Global True Lithuania Encyclopedia of Lithuanian heritage worldwide

Dayton, Ohio

Dayton may be far away from the other Lithuanian cities of the USA yet it has significant and lively Lithuanian heritage.

The main Lithuanian site in the area is the Holy Cross Lithuanian church. It is unique because even though it was built in 1912-1923 as a small and rather international-style church (American architect W. L. Jaeckle), it has been totally remodeled in the 194 to become one of the most Lithuanian-looking churches in the USA. Behind that remodeling stood the inventors of the "modern Lithuanian style" Jonas Mulokas, Adolfas Valeška, and V. K. Jonynas. While the small frame of the church limited their possibilities to create a Lithuanian facade with Baroque-inspired towers, they did what they could, adding a Lithuanian-forms steeple and many pretty stained-glass windows.

Dayton Holy Cross Lithuanian church

Dayton Holy Cross Lithuanian church

The side windows are each based on a Lithuanian chapel-post (koplystulpis), a traditional wooden religious post that is considered part of the UNESCO-inscribed Lithuanian cross-crafting tradition. The stained glass windows behind the altar represent the Hill of Crosses near Šiauliai, at the time suffering the Soviet attempts of demolition. The side-altars are made of traditional Lithuanian woodcarving, crowned with sun-crosses. Even small details, such as the church main door, were not missed: they are now covered in Columns of Gediminas.

Altar of the Dayton Holy Cross Lithuanian church

Altar of the Dayton Holy Cross Lithuanian church

Dayton Lithuanian church during a mass

Dayton Lithuanian church during a mass

Stained-glass windows of the Dayton Lithuanian church

Stained-glass windows of the Dayton Lithuanian church

Columns of Gediminas on the Dayton Lithuanian chruch entrance

Columns of Gediminas on the Dayton Lithuanian chruch entrance

Interior of Dayton Holy Cross Lithuanian church

Interior of Dayton Holy Cross Lithuanian church with the side-altar in-sight

Like many Lithuanian-American churches, the Dayton one also has the first floor of size equal to the main hall where community events take place, one of the major ones being the Kūčios (Christmas Eve dinner). There are many ethnic details, including a pretty hand-crafted wooden Lithuanian coat of arms (with an inscription "Let Lithuania live"), created by Antanas Lukoševičius in 1914, making it older than the Republic of Lithuania. There are other ethnic woodcarvings there as well, many of them made by the prolific local Lithuanian dievdirbys ("Godmaker") George A. Mikalauskas.

First floor of the Dayton Holy Cross church with the 1914 coat of arms

First floor of the Dayton Holy Cross church with the 1914 coat of arms

Outside the church stands a massive Shrine of Three Crosses that has been dedicated in 1964 to the Martyrs of Lithuania: hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians who had perished in the Soviet Genocide or were expelled from Lithuania, many of them for their religious beliefs or ethnic consciousness. The shrine also symbolically imitates the Three Crosses monument in downtown Vilnius, which had been destroyed at the time (with Lithuania independent, it has been since rebuilt). The original Three Crosses of Vilnius are, however, made of concrete, while the Dayton Three Crosses are made of the more traditional wood. Also, the crosses of Vilnius are identical, whereas each of the Dayton three crosses has different symbolism. The left cross is made in a style of Vilnius region and the Our Lady of Gate of Dawn (Our Lady of Vilnius) painting motif adorns its center. The central cross represents Central Lithuania and its center has Rūpintojėlis, a traditional Lithuanian symbol of a sad Jesus, while its bark has an image of St. Casimir, Lithuania's patron saint. The third cross has motifs of Dzūkija (south Lithuania), with Our Lady of Šiluva (the first church-recognized Maryan vision of Europe) in the center on one side and Our Sorrowful Mother on the other side (Our Sorrowful Mother is a popular folk religious motif).

Three crosses shrine at the Dayton Lithuanian church

Three crosses shrine at the Dayton Lithuanian church

Church grounds also has a St. John shrine (1967) with Lithuanian sponsors listed and a Lithuanian flag constantly waving together with the American one. Inside there is also a Lithuanian flag and a Hungarian flag - as Hungarian church has been closed, Lithuanians have accepted them into their own church.

St. John shrine at Dayton

St. John shrine at Dayton

The street next to the church is named "Rita St."; according to the locals, it is named after a Lithuanian although so far it remains unclear who that Lithuanian was or why the street was named so.

Old North Dayton neighborhood where the church is located was historically inhabited by immigrants who clung around their churches. On the entrance to the area near the bridge stand multiple memorials. The flags of the main immigrant ethnicities are constantly waving, among them the Lithuanian flag. There is also a mural of immigrants that also incorporates the Lithuanian flag. Other flags are American, Polish, Hungarian, Czech, Irish, Turkish, and German.

Memorial with the flags in Old North Dayton

Memorial with the flags in Old North Dayton

Building with a mural at Old North Dayton

Building with a mural at Old North Dayton

International mural at Old North Dayton

International mural at Old North Dayton

Old North Dayton also had a Lithuanian Club. However, it has been sold to Czechs and Slovaks in 1999 and no details of Lithuanian history remains (now it is a Czechoslovak Club). There is also a surviving Lithuanian restaurant called "Amber Rose" as it is owned by Ambrose (originally Ambrazaitis) family. Among its "Lithuanian dishes" there is turtle soup. This dish is unknown in Lithuania and has been popularized already after the Dayton Lithuanians migrated to the USA. As locals have explained, it happened in World War 2 years when the meat was heavily rationed but no restrictions on turtles remained. To this day, "Lithuanian turtle soup" is also served during the Lithuanian festivals.

Former Lithuanian club of Old North Dayton

Former Lithuanian club of Old North Dayton

The map

All the Lithuanian locations, described in this article, are marked on this interactive map, made by the "Destination Lithuanian America" expedition (click the link):

Interactive map of Dayton (OH) Lithuanian sites

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Ohio, USA 5 Comments

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 some 1200 Lithuanians who moved to live here.

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. Many of the original buildings were constructed in 1965-1975 but later repaired.

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.

The map

All the Lithuanian locations, described in this article, are marked on this interactive map, made by the "Destination Lithuanian America" expedition (click the link):

Interactive map of Custer area Lithuanian sites

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Michigan, USA 2 Comments

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 Stasė 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.

The map

All the Lithuanian locations, described in this article, are marked on this interactive map, made by the "Destination Lithuanian America" expedition (click the link):

Interactive map of Manchester (Michigan) Lithuanian sites

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Michigan, USA 2 Comments

West Frankfort area, Illinois

West Frankfort area community of Lithuanian miners is unique among such large communities in that it did not establish it sown church, suggesting its heavily leftist leanings.

Still, Lithuanians were keen to lay their dead among co-nationals, so they established at least three Lithuanian cemeteries.

The largest among them is West Frankfort Lithuanian cemetery which is also the best kept one, having its own board. The most impressive sight there are lots of photos of the Lithuanians who are buried there: it seems West Frankfort used to have popular photographers even 100 years ago and most people would put the portraits on their gravestones. Most of the portraits survive well enough to be visible. There is a stone sign near the entrance signifying that its a "Lithuanian cemetery founded in 1914". Since 2019, there are also Lithuanian and American flags.

Commemorative stone of the West Frankfort Lithuanian cemetery

Commemorative stone of the West Frankfort Lithuanian cemetery

The second-largest cemetery is located in Shakerag Rd. near Johnston City. It is called Lithuanian-Masonic Shakerag Cemetery due to a unique arrangement where the same cemetery is shared by Lithuanian miners and non-Lithuanian Freemasons. The Freemason section is a little better kept and some Lithuanian gravestones are destroyed but others remain intact, laden with long Old Lithuanian inscriptions about the life histories of those buried there ("died in a mine explosion" and similar). The cemetery is hard to find as it is separated from the road by private property (which can be walked around, however, although the path is not immediately clear). It should not be mixed with another Masonic cemetery nearby that is easily accessible but has no Lithuanian graves.

