The Caucus Blog – Casimir Pulaski

Casimir Pulaski Day in Illinois

Casimir Pulaski Day was officially designated as a statewide observance in Chicago and Illinois in 1986. It is observed each year on the first Monday in March in recognition of Pulaski’s March 6 birthday. Pulaski, a Polish-born hero of the American Revolution, was killed in battle during the ‘Siege of Savannah’ in 1779. 

Chicagoland is known for its large concentration of Polish Americans. The population of Illinois includes over 875,000 Polish Americans, second in the U.S. to only New York. The holiday’s significance to Illinois relates to its large Polish American base and serves to honor one of its national heroes. There are just under 2 million Polish Americans living in Chicagoland, and Polish is the third most-spoken language in the region. 

Pulaski, a freedom fighter in Russian-occupied Poland, had a distinguished record on the battlefield before being forced out following invasions by Austria and Prussia. He met Benjamin Franklin in Paris in 1776 and offered to come to America to assist the American Revolution. Pulaski led a successful attack against the British during the Battle of Brandywine. Soon thereafter, Pulaski was appointed to be a General and First Leader of the U.S. Cavalry. He is famously quoted as saying, “I came here, where freedom is being defended, to serve it, and to live or die for it.” 

Schools were originally closed on Casimir Pulaski Day in Illinois, but waivers can now be requested by individual districts to opt-out and have regular school days. State government offices are open, and banks and local governments are allowed to decide any closures or schedule changes on their own. The City of Chicago and Cook County government offices are closed on Pulaski Day, and Chicago Public Libraries are also closed. 

Lawmakers in Washington made Pulaski just the seventh foreigner to become an Honorary Citizen of the United States in 2009. Pulaski earned the nicknames ‘Soldier of Liberty’ and ‘Father of American Cavalry’ during his short time fighting in the Revolutionary War. Pulaski’s crew was sent to the south to fight against the British. He was severely wounded in October 1779 in Savannah, Georgia, and died days later. 

Pulaski Day celebrations in Chicago include a gathering with state and local leaders at the Polish Museum of America. Holy Trinity Church is not far away from there and was founded in the 1870s to serve the rising Polish population. Chopin Theatre has been restored and features many artistic and theatrical works from Eastern Europe. A visit to the Podhalanka restaurant on Division Street is also highly recommended, with many delicious Polish dishes on the menu.