Global True Lithuania Encyclopedia of Lithuanian heritage worldwide

Detroit, Michigan

Like other industrial megalopolises of the USA Detroit attracted a Lithuanian community since well before World War 2. Detroit Lithuanians worked at the automobile factories of what was the world automobile manufacturing capital (it still is the home for Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler). 4879 Lithuanians lived in Detroit during the 1930 census.

The old Lithuanian district of Detroit

For most of the 20th century, the Lithuanian life in Detroit centered in the area southwest of the downtown (today's Mexicantown) around the key institutions of St. Anthony Roman Catholic church and the Lithuanian Hall.

St. Anthony Roman Catholic Lithuanian church was built in 1920 in Southwest Detroit (1750 25th St.). The massive brick building has two floors. The main church hall is on the second floor while the first (ground) floor once housed a Lithuanian school. Later it turned into a chapel where ordinary Sunday Mass was held (the diminishing parish no longer needed main upper hall and elderly people find it hard to ascend the stairs). Also on the first floor, a large hall for parish meetings after the mass was located, its walls covered with pictures of Lithuanian cities, a list of people killed by Russian soldiers on January 13, 1991, and similar memorabilia. Another small room was dedicated to a museum. The church was closed in 2013.

St. Anthony Lithuanian church. The building to the left is Lithuanian Hall. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

A nicely renovated building on the opposite side of W Vernor Highway still bears the words Lithuanian Hall on its facade and there are some Lithuanian memorabilia surviving inside.

Detroit Lithuanian Hall

Detroit Lithuanian Hall

Since 1904 owned by the same non-profit real estate developer as St. Anthony church and transformed into its offices, it was originally built in 1921 by the leftist Lithuanians who did not frequent the church (for the religious, the church doubled as a secular club and activity hub but the non-religious needed their separate institution for that). At least some of the members were communists, as "Destination Lithuanian America" researchers learned after finding Lithuanian communist materials still saved by the new owners. Also surviving are the architectural elements such as the former ticket booth that would have sold tickets for the events in the hall above, the scene and more: despite the reconstruction, relatively little has been changed.

Main Hall now serves as an open office space. At one of the walls there is Lithuanian memorabilia

Main Hall now serves as an open office space. At one of the walls there is Lithuanian memorabilia

It can only be assumed that Vernor St. reminded a frontline back then between the two opposing groups of Lithuanians: the religious majority and the anti-religious minority. With the popularity of leftist beliefs declining among Lithuanians, the Lithuanian Hall closed and was later used for the community celebrations (holidays, marriages) by the parish.

St. Anthony Lithuanian chruch (left) and the Lithuanian Hall (right)

St. Anthony Lithuanian chruch (left) and the Lithuanian Hall (right)

Not far from the hall there is Valys Bauza funeral home, also an institution in the area.

However, like all over Detroit, some buildings are now abandoned or burned out. Detroit population more than halved after the 1967 racial riots and the city is now 85% Black with most Whites (including Lithuanians) having left for suburbs. The area around St. Anthony church is now, however, dominated by Hispanics and is known as Mexicantown. It is claimed by Lithuanians to be safer than the average Detroit area. While most Lithuanians moved to the suburbs, but Mexicantown still has the largest percentage of Lithuanians in the Detroit city. Currently, it is the Hispanic population that the former St. Anthony church is serving the most, as the first floor is now taken by a charitable institution that teaches the recent immigrants English for free. The non-profit real estate developer owns more buildings in the area than just the church and Lithuanian Hall and aims to rejuvenate the district; according to the interview with its employees by the "Destination Lithuanian America 2018" team, at one point, merely some 30% of the district's buildings were being used, while now this percentage rose to 80%. The developer, as non-profit, gets its often-ecological renovations funded by the government authorities, in return pledging to rent the renovated properties for poor people for a fixed price.

Valys Bauza (Lithuanian name) funeral home. The house was constructed in 1930 when the city and the Lithuanian district were still thriving. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

St. Anthony parish was the strongest immediately after World War 2 when a large share of the Lithuanian intellectual elite emigrated to the USA fearing Soviet persecutions. In these days the church was too small for the congregation and many people had to partake in the Mass from outside the building. In some 1985 the church was damaged by fire but repaired afterward. Until 2009, the daily mass was still celebrated (twice daily on Sundays). However, in 2009, the priest died and only a single weekly Sunday mass remained. There was no mass in any other language, therefore the building became scarcely used and its parking is used by the owners of Lithuanian Hall in weekdays. In 2011 the bishop of Detroit decided to abolish the parish, which was done in 2013.