Shakerag Masonic-Lithuanian cemetery (view towards the Lithuanian side)

Shakerag Masonic-Lithuanian cemetery (view towards the Lithuanian side)

The third Lithuanian cemetery is located in Ledford near Harrisburg. This Ledford Lithuanian cemetery (also called "Old Catholic Cemetery") barely looks like a cemetery at all: it is just a little-trodden path into the woods and in those woods, you can see numerous overgrown and, in many cases, vandalized Lithuanian graves dating to ~1910s. It takes time to even see most of them (but Harrisburg library has a book about everyone buried in the town if there were newspaper obituaries). The cemetery is long since unused and not mentioned in any sources. There are snakes and ticks in the area.

Ledford Lithuanian cemetery, overgrown with forest

Ledford Lithuanian cemetery, overgrown with forest

Vandalised grave at the Ledford Lithuanian cemetery

Vandalised grave at the Ledford Lithuanian cemetery

In fact, most of the locals at West Frankfort "Destination Lithuanian America" team has met did not know the Ledford cemetery location at all, and none of them knew the Shakerag cemetery. This makes it possible that there are far more such abandoned Lithuanian cemeteries in the area.

Currently, the Lithuanian life of West Frankfort has largely dissipated. As Lithuanians faced discrimination in the beginning due to their unwillingness to join the union strikes, many Lithuanian families did not pass on their language and customs. In the 2018, the only people who "Destination Lithuanian America" expedition discovered as speaking more Lithuanian than a couple of words were in their 90s. West Frankfort (and possibly other of the area's towns) had a Lithuanian Hall where the Lithuanian festivals, singing and dancing used to take place (closed ~1983 as the immigrant generation passed away), however the meager wooden building, now used as storehouse, does not have anything to distinguish its Lithuanian history.

Lithuanian Hall of West Frankfort

Lithuanian Hall of West Frankfort (now closed)

The map

All the Lithuanian locations, described in this article, are marked on this interactive map, made by the "Destination Lithuanian America" expedition (click the link):

Interactive map of West Frankfort area Lithuanian sites

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Illinois, USA No Comments

Washington, DC

Washington, DC is the political heart of the United States. Moreover, for 50 years (1940-1990), it was also the political heart of Lithuania. In that era, Lithuania was occupied by foreign powers: Soviet occupation lasted 46 years. The USA never recognized this act of aggression so the Lithuanian embassy in Washington (622 16th St., N.W.) continued to represent the independent Lithuania - in fact, Lithuanian embassy in Washington was, to some extent, its de facto government. Among its jobs in that era of hardship was to lobby the USA to support the Lithuanian freedom.

Embassy's causes were eagerly supported by the Lithuanian-Americans. They built a lavish Our Lady of Šiluva chapel that was meant to introduce Lithuania to the casual Americans.

These sites are also joined by the famous Lithuanian graves, of which there are numerous in the Washington cemeteries.

Lithuanian embassy in Washington

In addition to its aforementioned Cold War role, the Lithuanian embassy in Washington is also the oldest Lithuanian representation abroad. Lithuanians acquired this 5-floored towered Spanish Baroque villa in 1924 (6 years after establishing independence in 1918). Relations with the USA have always been of utmost importance to Lithuania because of the extensive Lithuanian-American community (193 600 people in 1930 or 6% of contemporary Lithuania's population). This community always provided a great help in advancing Lithuanian political and economic aspirations.

Lithuanian Embassy in Washington

Lithuanian Embassy in Washington with a large poster of the coat of arms. Cuban embassy is on the right, the building that replaced part of the Lithuanian-embassy-building is on the left.

In 2008, the Lithuanian embassy received a new wing, doubling its size (1116 sq. m to 2488 sq. m). The old wing is now used primarily for ceremonial purposes. It is housed in the authentic building by architect George Oakley Totten, Jr completed in 1909 for senator John B. Henderson (although half of the building was demolished in 1965), inspired by the Palace of Monterrey in Spain. The building initially served as Danish and Swedish legations. However, only half of that original building remains, with the other half torn down.

At the time of the embassy acquisition in 1924, this area was a prestigious „embassy row“. During the 1970s, however, the location turned into an unsafe ghetto. Most other embassies relocated, but, understandably, the then-occupied Lithuania had no funds to do so (even the renovations of the embassy, like the one at 1982, required fundraising among Lithuanian-Americans, as the occupied Lithuania could not have supported its embassies). However, staying put proved to be a wise decision in the long run, as the area gentrified in the 2000s.

Throughout its history, Lithuanian embassy has been located next to the Cuban embassy, the narrow alley between them being a kind of Cold War front at the time when Cuba became communist while the Soviet occupation and Soviet Genocide made Lithuania extremely anti-communist. Ironically, the Lithuanian embassy was incidentally damaged by anti-communist Omega 7 activists who targetted the Cuban legation in 1979.

Inside the Lithuanian embassy in Washington, the most lavish room is ceremonial hall on the second floor. This hall is used for the official events in the embassy.

The historic events room of the Lithuanian embassy in Washington

The historic events room of the Lithuanian embassy in Washington

The second most interesting room is in the embassy‘s „tower“. That room is said to have been loved by Stasys Lozoraitis, the long-term Lithuanian representative in the USA in the Cold War era. The room is unheated and unconditioned, so it sees little use today, however.

The tower room of the Lithuanian embassy

Th tower room of the Lithuanian embassy

The embassy may be visited during the Open House events yearly, and, according to embassy employees, anytime by a prior request. An information plaque in front of the building describes both its history and the story of Lithuanian independence restoration.

Lithuanian chapel in America‘s largest church

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the largest Roman Catholic church in North America and the tallest building in Washington, DC (100 m). Built in a period of 41 years (1920-1961), the National Shrine is also famous for its many chapels dedicated to the ethnic communities of the USA and their original homelands. Lithuanian chapel is named after Our Lady of Šiluva, the earliest church-recognized apparition of Virgin Mary in Europe (Šiluva village, Lithuania, year 1608).

The Lithuanian chapel from outside

The Lithuanian chapel from the main nave of the basilica

However, her large statue (which stands on top of a stylized Šiauliai‘s Hill of Crosses) forms just a small part of the enormous chapel, where artworks are not meant to convey religion alone, but also to represent Lithuania to Americans at the time of great trials and tribulations.

Stylized Hill of Crosses under the statue of Our Lady of Šiluva

Stylized Hill of Crosses under the statue of Our Lady of Šiluva

While the chapel is introduced by the guides of the free Shrine-tours, only some of the many motifs are explained. Here we explain more.

The mosaic on the left side of the chapel depicts, among other things, traditional wooden churches and belfries of Lithuanian villages, a Lithuanian chapel-post, a Rūpintojėlis (traditional Lithuanian image of a sad Jesus), the „school of sorrows“ (secret Lithuanian home-school at the time Lithuanian language had been banned in the 19th century Russian-ruled Lithuania) and a secret Holy Mass during a time of the Russian-led anti-Catholic religious persecutions in Lithuania. The slogan above the mosaic says, in Lithuanian „Please save, oh the Highest, that beloved country“.

The mosaic on the right side of the chapel depicts, among other things the Vytis (coat of arms) with a traditional Lithuanian sun-cross marching against the Medieval crusader force, the coronation of King Mindaugas (the Lithuania‘s sole church-recognized recognized king), Saint Casimir (the only Lithuanian saint), various famous buildings of Lithuania, ranging from churches to the castle of Gediminas and Vilnius city gates, and the coats of arms of Lithuania and Vilnius. The slogan above the mosaic says, in Lithuanian „Let your sons draw strength from the past“ (this is part of the National Anthem lyrics).

A fragment of the right-side mosaic at the Washington Lithuanian chapel

A fragment of the right-side mosaic at the Washington Lithuanian chapel

The vault of the chapel depicts four greatest Maryan sites in Lithuania and their Mary paintings.

The vault of Our Lady of the Šiluva chapel in Washington

The vault of Our Lady of the Šiluva chapel in Washington

The fresco above the main entrance depicts emigration (a Vytis of Lithuanian coat of arms going across the ocean from the grave of the unknown soldier in Kaunas, Lithuania to the Freedom statue of New York).

The emmigration artwork

The emmigration artwork. The slogan declaring "for God and Fatherland" is very appropriate for the chapel's decor

Lithuanians constructed this chapel in 1966. It may well be said that the permit to build it was miraculous in itself, as Lithuanians were sidelined originally but received the right after one other community backed off (having been unable to raise the money). Currently, many American communities have their chapels in the National Shrine, yet most of them have chapels in the basement where they can be only small. Merely a few communities have large main-church chapels like the Lithuanians do.

