my parents were farmers, and I just copied how they spoke,” said Adam Aksnowicz, 22, a docent and collections care assistant at the Polish Museum of America.

Aksnowicz’s parents, like many others, came to America knowing only their trade, farming. When the poverty-stricken immigrants discovered the economic bleakness of the Great Depression in the 1920s, Polish gangs were created to mitigate the harsh circumstances. These original gangs left an important legacy of violence and crime on the subsequent gangs that Dyrkacz encountered during his first days in Chicago.

However, as gang activity died down around the turn of the 20th century, so did the Polish identity in Wicker Park. Less and less Poles immigrate to America today as a result of Poland joining the European Union in 2003, which allowed for greater economic freedom in Poland.

Young urban professionals, or “yuppies,” are moving in to fill that void. They
are bringing with them their hip indie shops and generic chain stores, replacing the small, family-owned Polish businesses in the area.

As Andrew Obarski, 26, an intern at the Polish Museum of America and a history major at Loyola put it: “Polish culture is virtually nonexistent nowadays.

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The Myth of Wicker Park

By Asha Rowland


The Polish Museum of America

A word that best describes the Polish community in Chicago’s Wicker Park, according to Andrew Obarski, 26, an intern at the Polish Museum of America.

Wicker Park is a neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago, and was once the center of the Chicago Polish community, until, Poles moved further from the city and to the surrounding suburbs.

What was once an area full of lively Polish shops, restaurants and theaters, is now a gentrified area.

Obarski, who is also a student at Loyola University Chicago, described the dilution of the Polish culture of the area, but also said that the Polish community was originally spread out to begin with.

Still, the Polish boundaries of the area are represented with structures such as the symbolic Polish Triangle, Chopin Theatre, as well as the Polish Museum of America.

Adam Aksnowicz, 22, a docent and collections care assistant at the Polish Museum of America, said the first wave of Poles to Chicago happened in the 1870s. He explained how they were mostly uneducated and barely able to speak English. Yet, over time, they began to adjust, still sticking together in their community, even during the second migration caused by WWII.

However, Aksnowicz explained how the third migration of Poles occurred in the 1980s as a part of the Solidarity Movement, bringing a wave of Communist-raised Poles that did not blend well with the uneducated Poles of the area.

As a result of this new blend, Aksnowicz said that, “over time, the Polish community just died out in this area.”


Confirming this was Zygmunt Dyrkacz, 63, owner of the Chopin Theatre and a resident of Wicker Park for 36 years.

“Now everything is gone,” Dyrkacz said.

Dyrakacz explained this dilution when he said that, “slowly the kids went to schools, and parents told kids not to speak Polish…it would limit their chances.”

While gentrification in Wicker Park may have reduced crime and raised property values, Dyrakacz bemoans the loss of Polish culture.

“I feel it would be better for Chicago if the little areas were kept alive” he said. “It gives it a little flavor.”