St. Anthony Lithuanian church main hall (2nd floor) interior as it looked before closure (2012). Currently, it is similar, but the religious and Lithuanian items, as well as pews, have been removed, and the premises are used for dancing. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Southfield Divine Providence Lithuanian complex

The current Detroit's Lithuanian church is Divine Providence located in the suburb of Southfield (255335 W 9 Mile Road). In fact, it is not simply a church but rather a complex of Lithuanian buildings, including a large events hall, a large dining room, a small parish museum, a Lithuanian school (Saturday-only), and several monuments. There are sports and other events, Ateitininkai, Šauliai, boy scouts, ethnic dance, and other organizations.

Divine Providence Lithuanian church of Southfield

Divine Providence Lithuanian church of Southfield

The complex was designed and built in 1972 by Lithuanian-Canadian architect Alfredas Kulpa-Kulpavičius. Initial designs were even more elaborate but the diocese-imposed costs-cap required the Lithuanian community to prioritize function over details. Therefore, the church lacks the "ethnic grandeur" of most other big-city post-WW2 Lithuanian churches but it still has many Lithuanian details inside. Among those are stained glass windows by the famous designer V. K. Jonynas and wooden ornaments by Daugvila. Among the stained-glass windows, the most impressive is the one with St. Casimir and Vytis, while wooden carvings show the Hill of Crosses of Šiauliai and Blessed Jurgis Matulaitis.

Divine Providence church interior

Divine Providence church interior

Woodcarving inside the Divine Providence church

Woodcarving inside the Divine Providence church

Stained glass window by V.K. Jonynas

Stained glass window by V.K. Jonynas with patriotic motives, such as Lithuanian coat of arms

The complex of buildings also has a big yard, wherein three monuments are located Jurgis Jurgutis memorial (who was the first honorary consul of Lithuania in Michigan), a traditional wooden cross with a metallic sun and the oldest Jesus memorial that has been relocated from the previous churches of the parish.

Sculpture dedicated to the consul of Lithuania Jurgutis

Sculpture dedicated to the consul of Lithuania Jurgutis

Lithuanian cross at the Divine Providence church

Lithuanian cross at the Divine Providence church

That is because the parish itself is much older than 1972. It's just that unlike St. Anthony, the Divine Providence church has moved together with its community. Its roots are in the St. George church within Detroit City limits (constructed in 1908).

The site of the St. George Lithuanian church

The site of the St. George Lithuanian church

In 1949 a new Divine Providence church was constructed further from the center and Lithuanians moved there. During the 1960s highway construction program, both churches were demolished to make way for new wide roads.

The site of the first Divine Providence Lithuanian church

The site of the first Divine Providence Lithuanian church

The bishop wanted to abolish the parishes but Lithuanians collected the necessary funds to build and support a new Divine Providence church. Lithuanians who moved into suburbs and ceased visiting the city typically would also leave the then-remaining Detroit Lithuanian parishes (St. Anthony and St. Peter) and join the Southfield one. That's why the "urban parishes" became old and closed down, with only the Divine Providence parish retaining younger members and recent immigrants (who nearly invariably settled in the suburbs).

After the St. Anthony church has been closed, many relics have also been brought in from it.

Not far from the Divine Providence Lithuanian church there is the Holy Sepulchre cemetery where many Lithuanians are buried, some under rather elaborately patriotic tombstones. Unfortunately, the idea to create a Lithuanian section in the cemetery failed to materialize, so the Lithuanian graves are spread out in several sections.

Other Lithuanian sites in Detroit

An interesting Lithuanian memento may be found in the eerily empty streets of downtown Detroit. On a building in Grand River Avenue and Times Square corner (Parker-Webb Building) hangs a memorial plaque with a sole Lithuanian inscription „Čia gimė Fluxus įkūrėjas Jurgis Mačiūnas“. The English translation is not provided (it would be „The founder of Fluxus George Mačiūnas was born here“). In reality, Jurgis Mačiūnas was born in Kaunas, Lithuania (1931) and emigrated to the USA in 1948. As "Destination Lithuanian America" project helped us to discover after a long period of mystery about the plaque, the plaque was installed by Gilbert Silverman, an avid collector of Mačiūnas works. He used to have premises in the building. At one point, he decided to create a memorial plaque and gift it to Kaunas city where Mačiūnas was born; however, Kaunas never installed the plaque and, ultimately, it was sent back to Silverman by Mačiūnas's relatives. Then, Silverman installed it on the building he had premises at. Interestingly, this made the plaque kind of a Fluxus artwork on itself - a false memorial plaque for oneself in some random city is definitely Mačiūnas's style. In addition to plaque, there is a false door on the side of the building with "FLUXUS" written on it.