Graves of the famous Lithuanians in Washington

Washington, DC has never been an industrial city so it failed to attract a larger Lithuanian community. Therefore, save for the largely ceremonial chapel in its National Shrine, it lacks a Lithuanian church. Lithuanian mission with monthly mass operates at Epiphany parish (2712 Dumbarton St., NW) since 1985, however.

Despite this, Washington (its suburbs, to be precise) has no shortage of famous Lithuanian graves.

The Lithuania-related famous soldiers are buried in the Arlington National Cemetery while the civilian cemeteries have many graves of those Lithuanians who fled the Soviet Genocide in the 1940s, were accepted by the USA as refugees and chose Washington as their residence.

In Arlington, the most famous graves are that of Walter Sabalauski (original Lithuanian: Vladislovas Sabaliauskas), who is far more famous in the USA than Lithuania as he spent most of his life there and fought in numerous USA‘s wars. An air assault school was named after him and his regular gravestone is in the book of top Arlington graves.

Walter Sabalauski grave in Washington

Walter Sabalauski grave in Washington

The Arlington grave of Samuel J. Harris, on the other hand, is more famous among Lithuanians. He is the sole non-Lithuanian-American who has died for Lithuania. This happened in 1920 when he was part of the US soldiers dispatch to Lithuania to train its newly-established army, as it fought an uphill struggle at its War of Independence against Poles, Russian imperialists, and Russian communists. Communists were those who shot Samuel Harris in Kaunas. Afterwards, Lithuania built him a pretty Arlington gravestone with both Lithuanian and USA coats of arms and paid his wife a pension. During the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, Harris‘s grave served as a site of Lithuanian-American events, presumably aimed at inspiring the USA to help Lithuania once again.

The Lithuanian side of Samuel Harris's grave

The Lithuanian side of Samuel Harris's grave

The American side of Harris's grave

The American side of Harris's grave

Another area for famous Lithuanian graves is the Cedar Hill cemetery beyond the Washington DC limits in Baltimore. There, the famous Lithuanian-American poet Henrikas Radauskas lies, known for his decisively urban poetry. As per the cemetery rules, only his surname could have been inscribed on the gravestone but an overgrown grave plaque has a citation of his poem (translation: „and the blooming of a green leaf you have taken with you“).

Henrikas Radauskas's grave

Henrikas Radauskas's grave

Statesman Kazys Škirpa was another interee at the Cedar Hill (his pretty grave with the Columns of Gediminas is empty now, however, as his remains have been reinterred in Kaunas after independence). Kazys Škirpa was one of the masterminds of the 1941 anti-Soviet June revolt. While the revolt was successful and the Soviets fled, the Škirpa‘s dreams of being able to reestablish a free Lithuania were too far-fetched as Lithuania was swiftly occupied by the Nazi Germany, who effectively put the would-be-prime-minister-of-Lithuania Škirpa at a house arrest in Berlin and, as he continued to demand independence, he ended up a political prisoner in the Nazi Germany. Freed after World War 2 ended, he fled to the USA, where he led the pro-Lithuanian-freedom movement at one time.

Kazys Škirpa's grave

Kazys Škirpa's grave

Škirpa‘s grave is surrounded by other Lithuanian graves, all of them adorned by Lithuanian symbols (such as Vytis and the Iron Wolf). Further up the hill lies the Lithuanian linguist Leonardas Dambriūnas who helped publish the first Lithuanian-language encyclopedia in Boston.

Lithuanian traces in the National Mall

While there is no Lithuanian-American memorial or museum in the Washington‘s famous central National Mall, there are Lithuanian traces.

Among the aviation pioneers described in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum are the Lithuanians Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas, who became instant martyrs in Lithuania after their New York-Kaunas flight failed near its destination.

Darius and Girėnas image in the Smithsonian museum

Darius and Girėnas image in the Smithsonian museum

The sculpture garden near the Air and Space Museum has a statue „Figure“ by Lipchitz, a Jewish sculptor from Druskininkai, Lithuania. The Smithsonian Holocaust museum has images of Eišiškės town Jews.

Sculpture by Lipschitz in the National Mall

Sculpture by Lipchitz in the National Mall

You may also search for Lithuanian names on the famous Vietnam war memorial, where all the Americans who died at this war are listed (however, take note that far from every Lithuanian-American had a Lithuanian surname by that time).

A memorial that is more important to Lithuanians is the memorial of 100 million communist victims, which also, by its nature, commemorates over half a million ethnic Lithuanians who perished under the Soviet occupation of Lithuania and Lithuania Minor. Sadly, the memorial is very small and even such a monument took many years to build, this depicting the rather sad situation with the commemoration of communist-genocides victims in the USA, which is often opposed by the world powers such as Russia.

Lithuanian partisan re-enactors at the communism victims memorial

Lithuanian partisan re-enactors at the communism victims memorial

Lithuanian organizations in Washington

Washington, DC and its suburbs house various pro-Baltic umbrella organizations such as The Joint Baltic American National Committee (est. 1961) which unites Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian members. These three nations have been united by history as all three suffered Russian Imperial, German and Soviet occupations.

One organization that is not Lithuanian but is inherently related to Lithuania is the Voice of America, the studios of which may be visited on tours. Created as a radio station to present the information from the free world to the nations behind the Iron Curtain, the Voice of America have been popular in Lithuania as well. Currently, however, there is no longer a Lithuanian-language programming in Voice of America as Lithuania itself now has a free media.

Voice of America building

Voice of America building

 


The map

All the Lithuanian locations, described in this article, are marked on this interactive map, made by the "Destination - America" expedition (click the link):

Interactive map of Washington (DC) Lithuanian sites

 


Destination America expedition diary

The US capital of Washington did not have a historic Lithuanian community. After World War 2, however, it attracted numerous Lithuanian intellectuals. The hub of their activity was the Lithuanian embassy, never closed by the USA which never recognized the Soviet occupation of Lithuania. There, in the oldest building of the Lithuanian diplomacy, where beleaguered representatives of a destroyed state spent the Cold War, we have also spent a night.

Washington may lack a Lithuanian club or a church, but its status as the US capital attracted the concerted attention of all US Lithuanians, who created a massive Lithuanian chapel in the US’s biggest Catholic church.

There are also minor Lithuanian-related sights in the famous Smithsonian museums, e.g. the Museum of Aviation has a picture of Darius and Girėnas, among other key pilots.

In the Arlington National Cemetery, we found the graves of Lithuanians who died for the USA and an American who died for Lithuania.

The post-war Lithuanian intellectual refugees were mostly buried in the Cedar Hill, including the poet Henrikas Radauskas and statesman Kazys Škirpa. Their graves were yet another locations on which no online information existed; thanks to Marija Schmidt, a daughter of a WW2 refugee Lithuanian linguist Dambriūnas, we have discovered them and marked on our map.

Augustinas Žemaitis, 2017 09 30.

More info on the Destination America expedition

The leader of Destination America project Augustinas Žemaitis (left) stands with Lyra Puišytė (middle) near the Lithuanian embassy in Washington, DC

The leader of Destination America project Augustinas Žemaitis (left) stands with Lyra Puišytė (middle) near the Lithuanian embassy in Washington, DC

Click to learn more about Lithuania: USA, Washington, DC 1 Comment

Indiana and its Lithuanian Riviera

Northern Indiana was absorbed by suburban Chicago - "Lithuanian-American capital". So many Chicagoans have moved into the Lake Michigan coasts there that the area became known as the "Lithuanian Riviera" among the Lithuanian community. Most of the "Lithuanian Riviera" is in Indiana, but it stretches well into Michigan. In numerous towns Lithuanian memorials have been built and Lithuanian institutions created.

"Lithuanian Riviera" began as many Chicago Lithuanians have chosen this area for their holidays in the 1950s-1980s because of the area's dune-clad Lake Michigan coasts being similar to the Lithuania's top resort of Palanga, still a vivid memory for many Lithuanians who fled the Soviet Genocide. Lithuanian men used to arrive here to spend summer weekends, while the Lithuanian women and children would spend entire summers here (in those days, much fewer women worked and it used to be a common practice among all ethnicities). As they became older and retired, many have moved to "Lithuanian Riviera" full time. Moreover, as Lithuanian districts in Chicago disintegrated, some younger families have moved to this area and commute to Chicago every day, treating the "Lithuanian Riviera" as Chicago suburbs, making some of the area's towns and villages to be among the most Lithuanian in the entire USA.

The beach at Union Pier resort

The beach at Union Pier resort

At the same time, however, Lithuanian Riviera gradually lost popularity as a vacation destination, as far-away destinations such as Florida, Hawaii, and the Caribbean became much more easily accessible (in terms of time and cost), while most women began to work, rendering the "pretty summer home for wife and kids" idea obsolete.

In addition to the laid-back lakeshore suburbs of "Lithuanian Riviera", Indiana's Lake Michigan shores also has several historic industrial cities that had strong Lithuanian heritage (Gary, East Chicago).

Lituanica park memorial stone

Lituanica park memorial stone in Beverly Shores

Lithuanian Riviera of Indiana - Beverly Shores, Michigan City

The heart of Lithuanians in Indiana and the whole "Lithuanian Riviera" is the resort town of Beverly Shores near the famous Indiana Dunes of Lake Michigan. 12,5% of its ~700 inhabitants are Lithuanians. In 1968 a local park was renamed after Lituanica plane; a symbolic memorial dedicated to Darius and Girėnas who piloted that aircraft in a doomed first air mail voyage across Atlantic also stands here in a middle of a pond (1971, author Juozas Bakis). It represents the broken wing of the downed Darius and Girėnas's aircraft "Lituanica". Beverly Shores also has a Lithuanian club, however, it has no building of its own.

Lituanica Park in Beverly Shores

Lituanica Park in Beverly Shores

Lituanica memorial (broken wing) in the Lituanica Park of Beverly Shores

Lituanica memorial (broken wing) in the Lituanica Park of Beverly Shores

Beverly Shores is also unique among the US cities and towns in that, while it has no Lithuanian church, it has a Lithuanian mass celebrated in the local parish. As by the time Lithuanians moved into Beverly Shores many of them were older, they did not build their own church, however, they were able to make significant alterations to the St. Ann of the Dunes church in 1970 (originally, the church has been built in 1950). Its wings and the unique glass wall behind the altar were designed by a Lithuanian architect Erdvilas Masiulis (who also designed numerous homes in Beverly Shores) while its interior eventually received Lithuanian donations of Rūpintojėlis (traditional sculpture of a sad God) by Daugvila and an altar cross made of amber (a material traditionally associated with Lithuania).

St. Anne church of Beverly Shores with the Lithuanian amber cross visible, as well as Masiulis-designed window behind the altar that shows nature (God's creation)

St. Anne church of Beverly Shores with the Lithuanian amber cross visible, as well as Masiulis-designed window behind the altar that shows nature (God's creation)

In the nearby Michigan City International garden various sections are dedicated to various ethnicities. There is also a Lithuanian section. After spending decades of being quite derelict, the gardens were restored in the 2010s and now also host annual ethnic festivals, including a Lithuanian one. At the heart of the park's Lithuanian section is the historic Lithuanian presidents memorial, began in 1941 as interwar Lithuania's final president Antanas Smetona (who fled Lithuania to the USA in 1940) planted a tree there. Later, the Smetona's post has been joined by two more posts for the two other interwar Lithuanian presidents: Aleksandras Stulginskis and Kazys Grinius. Other ethnic gardens in Michigan City are dedicated to Poles, Romanians, Norwegians, Native Americans, Germans, and Scotts.

Lithuanian garden in Michigan City

Lithuanian garden in Michigan City. Each post is for a president of Lithuania

Antanas Smetona plaque on one of the posts

Antanas Smetona plaque on one of the posts

Recently the Lithuanian section was expanded with a traditional Lithuanian chapel-post (a.k.a. Wayside shrine, koplytstulpis) that was donated by the Knights of Lithuania in 2016.

Lithuanian sites in the industrial cities of Gary, East Chicago and South Bend

The cities of Gary and EastChicago that are located between Chicago and the Lithuanian Riviera have a very different history: they were industrial powerhouses that housed many Lithuanians before the World Wars but became Black-majority since then, with nearly all Lithuanians leaving them behind.

Once Gary had a Lithuanian St. Casimir church (constructed, 1927, closed 1998) and St. Casimir school (located in the first church building, built 1918). Both buildings survive (1368 West 15th Avenue) and are now used for the same purposes by the Black-majority Power and Light church. In the church, two Lithuanian stained-glass windows survive. The one on the left side near the altar inscribed with letters "Moterų dovana" (a gift from women), while the one on the right "Vyrų dovana" (a gift from men). Those are the only two original stained-glass windows that survived the devastating fire of 1970 04 12. During its reconstruction after fire 1974, the new church has also received many other new stained glass windows by a famous designer A. Valeška, as well as a unique Lithuanian folk-inspired wooden artwork at its entrance (with a traditional Lithuanian sun-cross) and a wooden tower. None of those remain in the church after it was sold, however.

Gary St. Casimir Lithuanian church

Gary St. Casimir Lithuanian church

Gary Lithuanian school (old church)

Gary Lithuanian school (old church)

As most of Lithuanians have left the area and the church suffered a fire in 1970, the parishioners tried to relocate the parish to the suburbs and even got a donation promise for a lot as well as found a buyer for their church. Diocese, however, forbade the relocation, essentially condemning the parish to closure on the long run.

East Chicago also had its Lithuanian church (erected 1913, since demolished, formerly 3903 Main Street) and still has a street named after Lituanica airplane.

Location of the Lithuanian chucrh of East Chicago

Location of the Lithuanian chucrh of East Chicago

Now-demolished Lithuanian church of East Chicago. Image from Lithuanian Research Studies Center

Now-demolished Lithuanian church of East Chicago. Image from Lithuanian Research Studies Center

Deeper inland, the industrial city of South Bend never had a strong Lithuanian community, however, one Lithuanian has made enough impact there to have a sculpture erected to him. That was Edvardas Kraučiūnas, brother of Feliksas Kraučiūnas (a basketball star who helped Lithuanians win the 1937-1939 European basketball championships). Like Feliksas, Edvardas was very capable in sports and coached the team of South Bend's Notre Dame University. With the importance Americans put on varsity sports, the university has erected sculptures for many of its famous coaches; a nearby street is named after Kriaučiūnas as well. However, instead of using the Lithuanian name "Edvardas Kriaučiūnas", the name "Moose Kraus" he adopted later is used. Kriaučiūnas adopted that name because, while he still was a player in the university, his own coach was unable to spell his Lithuanian name. Edvardas Kriaučiūnas (Moose Kraus) sculpture is sitting on a bench on the side of Notre Dame University's stadium.

Edvardas Kriaučiūnas (Moose Kraus) sculpture in South Bend (Notre Dame university)

Edvardas Kriaučiūnas (Moose Kraus) sculpture in South Bend (Notre Dame university)

Union Pier and Michigan's Lithuanian Riviera

One of the most Lithuanian resort towns of the Lithuanian Riviera was Union Pier, which at one time had 7 Lithuanian resorts that would have hosted the Lithuanian men visiting from Chicago for weekends and Lithuanian women/children for prolonged times in summer. As these practices declined and many older Chicago Lithuanians bought their own summer homes in the Union Pier, just a single Lithuanian resort remains: Gintaras Resort on the Lake. It is located at a magnificent spot atop high dunes; most of its customers today are non-Lithuanian, however. There is also a Milda Corner Market that is a Lithuanian shop in Union Pier.

Gintaras Resort on the Lake sign

Gintaras Resort on the Lake sign

Gintaras Resort on the Lake room

Gintaras Resort on the Lake room

One of the most famous Lithuanian resorts in the "Riviera" actually used to stand inland: that was the Tabor Farm that used to be owned by the Adamkus family (who later became the president of Lithuania) and attracted much of the Lithuanian-American elite. However, Tabor Farm has been sold and demolished since, leaving no traces.

The map

All the Lithuanian locations, described in this article, are marked on this interactive map, made by the "Destination Lithuanian America" expedition (click the link):

Interactive map of Lake Michigan southern shore Lithuanian heritage

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Indiana, USA 19 Comments

St. Louis, Missouri and Illinois

St. Louis is one of the great historic metropolises of the USA which were developed in the 19th century while gradually settling the Western plains of the American continent.