False Jurgis Mačiūnas memorial plaque

False Jurgis Mačiūnas memorial plaque

Parker-Webb building on which the Mačiūnas plaque is located

Parker-Webb building on which the Mačiūnas plaque is located

Wayne University of Detroit has a Lithuanian Room in its Ethnic Heritage building. The room is on the second floor (no. 288) and has been inaugurated in 1978 (on the 60th anniversary of Lithuania's independence declaration in 1918). All of its walls are covered with murals symbolizing the essence of Lithuania. They include the major buildings (both extant and demolished), patriotic symbols, historical images (e.g. Battle of Žalgiris), ethereal famous creations of Lithuanian artist M. K. Čiurlionis, all vowed into three coherent scenes. The explanations of each detail in each mural are available in English within the room. In addition to the murals, there are objects of Lithuanian ethnic art presented.

Fragments of the murals of the Wayne University Lithuanian Room.

Fragments of the murals of the Wayne University Lithuanian Room. On the left, one may see Lithuanians in national folk costumes in front of the Kaunas Vienybės square. In the center, there is a close-up of the Liberty statue there and people laying flowers under it. On the right, there is Vilnius university and people of old era in front.

The room, however, has not been repaired for a long time, leaving parts of its details damaged and the informational plaque that explains all the details still declaring that Lithuania is under a Soviet occupation. The building and the room may be accessed by everyone when there are no lectures inside. The creators of the room were the famous Lithuanian architect Jonas Mulokas, as well as Romas Muklokas, while Vytautas Augustinas created the murals.

Fragments of the Detroit Lithuanian room murals. Vilnius university on the left, while famous fortifications of Lithuania (Trakai Castle, now-demolished Vilnius fortifications) and the Battle of Žalgiris soldiers are on the right

Fragments of the Detroit Lithuanian room murals. Vilnius university on the left, while famous fortifications of Lithuania (Trakai Castle, now-demolished Vilnius fortifications) and the Battle of Žalgiris soldiers are on the right

Detroit also had St. Peter Lithuanian church. The building, opened in 1921 and closed in 1995, has no Lithuanian details, although a publically-funded community center (All Saints Neighborhood Center) operating there since 1997 put up some historical plaques in the first room beyond the entrance. The church is wooden although during its late Lithuanian era its facade used to be covered in bricks, however, the original exterior has been restored now. In fact, the modest building was initially planned to be temporary but the parish never grew enough to build its own "permanent" and larger building. Like St. Anthony's, the church has a basement (dug by parishioner's hands) where Lithuanian used to meet after the mass. Church statues and furniture have been donated to Lithuania. So was a large Lithuanian-styled cross that used to stand in front of the church.

St. Peter Lithuanian church of Detroit

St. Peter Lithuanian church of Detroit

Lithuanian memorabilia in the foyer of the St. Peter Lithuanian church

Lithuanian memorabilia in the foyer of the St. Peter Lithuanian church

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Grand Rapids, Michigan

Grand Rapids has two Lithuanian cemeteries, two clubs and a church - all of them open. This makes Grand Rapids unique among the American cities of such size as in many other cities the Lithuanian sites are closed. All the Lithuanian sites are located in the historic Lithuanian district at northeastern Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids Lithuanian church and parish

While in many Lithuanian districts it is the church that is the most Lithuanian site, Grand Rapids Ss. Peter and Paul church, while rather large, lacks Lithuanian details. Constructed in the 1920s to replace a smaller church-school, the church was renovated in the 1960s and repainted in the 1980s. The 1960s refurbishment has simplified the altar, while the 1980s refurbishment has removed the Lithuanian inscriptions under the station of the cross. According to the priest Morris of the church, in Grand Rapids, unlike in many other Lithuanian parishes, the post-WW2 refugees did not overwhelm the entire community and thus their calls for more ethnic detail in the church went unheard. Furthermore, the church never had traditionally opulent stained glass windows, so rather simple ones were installed in the 1960s.

Grand Rapids Ss. Peter and Paul Lithuanian church

Grand Rapids Ss. Peter and Paul Lithuanian church

Interior of the Ss. Peter and Paul Lithuanian church

Interior of the Ss. Peter and Paul Lithuanian church

The only Lithuanian details at the church can be found at the World War 2 veterans memorial nearby, which has Vytis on it.

Lithuanian World War 2 veterans memorial

Lithuanian World War 2 veterans memorial

Vytis on the memorial

Vytis on the memorial

The large buildings further on used to house a parish school and a convent (built in 1964), however, currently they just hold the Lithuanian Saturday school and are rented at the other days.

Lithuanian school of Grand Rapids

Lithuanian school of Grand Rapids

The multi-lingual sign (also Lithuanian) at the Lithuanian school

The multi-lingual sign (also Lithuanian) at the Lithuanian school

Grand Rapids Lithuanian clubs

Grand Rapids has two Lithuanian clubs. These clubs also double as members-only bars (although non-members may be able to come in as well).