Mississippi River which straddles the city served as a premodern freight highway. Industry developed along it attracting European migrants, including Lithuanians.

East St. Louis Lithuanian church

Church of Immaculate Conception at East St. Louis (1509 Baugh Ave) is one of the best examples of Lithuanian-American national romantic architecture. It has been designed by Jonas Mulokas, its stained-glass windows created by Vytautas Kazimieras Jonynas (year 1956), for whom it was the first such major work. Together, these two authors created the post-WW2 style of Lithuanian churches where they sought to represent their lost homeland as best as they could (after all, the post-WW2 migrants have been forced from their country by Soviets rather than emigrating on their own will).

Immaculate Conception Lithuanian church of East St. Louis is among the best examples of Lithuanian-American search for a modern ethnic style. Google Street View.

East St. Louis Lithuanian church exterior (after the tower was temporarily removed in 2018)

East St. Louis Lithuanian church exterior without the steeple. The steeple that was worn out by time and winds had to be removed in 2018 but has been since replaced by the work of parishioners.

The forms of the church aren't resembling any single historical style but they are not modern either. Even the Christian church elements have been "ethnicized" here: the cross is mixed in form with sun and moon (inspired by peasant or even pagan Lithuanian symbolism), the front side has bas-reliefs in the form of crosses of Vytis and towers of Gediminas, the main entrance incorporates Vytis, while the tower is inspired by Baroque although not copying it directly (this is symbolic as at the time Baroque was regarded to be the most Lithuanian of Western styles due to its prevalence in Vilnius church architecture). There are ethnic wooden carvings above doors.

Inside, the altar is also decisively ethnic Lithuanian, carved from wood (author Petras Vėbra).

The interior of the church with a Lithuanian-folk-woodcarving altar

The interior of the church with a Lithuanian-folk-woodcarving altar

The most striking parts of the interior are 55 stained glass windows, most of which have Lithuania-related topics. The southern wall is adorned by 8 stained-glass windows of Mary-related places of Lithuania, with reimaginations of the local paintings of Mary in the foreground and famous buildings in the background (the northern wall is likewise covered with 8 windows with Maryan sites outside Lithuania). There are also historical scenes, such as the Baptism of Mindaugas (first king of Lithuania).

Stained glass windows of the Virgin Mary of the Gate of Dawn (vilnius, left) and the miraculous Virgin Mary of Trakai (right)

Stained glass windows of the Virgin Mary of the Gate of Dawn (vilnius, left) and the miraculous Virgin Mary of Trakai (right)

Stained glass windows of the Virgin Mary of Krekenava (left) and the Virgin Mary of Žemaičių Kalvarija (right)

Stained glass windows of the Virgin Mary of Krekenava (left) and the Virgin Mary of Žemaičių Kalvarija (right)

Baptism of Jesus (left) compared to Baptism of King Mindaugas (right). While Baptism of Jesus may be seen as the beginning of the worldwide Christian community, the baptism of Mindaugas began the Lithuanian Christian community and, according to some interpretations, the Lithuanian nation

Baptism of Jesus (left) compared to Baptism of King Mindaugas (right). While Baptism of Jesus may be seen as the beginning of the worldwide Christian community, the baptism of Mindaugas began the Lithuanian Christian community and, according to some interpretations, the Lithuanian nation

Especially related to Lithuania are the stained-glass windows in the top arches, where historical Lithuanian personalities (both religious and secular) and coats of arms of the Lithuanian cities are presented. There you may find images of the Patron of Lithuania St. Casimir, first king Mindaugas, the "national poet" Maironis, grand duke Vytautas (who expanded Medieval Lithuania the furthest), an activist against Russification of Lithuania bishop Motiejus Valančius, the founder of Vilnius University Protasevičius.

Stained glass windows of Vytautas the great (right) and the Lithuanian Coat of arms (left) by V. K. Jonynas

Stained glass windows of Vytautas the great (right) and the Lithuanian Coat of arms (left) by V. K. Jonynas

Stained glass windows of the national poaet Maironis (left) and the Kaunas city coat of arms (right) by V. K. Jonynas

Stained glass windows of the national poaet Maironis (left) and the Kaunas city coat of arms (right) by V. K. Jonynas

There are so many ethnic Lithuanian details that it is impossible to list every single one and the church could serve as a kind of repository of the Lithuanian history, as nearly every wooden or metal decoration follows a Lithuanian folk pattern or design, or uses the traditional Lithuanian symbols.

Lithuanian ethnic woodcarving inside the East St. Louis church

Lithuanian ethnic woodcarving inside the East St. Louis church

The front wall of the church includes two traditional Lithuanian crosses f Vytis (in darker bricks), two Columns of Gediminas (in darker bricks, on the corners), while the door has a metal image of the Lithuanian Coat of Arms

The front wall of the church includes two traditional Lithuanian crosses f Vytis (in darker bricks), two Columns of Gediminas (in darker bricks, on the corners), while the door has a metal image of the Lithuanian Coat of Arms

The parish is much older than the church itself, established in 1895. Its first church has been constructed in 1897, enlarged in 1928 and destroyed by fire in 1943.

Since the year the current church was built East St. Louis became an infamously unsafe district, declining in population from ~80 000 to ~20 000. Despite that, the church remained open, even though 11 of 13 Catholic churches in the area have been closed by 2018. Its location next to a highway attracts attention and even new parishioners, as the members of the parish have told "Global True Lithuania". Nevertheless, the church also had some problems: two of the Lithuanian sun-crosses that have adorned the roof had to be removed after there was an attempt to steal them and put in a safer place near the basement stairs. In the basement, one can find a parish hall where the Lithuanian activities, as well as post-Mass events, take place, as well as a small parish museum. There, you can also see the images of the way the church had to look like as designed by an American architect L. Prens. While even that design included some Lithuanian features (as was likely requested by the Lithuanian parish and its then-pastor Deksnys), altogether it looked much more like a regular church of the era. Architect Prens died, however, and the order has been entrusted to Mulokas and Jonynas who ethnicized the entire design of the church. Only the basement (opened in 1945 as a church while construction continued) was built according to the Prens design.

Lithuanian details in the church basement that now serves as a hall for after-mass socialization, including the Lithuanian activities

Lithuanian details in the church basement that now serves as a hall for after-mass socialization, including the Lithuanian activities

The original project of the church by Prens (left) and the altered one by Mulokas (right)

The original project of the church by Prens (left) and the altered one by Mulokas (right)

East St. Louis Immaculate Conception church looks is similar to the All Saints Lithuanian church in Chicago and also has similar elements to the Nativity BVM church of Chicago (the last of them being created by the same tandem of designers).

In the empty lot next to the East St. Louis Lithuanian church, a Lithuanian school used to stand. It was opened in 1934, closed in 1968 and burned (arson suspected) in 1976.

Between the former school and church, a sculpture of Our Lady of Šiluva was erected in 1951, which still stands. Rituals of crowning the sculpture used to be performed by the schoolchildren.

Our Lady of Šiluva shrine

Our Lady of Šiluva shrine, covered by a traditional Lithuanian metal cross of the type common at the historic Lithuanian cemeteries (especially in Lithuania Minor)

Collinsville and its Lithuanian Lutheran church

Further east the suburb of Collinsville has a small white church built by Lithuanian Lutherans in 1903, known as the Jerusalem Lutheran church (305 Collinsville Ave).

Collisville Jerusalem Lithuanian Lutheran church

Collisville Jerusalem Lithuanian Lutheran church

This is one of merely 3 Lithuanian Lutheran churches in the USA, two other ones standing in Chicago. The building is small and wooden. It still has Lithuanian names of the sponsors inscribed on its stained glass windows, among them "Shimkus" (possible relatives of the US congressman Shimkus).

Stained-glass windows inscriptions with Lithuanian names at the Collinsville church

Stained-glass windows inscriptions with Lithuanian names at the Collinsville church

The church has been also organized by the victims of Russian occupation but the earlier Imperial (1795-1915) rather than the Soviet one (1940-1990). The pastor Keturakaitis who established this church previously worked as book smuggler in Lithuania, importing Lithuanian books into Russian-occupied Lithuania at the time the Russian regime banned Lithuanian language (he had served a prison term for that). In Lithuania, he lived in Tauragė, an area that used to be near the border of the Russian and German empires and had many Lutherans. It was precisely the Lutheran areas of Lithuania that gave most emigrants for the Collinsville coal mines and even before Keturakaitis came, they used to have Lutheran worship in their homes or other churches.

A fraktur-script book at the Jerusalem Lithuanian Lutheran church at Collinsville

A fraktur-script book at the Jerusalem Lithuanian Lutheran church at Collinsville. Fraktur used to be used in Lithuania Minor where most Lutheran Lithuanians lived, while the traditional Latin scipt was used by Catholic Lithuanians. After the Soviet genocide has wiped out the Lithuania Minor in the 1940s, Latin script became the sole remaining script in use among Lithuanians, making this book hardly readable to modern-day Lithuanian Lutherans

The parish reached the high point after World War 2, when the community has sponsored arrival of the refugees from Lithuania who fled the Soviet occupation. Most refugees sought that the church would become associated with the Lithuanian Lutheran church, however, while many older parishioners preferred a continuing Missouri Synod affiliation, leading to a dispute among the "old" and "new" parishioners. The dispute ended up in favor of Missouri Synod; however, most of the proponents of the Lithuanian Lutheran church then left the parish, attending only the ethnic Lithuanian but not the religious festivals. Some of them still supported the parish, though, but the number of parishioners declined since, although non-Lithuanians sometimes joined.

Collinsville Lithuanian church interior

Collinsville Lithuanian church interior

Even though in the 2000s only some third-to-half of the congregation was of Lithuanian heritage, the parish sponsored a construction of a Lutheran church in Palanga, Lithuania then.

Lithuanian heritage in downtown St. Louis

St. Louis metropolis straddles across two states as the Missouri/Illinois borderline here follows the Mississippi River. Both the aforementioned Lithuanian communities are located on the Illinois side but the Missouri side (which also has the St. Louis downtown) also had its own Lithuanian church dedicated to St. Joseph, acquired from Protestants in 1916 in the historic Lafayette Square district famous for its turn-of-the-century architecture (address: corner of Park Avenue and MacKay Place). Small, looking as if built of stones, the church has been closed in 1970 when Lithuanians left the then-poor neighborhood.

St. Joseph Lithuanian church at St. Louis, Missouri

St. Joseph Lithuanian church at St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis is also famous for its City Museum. For kids, it may seem to be a large playground while for adults, it is a work of art and a memorial for the declining American cities. Much of its interior is filled with the details of demolished pretty buildings and closed institutions. Among the main details is the St. George bas-relief that used to be above the main entrance to the Chicago St. George Lithuanian church, demolished in 1990.

St. George bas-relief of Chicago St. George Lithuanian church at the City Museum of St. Louis, Missouri

St. George bas-relief of Chicago St. George Lithuanian church at the City Museum of St. Louis, Missouri

City Museum at St. Louis, Missouri

City Museum at St. Louis, Missouri

Source on Lutheran church.

The map

All the Lithuanian locations, described in this article, are marked on this interactive map, made by the "Destination Lithuanian America" expedition (click the link):

Interactive map of St. Louis Lithuanian sites

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Illinois, Missouri No Comments

Omaha, Nebraska

Omaha looks strange among the American cities with Lithuanian communities as it is far from both the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes where most Lithuanians settled.

However, it was not the location that used to attract Lithuanians but city size (and thus job opportunities). When the first Lithuanian wave of migration was gaining momentum in 1890 Omaha was the second largest US city this far west (after San Francisco). The "Manifest destiny" to conquer the "Wild West" has already been completed; the Native American lands were partitioned and White settlements established in many locations. However, most of them were small: even Los Angeles had merely 50 000 people (smaller than cities of Lithuania back in that era). However, Omaha had a population of 140 000 and thus dominated a massive region. It was growing swiftly as well: from 31 000 inhabitants in 1880 to 213 000 in 1915.

Still, the number of Lithuanians was only 400 thus the erection of a wooden church in 1907 had been a tremendous initiative. An initiative that seemed to be compulsory to every immigrant community of the era. South Omaha thus had 23 churches, most of them ethnic. Current St. Anthony Lithuanian church (5402 South 32nd Street) has been constructed in 1936.

St. Anthony Lithuanian church in Omaha (Nebraska). Google Street View.

Its establishment met opposition: the bishop proved to be extremely hard to convince that Lithuanians are a separate nation with their own language. He did not understand why Lithuanians could not pray at English churches as the Irish do. An urban legend(?) says that the bishop changed his mind after Lithuanians said: "Do you wish that we, like Irish, would lose our language?". Struggle for Lituanity continued even after the church was established. It included long (eventually successful) campaigns to invite Lithuanian nuns to teach at a local school and replace a Polish priest with a Lithuanian one. All this evidenced that the church became a kind of "Homeland outside homeland" rather than merely a place to worship God. It (or nearby localities) were used for watching Lithuanian movies, theater, listening to Lithuanian lectures, doing picnics. After Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union (1940) and the USA allowed the persecuted Lithuanian refugees to immigrate Omaha community temporarily housed them in the church cellar.

A new school building has been constructed in 1953. But the American-born generations showed less attachment to their old homeland and the church attendance dropped, the school was closed in 1980. But the holy mass is still celebrated in Lithuanian - something increasingly rare in the USA. An interesting moment in parish history has been the appointment of a famous priest Peter Stravinskas in 2005. This Lithuanian author of various books has many followers in America (among non-Lithuanians) and the parish rapidly expanded as the followers moved in. Old parish members were disappointed; especially so after Stravinskas spent the parish fund that was saved up in order to prove bishop that the parish is financially solvent (in the USA many Lithuanian parishes were suppressed citing bad financial situation). Afterward, the parish was indeed closed in the 2010s.

Omaha Lithuanian community is still active, it has ~250 members, some 100 actively participating. Under their initiative, Omaha twinned with the city of Šiauliai in Lithuania. In 2015, a joint initiative of the two cities was to create a Lithuanian sculpture garden "Path of the sun" in Lauritzen Gardens of Omaha.

Omaha has two Lithuanian bakeries, this mini-chain established by Vytautas and Stefanija Mackevičius in 1962. "Lithuanian Bakery and Kafe" is in 7427 Pacific St while "Lithuanian Bakery and Deli" is in 5217 S 33rd Ave. The latter has a Lithuanian-style wooden-looking house nearby.

A Lithuanian bakery in Omaha, Nebraska. Google Street View.

Additional reading: Joseph F Rummel, George Jonaitis, George Mikulskis, Joseph Jusevich Mūsų šventas lietuviškas žodis: Šv. Antano kultūrinės vienovės troškulys [anglų k.].

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Nebraska, USA 7 Comments

Los Angeles, California

Los Angeles is the only city on the US Pacific coast to have a sizeable Lithuanian community. This is because it is one of a few cities in the region which has been a metropolis even before World War 2.

Modest St. Casimir Lithuanian church (2716 St George St, constructed in 1941) is not only the center of Roman Catholic faith but also the center of Los Angeles Lithuanian community. Most of the community events take place here. Singers and artists who come from Lithuania also perform here. It also includes a Saturday school. A courtyard dedicated to Lithuanian American poet Bernardas Brazdžionis (famous for his patriotic works) boasts his statue. The first weekend of October is Lithuanian fair there since 1986.

St. Casimir Lifthuanian church (left) and the rectory (right) with Lithuanian Coat of Arms above the doorway. The complex also includes a large school which far surpasses the church itself in size. Google Street View.

San Fernando area has two streets named after Lithuania: Lithuania Dr and Lithuania Pl.

Riverside National Cemetery in southeastern LA suburbs has a grave of Frank John Lubin (better known in Lithuania by his birth name Pranas Lubinas; 1910-1999). A spectacular basketball player of his era he was the captain of US national team in 1936 Berlin Olympics. Afterwards, he returned to play for his homeland Lithuania and helped it to defend European champion title in Kaunas in 1939 serving both as captain and as coach. Basketball remained Lithuania's national sport ever since and Lubin(as) is considered to be the father of Lithuanian basketball. Due to the Soviet occupation of Lithuania (1940), he returned to the USA and served in the Air Force in World War 2, hence he is buried as a veteran. Section 50, Grave 5241.