More well known one is the Vytautas Kareivis Aid Society, established in 1910. Its building sports a Lithuanian flag and symbols. Inside it has a bar and a Heritage room. Among the Lithuanian memorabilia there one can find a society uniform: at its beginning and long after that, Vytautas Aid Society was a paramilitary organization and its members used to march the American streets in these Lithuanian uniforms. Eventually, the Society changed. For example, well until the 1980s there was a requirement that a person who joins must be a Lithuanian through a paternal line (i.e. have a Lithuanian surname) but now a maternal line is also acceptable and women are allowed to join. Non-Lithuanians may join as associate members and since 2000s non-Catholics are allowed to join as well. Only Lithuanians could be full members, however.

Vytautas Kareivis Aid Society building

Vytautas Kareivis Aid Society building

Vytautas Kareivis Aid Society members posing with their uniforms (image from the Society's heritage rooms)

Vytautas Kareivis Aid Society members posing with their uniforms (image from the Society's heritage rooms)

Vytautas Kareivis Aid Society uniform at the Society's heritage rooms

Vytautas Kareivis Aid Society uniform at the Society's heritage rooms

Inside the Vytautas Kareivis Aid Society

Inside the Vytautas Kareivis Aid Society

Less well known is the Lithuanian Sons and Daughters Association (est. 1909, building constructed in 1913). Its building has "Lyceum Lithuanian Sons Aid Society" inscribed on it, as the inscription was made at the time the organization was men only (females have been admitted since 1921 after bi-gender Historicist Daukantas society merged into it). While the Vytautas Kareivis Aid Society historically represents the patriots/nationalists, Lithuanian Sons and Daughters represent the leftists and communists. As such, the organization was shunned by most Lithuanians after the Soviet occupation of Lithuania and many people in both church and the Vytautas Aid society claims that their parents would advise them not to go to the Lithuanian Sons and Daughters. Today, however, Lithuanian Sons and Daughters members claim their organization is non-political, so much of the rivalry is historical. As a leftist organization, Lithuanian Sons and Daughters have fewer Lithuanian memorabilia and, in fact, in the newest times, it is sometimes named just "Sons and Daughters" while Polish heritage seems to be at least as celebrated as Lithuanian heritage. It has images of its founding members (1913), 20th-anniversary members (1929) and Simonas Daukantas near its streetside entrance, however (it is interesting to understand that these images hang there since the time World War 1 had not yet begun and Lithuania was ruled by the czar). The real entrance is behind. The hall on the second floor is big although it has no Lithuanian details (although originally, it had been painted with murals showing Lithuanian countryside). In fact, nowadays "Lithuanian Sons and Daughters" is usually known simply as "Sons and Daughters". It has some 250 members of whom 150 are active (2018).

Lithuanian Sons and Daughters club of Grand Rapids

Lithuanian Sons and Daughters club of Grand Rapids

"Lithuanian Sons" inscription on the club

"Lithuanian Sons" inscription on the club

Interior of the Lithuanian Sons and Daughters club

Interior of the Lithuanian Sons and Daughters club

2nd floor hall of the Lithuanian Sons and Daughters club that used to be decorated in images of Lithuanian countryside

2nd floor hall of the Lithuanian Sons and Daughters club that used to be decorated in images of Lithuanian countryside

There were two more Lithuanian-originated societies, associated with the Catholic church: the St. George Aid Society and Ss. Peter and Paul aid society. Both have been merged and now use the former premises of the St. George society, while the Ss. Peter and Paul Society building is now closed. The "Aid Societies" typically were so called because they all initially acted also as charitable organizations to both their members and non-members. In the early days, support for members in times of need was especially important, as, at the time, there were no social guarantees, so the only way immigrants could ensure that they would not be left to poverty in case they get hurt in the job, for example, was to join such organizations where the well-off members would help their less well-off co-nationals. Vytautas Kareivis Aid Society especially continues this charitable mission, regularly supporting both Lithuanians and non-Lithuanian institutions of Grand Rapids.

Former Lithuanian Catholic aid society near the Ss. Peter and Paul church

Former Lithuanian Catholic aid society near the Ss. Peter and Paul church

Grand Rapids Lithuanian cemeteries

The main Grand Rapids Lithuanian cemetery is the rather large Ss. Peter and Paul cemetery. Two of the most impressive memorials here is the Traditional Lithuanian wooden cross of 1987 (author Jurgis Daugvila), dedicated to the Lithuanian 600 years Christianization anniversary, and the Memorial for Lithuanian priests, dedicated in 1979. The priests memorial symbolizes a Divine Invitation - to the priesthood, life, death.