6 800 Lithuanians live in Los Angeles (excluding suburbs). This is the 3rd largest such number in the USA (after Chicago and New York City).

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New Hampshire

New Hampshire is a small state, it has merely a million inhabitants. However, this region of New England used to be rich and attracted many Lithuanians ~1900; today there are around 7000 of them and the city of Nashua (pop. 85 000) is their heartland, having numerous Lithuania-related sites.

Nashua Lithuanian church

One apartment building in Nashua is called Casimir Place after the Lithuanian saint Casimir. This is because it has been built next to the former St. Casimir Lithuanian church, closed in 2002 (Temple St). To the very last day, it served Lithuanian-language mass and had flowers of Lithuanian flag colors surrounding its altar. The church building still stands and now also houses apartments. Inside, there are commemorative plaques about the Lithuanian church and Lithuanians, as well as many old pictures of it. The vault of the Lithuanian church was not destroyed as the attic is left unused; it is still visible through a ceiling glass from the corridor. Entering the church interior may need somebody of those who live there to let you into the building. The gothic revival building itself was not built by Lithuanians but rather acquired from another community.

St, Casimir Lithuanian church of Nashua

St, Casimir Lithuanian church of Nashua

The corridor on the second floor built in the church nave

The corridor on the second floor built in the church nave. Old images visible here on the walls show the church as it was.

Nashua textile mills

Pre-War Lithuanians (~1000) have been attracted to Nashua by its massive textile industry. Its golden era was short however as the Great Depression forced many mills to go bankrupt and the last one closed down in 1949. Some Lithuanians were already too rooted to move away however and ~700 still live in the city. Unlike many other post-industrial American core cities Nashua enjoyed a true renaissance and was not affected by the White flight. Even the "Money" magazine named it "The best American city to live" twice. Massive textile mills of the golden era where the forefathers of local Lithuanians worked at are now considered heritage and may still be seen near the town center (Main St, Franklin St, Factory St).

Nashua factories looking from the spot of "Diversity" statue

Nashua factories looking from the spot of "Diversity" statue at Front St (see below)

Nashua Lithuanian cemeteries

Nashua has two Lithuanian cemeteries. The Holy Cross Cemetery in Hudson suburb has a Lithuanian tricolor perpetually waving over it and the name "Lithuanian" prominently displayed. It was the Catholic cemetery and a memorial next to the flags is dedicated to the memory of those who served the country, the community, and the St. Casimir Lithuanian parish. Initially, the Catholic church was reluctant to establish a separate Lithuanian cemetery, but they did so after Lithuanians who sought their own cemetery established a Lithuanian Co-Operative Cemetery at Carmichal way (~400 graves) in 1928. In those days, cemeteries were a religious issue as well, as the Roman Catholic church insisted that Catholics be buried in the sanctified ground of the Roman Catholic cemeteries, however, some Catholics actually preferred cemeteries based on the ethnicity. After understanding that it will not stop the establishment of the ethnicity-based cemetery in Nashua, the Catholic church, therefore, saw it as important to also have a Catholic ethnicity-based cemetery.

Holy Cross Lithuanian cemetery with the Lithuanian and American flags

Holy Cross Lithuanian cemetery with the Lithuanian and American flags

Therefore, while beforehand there had been a dispute if Lithuanians need a separate cemetery at all, currently two Lithuanian cemeteries operate. The Co-Operative cemetery, however, has since been renamed "Pinewood cemetery" (in 2010), but its history is still reminded by a memorial. Only the American and New Hampshire flags wave there though. Like the Holy Cross Cemetery, however, it has many old Lithuanian graves.

A memorial commemorating the Lithuanian Co-operative cemetery

A memorial commemorating the Lithuanian Co-operative cemetery

Nashua Lithuanian sculptures and streetnames

Unlike many of the so-called Lithuanian "colonies" of the pre-war first wave, Nashua still has substantial Lithuania-related activities. A major reason for that is the Zylonis fund, created by a will of a Nashua Lithuanian in the 1970s. Its money is to be used to strengthen the Nashua-Lithuanian relations, attracting, for example, Lithuanian bands to concert ant Nashua. Nashua library too has Lithuanian books and hosts some Lithuanian events. Some Lithuania-related places have been on Zylonis Fund as well, including the sculpture "Talking Bush" by a Lithuanian sculptor Asta Vasiliauskaitė (E Hollis St) - the sculpture has no Lithuanian details, but the old age of the Lithuanian language is explained next to it (the plaque also cites the author: "I am pleased that many Lithuanians have found happiness in Nashua and in the United States. When a person is happy, he shines from the inside". Another sculpture by Lithuanians is Diversity next to where the factories are, created by the Nashua Lithuanians Woitkowski and Tomolonis.

Talking Bush statue by Vasiliauskaitė

Talking Bush statue by Vasiliauskaitė

Nashua has multiple locations named after their former Lithuanian owners. One of them is the Gelazauskas preserve west of the town, located on the land sold at under-market rates (200 000 instead of 2 800 000 USD) by the Gelažauskas family (while most Lithuanians came to New Hampshire to work at the factories, some, like Gelažauskas, eventually acquired land for farming, as land was always important in the Lithuanian culture and before World War 2 industrial jobs were still often seen only as a mean to earn money to buy land for farming, sometimes back in Lithuania, which was 70-80% rural; Gelažauskas family had a dairy farm on that land). A wooden plaque with its name marks the entrance to the preserve.

Gelazauskas preserve entrance

Gelazauskas preserve entrance

Another area with multiple Lithuanian names is a collection of Lithuanian-named streets after the members of a single family who lived there. Now the streets have detached homes. The names are Tomolonis, Vieckis, Mizoras, Monica, and Monias (the last two anglicized Lithuanian, the first three originals). The original owners of the farm there were Leon Vieckis and Monica Mizuras; their daughter Monica then married another Lithuanian Joseph Tomolonis, while their daughter Phyllis married Frank Monis.

Mizoras Drive, one of the Nashua Lithuanian-named streets

Mizoras Drive, one of the Nashua Lithuanian-named streets

Elsewhere, there is also Vilna street in Nashua, named after Vilnius (its old Russian name, still popular in English before World War 1 when most of the Nashua Lithuanians moved in).

New Hampshire Lithuanian sites outside Nashua

Manchester city north of Nashua has a small street named after Lithuanian city of Kaunas (Kaunas Circle). Manchester's mile-long rows of former textile mills survive around Commercial St and are in good shape. They have a Millyard Museum that explains how they worked and how the immigrants (including Lithuanians) worked there.

Epping may lack a Lithuanian community but it has a famous grave: that of Jack Sharkey, a heavyweight world champion of boxing. He was a pure Lithuanian: “Jack Sharkey” was just a pseudonym based on the names of his favorite boxers, while his original name was Juozapas Žukauskas. Today, he is among the best-known people among the Lithuanian-Americans.

Jack Sharkey (Juozapas Žukauskas) grave in Epping

Jack Sharkey (Juozapas Žukauskas) grave in Epping

Map of the Lithuanian sites

Map of Merrimack Valley Lithuanian sites

Destination America expedition diary

Destination America map

Later, in New Hampshire, our team had to go on the „discovery mode“. While I learned the cemetery where the Lithuanian world boxing Champion Jack Sharkey is buried beforehand, it still took some time to actually discover his grave and mark down its exact coordinates.

In Nashua, we were met by the sociable mother and daughter Woitkowskis, who shown us more Lithuanian sites there than we initially knew, including a district of Lithuanian street names. In many cases, the locations are named not after some famous people, but rather after those who sold the land!

Augustinas Žemaitis, 2017 09 24.

Woitkowski family greets "Destination America" in their home

Woitkowski family greets "Destination America" in their home at Nashua

Click to learn more about Lithuania: New Hampshire, USA 14 Comments

Rhode Island

Rhode Island is the smallest US state. Providence is its only conurbation. Like other New England cities, it has a Lithuanian community. Until being closed down in 2017, St. Casimir church was its hub. Unlike in the other neighboring states, there were never any more Lithuanian churches in Rhode Island and this one continued to celebrate mass in Lithuanian language until its closure. ~3500 Lithuanians live in Rhode Island today, no longer concentrated in any single district. Lithuanian social clubs have been closed.