600th anniversary of Lithuanian Christianity cross in the Ss. Peter and Paul Lithuanian cemetery

600th anniversary of Lithuanian Christianity cross in the Ss. Peter and Paul Lithuanian cemetery

Memorial to the Lithuanian priests of Grand Rapids

Memorial to the Lithuanian priests of Grand Rapids

Just beyond a fence (but with an entrance from the other side) lies the other Lithuanian cemetery of Grand Rapids: the Lithuanian Freedom Cemetery. It is small, only the plaque at the entrance and many surnames shows it to be Lithuanian. There, socialists and non-believers used to be buried. According to the local priest Marrow, no more than 15% of total Lithuanians. At the later stages of the cemetery, the priest would have been invited to some burials as some people wanted to bury themselves next to their kin even though they became believers. Interestingly, some of the graves in the Liberty Cemetery are located away from the other graves and right beyond the fence of the Lithuanian Catholic Ss. Peter and Paul Cemetery, facing the Catholic cemetery, perhaps signifying that these people were denied burial at the Catholic cemetery for some reason.

Lithuanian non-religious cemetery entrance

Lithuanian non-religious cemetery entrance

Some of the graves at the Liberty cemetery that are facing the fence between the cemeteries. The Ss. Peter and Paul cemetery is beyond the fence

Some of the graves at the Liberty cemetery that are facing the fence between the cemeteries. The Ss. Peter and Paul cemetery is beyond the fence

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Custer / Ludington, Michigan

Unlike in all the rest of the USA, Lithuanians did not become industry workers in the Custer / Ludington area. Rather, they became farmers just as in their old country, possibly using the money they earned in temporary industrial works to buy their land. At one time, this Lithuanian "colony" used to be referred to as "New Lithuania".

Lithuanians became a major force in all the villages in the area by the early 20th century. In 2000 census those were still among the most Lithuanian villages in Michigan and Mid-West. For instance, Irons and Custer were 4% Lithuanian, Fountain and Luther were 3%, Scottville and Free Soil were 2%.

"New Lithuania" was a brainchild of a Lithuanian real-estate tycoon Anton Keledis, and, at its highest point, Lithuanians are said to have owned 360 farms in the area. Many of them are still owned by the descendants of Lithuanians.

Lithuanian-owned barn with a Lithuanian decor in Custer area

Lithuanian-owned barn with a Lithuanian decor in Custer area

Lithuanian farmers' heritage in Custer area

Unlike elsewhere, Lithuanians never established their ethnic parishes in the "New Lithuania"; however, they had no need to as they simply dominated the Catholic churches anyways. Custer and Irons churches had Lithuanian priests and masses for a long time. Custer St Mary's Church, while built in the late 1960s, has an Our Lady of Vilnius bas-relief right over its main entrance (with a Lithuanian inscription) and Our Lady of Šiluva statue inside (right side of the nave), both Maryan devotions associated with Lithuania. The church also had a Lithuanian architect - the famous Jonas Mulokas; he is known for his "modern Lithuanian style" which merged the traditional ethnic elements with modern materials, however here, as the parish was not officially Lithuanian, there are not so many Lithuanian details as usual, even though the "barn form" reminds of the agricultural traditions of both Lithuania and Custer area.

Custer St. Mary church

Custer St. Mary church

Our Lady of Vilnius symbol over the door of St. Mary church of Custer

Our Lady of Vilnius symbol over the door of St. Mary church of Custer

Another major remnant of the Lithuanian farmers' era is the Andrulis cheese factory that still manufactures Lithuanian (Baltic) Farmer's Cheese according to the recipe of the current owner's grandmother. The cheese factory has been established in the early 1940s and still operates in the same building with few changes in technology. The same family still owns it, with the 4th generation since establishment (5th generation since immigration) now beginning to take the helm. It is possible to buy the cheese at the factory entrance and, with prior arrangements and small groups, to get a factory tour. The factory, however, now operates irregularly: only when there are orders, as Andrulis cheese lacks preservatives to make it suitable for long-term storage. John Andrulis, one of the owners of the factory, by the way, was the one who donated the Custer church's entrance, as the plaque on the church marks.

Andrulis cheese factory

Andrulis cheese factory

Andrulis cheese

Andrulis cheese

Andrulis cheese factory interior

Andrulis cheese factory interior

There are more Lithuanian descendants who farm. Lithuanian farming heritage is celebrated by Lithuanian quilt, a barn decorated by Lithuanian flag colors and Lithuanian symbol in Fountain village. The barn owners participated in the barn beautification project "Mason County Barn Quilt Trail" which led to some 11 barns being covered with such artworks, often relating to the area's heritage or goals.

Lithuanian Quilt

Lithuanian Quilt

Rakas Lithuanian scout camp

The largest Lithuanian institution in the area is undoubtedly the Rakas Lithuanian scout camp, covering some 83 acres (33 ha) of a rather pristine forest (40 acres are used).

Lituanica building, one of the buildings of Camp Rakas sub-camps

Lituanica building, one of the buildings of Camp Rakas sub-camps

Every summer, the camp holds the "main" 2-week long scout camp that draws some 250 scouts mainly from Chicago, as well as various smaller side-camps. In addition to the regular scouting ideals, the Lithuanian scouts of America also put a strong emphasis on the Lithuanian ethnic traditions: songs, dances, etc. The architecture of the camp is, therefore, very Lithuanian. There are multiple chapel-posts, each building is also covered in ethnic motifs.

Larger chapel-post (koplytstulpis) of Camp Rakas

Larger chapel-post (koplytstulpis) of Camp Rakas

A small chapel-post (koplytstulpis) in Camp Rakas

A small chapel-post (koplytstulpis) in Camp Rakas

The buildings are few and far between, however, as the scouts sleep in tents. The largest monument is near the entrance: it consists of a tower with a traditional scout symbol on top and 2018 renovation donors list nearby and on the bricks. There is also a memorial plaque that thanks Frank (Pranas) Rakas for the generous gift of land where Rakas now stands (actually, a 50 years lease paying 1 dollar a year; the land was bought out by the Chicago scouts afterward).

Camp Rakas main monument

Camp Rakas main monument

The camp consists of four sub-camps, each with its own kitchen. All are named in Lithuanian: Kernavė (after Lithuania's first known capital, est. 1966), Lituanica (after the Darius and Girėnas plane they used to become the first Lithuanians to cross the Atlantic), Nerija (after the Curonian Spit), Aušros Vartai (after the gate of dawn in Vilnius Old Town). There are additional buildings, such as the first-aid post, each with ethnic details.

Kernavė sub-camp main building in camp Rakas

Kernavė sub-camp main building in camp Rakas

A Vyčiai square with ethnic decor is dedicated to the lifetime scouts.

Vyčiai square in Camp Rakas

Vyčiai square in Camp Rakas

Lithuanian symbols at the Vyčiai square in Camp Rakas

Lithuanian symbols at the Vyčiai square in Camp Rakas

The territory of the camp is usually locked outside of the season and cannot be visited. During the main camp, some 250 people participate, 66% kids and 33% adults. At one time, the numbers stood at 1000.

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Manchester, Michigan

Manchester is famous among the Lithuanian-Americans for having two of the top Lithuanian camps in the USA: "Dainava" and "Pilėnai". Lithuanian-American camps are not just simple places to spend summer holidays; rather, they are an attempt to recreate a piece of Lithuania abroad, therefore, they have a fair share of Lithuanian monuments and artworks.

During the camping season (mostly summer), they attract hundreds of Lithuanians who seek to spend some time in a Lithuanian atmosphere and among other Lithuanians. Outside of the season and the main events, they are calm and feel more like Lithuanian parks/memorials.

The Dainava camp monument at the place where two main camp roads fork

The Dainava camp monument man sign with its lake on the background amidst Lithuania-like scenery

Dainava Lithuanian camp

Dainava camp is the largest Lithuanian camp in America. It is also interesting as a tourist attraction as it has a lot of atmospheric sites and is effectively a large Lithuanian-themed park, 225 acres (91 ha) in size. Dainava is accessible for the public outside of the hunting season. The camping season itself is summer-only and in the other times of the year, one pretty much could have Dainava for himself/herself (however, the camp is guarded and it is permitted only to hike or sightsee there but not to party).

The altar and the view of the Hill of Crosses behind the altar in Dainava

Camp Dainava

A symbolic heart of Dainava is its Hill of Crosses, a smaller copy of the famous Hill of Crosses near Šiauliai. It has been started in 1975 but, just like its bigger brother in Lithuania, it constantly grows as new crosses are added. Currently, there are 8 large crosses and many small crosses, with the smallest one being hung on the larger ones just like in Šiauliai. Lithuanian cross-crafting is a UNESCO immaterial world heritage and Dainava crosses follow this artform rigorously. Recently, more permanent metal crosses have also been built (e.g. 2011 one by Marius Narbutaitis and 2008 by Ateitininkai). Three of the large wooden crosses are dedicated to Jonas Masiliūnas, a Soviet-murdered Lithuanian interwar politician (1899-1942), Aidas Kriaučiūnas and Bradūnas family. Like everywhere in Dainava, many crosses also have patriotic symbols in addition to the religious ones.

Hill of Corsses of Dainava

Hill of Corsses of Dainava

Close-up of one of the Dainava crosses

Close-up of one of the Dainava crosses

Another greatly atmospheric location is the Dainava open-air forest chapel where masses are held during the camping season. It is arranged so that behind its altar the Dainava Hill of Crosses would be visible in the distance. It is accessed by a narrow forest path; at the entrance of that path stands Rūpintojėlis, a traditional Lithuanian figure of pensive Christ. The path is surrounded by the Lithuanian stations of the cross. The forest chapel was created by priest Lukas Laniauskas.

The altar and the view of the Hill of Crosses behind the altar in Dainava

The altar and the view of the Hill of Crosses behind the altar in Dainava

Lithuanian station of the cross at Dainava forest calvary

Lithuanian station of the cross at Dainava forest calvary

Dainava has so many religious symbols because it has been established by American Lithuanian Roman Catholic Federation, of which a major part is Ateitininkai, a Lithuanian religious youth organization that has been banned under the Soviet occupation of Lithuania (1940-1990), yet it continued abroad in the USA. Catholic traditions are, therefore, an important part of the camps here. However, the Catholic art that is available in Dainava is also ethnic Lithuanian art, as the traditional Lithuanian woodcarving is always used. Most religious crosses also have Lithuanian patriotic symbols inscribed on them. Catholic faith and Lithuanian culture are thus two pillars on which Dainava has been built.

The main building of the camp known as Adolfas Damušis house (also as "White House", built 1964) is surrounded by both religious and patriotic memorials, among them a wooden sculpture of St. Casimir (Lithuania's patron saint and the only Lithuanian saint), a memorial for Romas Kalanta (a Lithuanian who self-immolated against the Soviet regime in 1972) by Smalinskienė, a mural "Dainava - Our Lithuania" with the map of Lithuania, a ~2,5 m tall Rūpintojėlis engraved with stylized Lithuanian coat of arms (author Adolfas Teresius, 1999).

Mural "Mūsų Lietuva" (Our Lithuania)

Mural "Mūsų Lietuva" (Our Lithuania)

St. Casimir cross in Dainava

St. Casimir cross in Dainava

Romas Kalanta monument in Dainava

Romas Kalanta monument in Dainava

Dainava Rūpintojėlis (top)

Dainava Rūpintojėlis (top)

Lithuanian symbols on the back of Rūpintojėlis

Lithuanian symbols on the back of Rūpintojėlis

There is also a milepost showing the distances from Dainava to various major world cities (and the cities the Dainava users come from) - it shows Lietuva as ~7400 km away. Like in Lithuania, the distances are marked in kilometers rather than miles.

Dainava milepost

Dainava milepost

On the far west of the camp, there is a beach on the Thorn lake (often referred to in Lithuanian as "Spyglys"). This was the only place in the camp where a beach could be made and even creating such a small beach required a considerable engineering effort by the Lithuanians in the 1950s (engineer Adolfas Damušis, Baltakis, Bajorūnas). From the beach area, one may climb a hill, symbolically called Rambynas after an important hill in Lithuania's Nemunas Valley. That is the highest place in the camp and thus a popular hike among the Dainava campers, however, it lacks monuments and the views are obscured by trees outside of the winter when they open up more.

On top of the Rambynas hill

On top of the Rambynas hill

At the road fork where one road leads to the main building and another one to the beach and Rambynas, there are additional monuments: the Dainava's oldest chapel-post (made in 1961 by V. Veselka, funded by A. Abišalaitė) and the Main Dainava sign carved in wood with Columns of Gediminas and Cross of Vytis on its top.

Dainava chapel-post with Spyglys lake on the background

Dainava chapel-post with Spyglys lake on the background

Dainava grounds were acquired by Lithuanians in 1955 and the camp was constructed in 1956, and constantly expanded since. The goals of Dainava were to create a summer space for Lithuanian kids where they could speak in Lithuanian to other Lithuanian kids and celebrate the Lithuanian culture. These were held to be especially important in the 1950s by tens of thousands of refugees from Lithuania who have arrived in the USA; most of these refugees saw themselves as exiled people as they would have been killed back in Lithuania which has been just occupied by the Soviet Union and they sought to perpetuate the Lithuanian culture in the USA. These days, "heritage camps" are also popular; in these camps, the main language used in English, however, the Lithuanian traditions are still the focal point of the activities. In addition to children camps, there are also camps for Lithuanian families and teachers of Lithuanian schools.

A STOP sign translated into Lithuanian as STOK and repaited in green, the traditional color of Lithuania

A STOP sign translated into Lithuanian as STOK and repaited in green, the traditional color of Lithuania

The initial site for Dainava was meant to be at the mid-point between the massive Lithuanian "colonies" of Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit; however, in such a case, the camp would have been difficult to maintain as it would be too far from every "colony" for any Lithuanian to quickly go there. As such, it was decided to acquire a donated-to-university lot not too far from Detroit instead, so Detroit Lithuanians could care for it.

Dainava camp sign at the road

Dainava camp sign at the road

Dainava has several buildings where the camping people sleep during the camping time (mostly summer). These buildings are locked out-of-season.

Pilėnai camp of Šauliai (Lithuanian National guard)

Pilėnai camp is literally on the opposite side of the road from Dainava. It hosts arguably the most important Lithuanian patriotic memorial in Manchester, the Memorial for those who died for Lithuania. The memorial consists of a pyramid with a soldiers face and a Cross of Vytis on his helmet. The sides include Cross of Vytis, Columns of Gediminas. On the lower side of the right side, famous Lithuanian freedom fighters and activists are listed, while on the left are the famous battles of Lithuanian independence wars. The pyramid is crowned by a traditional Lithuanian sun-cross and surrounded by two traditional Lithuanian chapel-posts (koplytstulpiai) and flagpoles where the Lithuanian and American flags are raised every day when the camp is in use. The author of the monument is Mykolas Abarius.

Monument for those who died for Lithuanian freedom at Pilėnai

Monument for those who died for Lithuanian freedom at Pilėnai

Close-up of the memorial for those who died for Lithuanian freedom

Close-up of the memorial for those who died for Lithuanian freedom

The camp gate is crowned by Iron Wolf sculptures (a traditional symbol of Vilnius) and the columns of Gediminas. The total area of the camp is 20 acres (8 ha) and it includes a small lake. It has been expanded in the 2010s by acquiring additional land.

Iron Wolf at Camp Pilėnai opening gate

Iron Wolf at Camp Pilėnai opening gate

Camp Pilėnai entrance gate with Columns of Gediminas symbols

Camp Pilėnai entrance gate with Columns of Gediminas symbols

Pilėnai camp has been established ~1971 and is owned by the Šauliai movement, traditionally translated to English as "Lithuanian National Guard in exile" (also translated as "Lithuanian Riflemen"). Back in the years of the first independence of Lithuania (1918-1940), Šauliai were a potent paramilitary movement of patriotic volunteers who sought to learn better how to defend their homeland without joining the army. With tens of thousands of members, it was also a fraternal organization of such patriots. However, when the Soviets have occupied Lithuania in 1940, they added all the Šauliai members to the long list of people to be murdered or exiled. Some eventually managed to flee Lithuania and while Šauliai movement was destroyed in Lithuania itself, it continued "in exile" (being very patriotic, Šauliai generally saw their relocation to the USA as an exile rather than emigration, as they would have never emigrated if not the quick occupation without real war and the subsequent Soviet Genocide).

The camp buildings hold various memorabilia for the Šauliai organization. Given the paramilitary nature of the organization, the camp also has a shooting range.

Interior of the camp Pilėnai main building

Interior of the camp Pilėnai main building

While Šauliai were on a long decline in America and their post-1990 recreation in Lithuania itself failed to reach the numbers the organization enjoyed between the wars, the Russian aggression in Ukraine had made the organization somewhat more popular in numbers as the perceived threat to Lithuania intensified. Šauliai of Detroit that own Pilėnai increased threefold in numbers.

In addition to the Šauliai activities, Pilėnai also hosts the annual traditional Lithuanian Joninės (summer solstice) festival since 2010, attended by hundreds of Lithuanians (not just by Šauliai) who bring their own tents here. This is the best time to visit the camp and the Lithuanian memorial for non-members, as otherwise the camp is usually locked.

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Muskegon, Michigan

Muskegon has a Lithuanian club. Despite its name, the club has all non-Lithuanian membership this name. However, it tries to keep the Lithuanian traditions up and running. After the original building of the Lithuanian club burned down in 2008 (together with all the historical documents), the club users (~300 in total) rebuilt the club and once again acquired Lithuanian memorabilia such as the flag and images.

Muskegon Lithuanian club

Muskegon Lithuanian club

The club is located in a rather simple single-floored building with a bar inside. That bar is what draws most of the members in. Outside, the Lithuanian flag is constantly waving together with the American one while inside there are more Lithuanian images, while a member of the club has written a cookbook that includes Lithuanian recipes.

Muskegon Lithuanian club corner with Lithuanian memorabilia

Muskegon Lithuanian club corner with Lithuanian memorabilia

Club's bylaws, dated 1952, specify that "Every member is gracefully obliged to defend America first, but he is also earnestly encouraged to perpetuate the memories and to eulogize the glories and beauties of the ancient and honorable people of Lithuania".

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Map of Lithuanian heritage in eastern Midwest

Map of the Lithuanian heritage in eastern Midwest (Michigan, Ohio) and western Ontario.

More info on Lithuanian heritage in Ohio, Michigan, Ontario.

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