Providence St. Casimir Lithuanian church

Providence St. Casimir Lithuanian church

Next to St. Casimir church stands a memorial to the Lithuanians that commemorates all the groups of Lithuanian people the Providence Lithuanians though to be especially worthy of commemoration. Like many Lithuanian memorials in the USA, it is dedicated to "Lithuanians who fought and died for freedom and those who perished in labor and concentration camps during 50 years of Lithuania's occupation". It is also dedicated to the 5 Lithuanian men from the parish who perished while fighting for the USA in World War 2. And it is dedicated to "Lithuanian Americans who built St. Casimir's church and endowed it with strong faith and rich traditions". The monumental stone is crowned by a traditional Lithuanian sun-cross, mering the Christian and pagan symbolics.

Providence Lithuanian memorial

Providence Lithuanian memorial

Despite a small Lithuanian community Rhode Island is unique for having Lithuanian independence day as an official holiday. The law § 25-2-28 "Lithuanian Independence Day" declares: "The sixteenth day of February shall annually be set aside as a day to be known as "Lithuanian Independence Day." The day is to be observed by the people of this state with appropriate exercises in public places".

 


Map of the Lithuanian sites

All the Lithuanian locations, described in this article, are marked on this interactive map, made by the "Destination - America" expedition (click the link):

Map of Rhode Island Lithuanian sites

 


Destination America 2017 expedition diary

Destination America map

We've left Connecticut to Rhode Island and reached its capital Providence after dark. During "Destination America 2017", we always lacked time. We used to get up before the dawn, and we used to go to sleep after midnight (only by then we completed all the works). Still, I have scheduled everything in such a way that we would visit only certain places outside of daytime - ones that are not needed to be visited during the day.

Unfortunately, the Providence Lithuanian church was among such places. It had been closed, so no way to get inside at any time. It had been closed this year. "You are late just by a couple of months", we were told by the Lithuanian sisters in Putnam. From the outside, St. Casimir church still looked as it did for nearly a century, and a memorial for Soviet-persecuted Lithuanians still stood at its front. The great numbers of such memorials were a surprise for us in the USA, as many of them were not described anywhere so far (neither online nor in books) - unlike, for example, Lithuanian churches. Therefore, we didn't know about many of these memorials (including the Providence one) in advance.

After taking pictures of everything we had a dinner in a regular fast food restaurant and went to spend a night in a motel. Of course, we wrote down our findings of the day beforehand (when you hear 10-20 stories every day, you'd simply forget them if you wouldn't write them down immediately). We also published some information on Facebook. Such was the more prosaic side of "Destination - America 2017". Next day another state was waiting for us - Massachusetts.

Augustinas Žemaitis, 2017 09 21.

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Wisconsin

Wisconsin to the north of Chicago has some 10 000 Lithuanians most of whom are descendants of those who arrived before World War 2 and the rest - shortly after World War 2. Therefore Lithuanian buildings of Wisconsin are old and in many cases closed, with only some inscriptions remaining. All of them are located in the old cities and towns on Lake Michigan shores. In this article, they are listed north-to-south.

Sheboygan Lithuanian church, cemetery, and Vaitkus grave

Sheboygan is the Wisconsin's oldest Lithuanian community, dating to the 19th century. It has an Immaculate Conception Lithuanian church (2705 S. 14th St.) and cemetery (land acquired in 1929). While the church with such name still exists, it is a new building that was constructed together with a school in 1960 when the parish was already on the verge of becoming non-Lithuanian; the old church has been destroyed and nothing Lithuanian exists in the new church. Likewise, while the Lithuanian burials still predominate in the cemetery (which is thus the sole Lithuanian cemetery in the entire state of Winsconsin), there is nothing more Lithuanian there. Older Lithuanian burials (the ones with more Lithuanian inscriptions) are located in Southside cemetery.

Sheboygan Immaculate Conception church

Sheboygan Immaculate Conception church

Sheboygan Lithuanian cemetery

Sheboygan Lithuanian cemetery

In its suburb of Kohler the Lithuanian Transatlantic flight pioneer Feliksas (Felix) Vaitkus (Waitkus) is buried. He flew successfully from New York to Ireland in 1935, that way doing the first successful Lithuanian landing after the Transatlantic flight, something the pilots Darius and Girėnas had failed to do. However, Darius and Girėnas have actually passed over Ireland as well - it is just that they chose to continue their flight to Lithuania (ultimately leading to their demise in what is now Poland) while Vaitkus chose to abandon further attempts to reach Lithuania due to bad weather. For this reason, while Vaitkus received hero's welcome at Lithuania at the time, he is far less known than Darius and Girėnas. Still, he was the only person to cross the Atlantic this way in 1935, notorious for bad weathers, and the sixth person in the world to do it alone in a single-engine plane (this is even marked on his grave). Vaitkus is buried in the family zone of a rich local family he married into. Unlike that of many Lithuanian immigrants', Vaitkus's (who was born in the USA to Lithuanian parents) life has been far more affluent: he served in the air force and he completed university studies, and he had a wife from a major local family. Later in life, he worked for Boeing.

Brotz family section of the Kohler cemetery where Feliksas Vaitkus is buried at

Brotz family section of the Kohler cemetery where Feliksas Vaitkus is buried at

Feliksas Vaitkus's and his wife's graves

Feliksas Vaitkus's and his wife's graves

Port Washington Lithuanian heritage

While the cute town of Port Washington seemingly has nothing Lithuanian today, it once boasted a small St. Ambrose Lithuanian church (~100 seats) which had a congregation of 30 families and 50 singles. The church was closed in 1964 and demolished in 1965, replaced by apartments.

St. Ambrose Lithuanian chucrh of Port Washington (Historical Society image)

St. Ambrose Lithuanian chucrh of Port Washington (Historical Society image)

Milwaukee Lithuanian church and museum

In Wisconsin's largest city of Milwaukee, the Public Museum includes a "European village" exhibit full of houses that represent the European countryside cultures of 1875-1925 (at the time when European villagers would immigrate to Milwaukee en-masse). Among the 32 cultures represented the Lithuanian ethnicity is exhibited as well. The village is dedicated to "All past, present and future immigrants in appreciation of their contributions to American culture". A small Lithuanian hut has been recreated there, with an interior stuffed with Lithuanian things and its exterior decorated in Lithuanian wooden carvings. Compared to the homes of the larger communities it is smaller, as Lithuanians were not among the city's major communities. Other Lithuanian details in the "Village" are the word "Lietuviai " near the entrance and a Lithuanian doll in the gallery of ethnic costumes. In general, the museum is a universal one that covers nearly everything, from animals to Native Americans to history to the planets.

Lithuanian house of Milwaukee public museum (exterior)

Lithuanian house of Milwaukee public museum (exterior)

Lithuanian house of Milwaukee public museum (interior fragment)

Lithuanian house of Milwaukee public museum (interior fragment)

A building of St. Gabriel Lithuanian church still stands in Milwaukee as well (construction began at 1913). It is now used, however, by the Congregation of the Great Spirit, effectively a Native American Catholic parish. No Lithuanian details remain outside.

Milwaukee St. Gabriel Lithuanian church

Milwaukee St. Gabriel Lithuanian church

Racine Lithuanian church

Racine once had a St. Casimir church. It has been closed down in 1998 (merging it with Irish, Slovak, German and Polish parishes). The building (815 Park Ave) currently serves as a Baptist chapel. The inscription "St. Casimir RC Church" over the door has been removed and so was the statue of St. Casimir over it, with nothing Lithuanian remaining.

Racine Lithuanian church

Racine Lithuanian church

Kenosha Lithuanian church

Kenosha has a St. Peter Lithuanian church (2224 30th Ave) - the current building dating to 1966. Like in Sheboygan, it has been constructed together with a school, replacing the older Lithuanian church, with a plans to add new church later. The plans never became a reality, however, leaving Kenosha with a church that looks more like a school hall from the outside.

Kenosha St. Peter Lithuanian church, as it looks now

Kenosha St. Peter Lithuanian church, as it looks now

Unlike in Sheboygan, however, in Kenosha the Lithuanian heritage has been preserved far better: there are Lithuanian details such as Lithuanian anthem in the church, while the underground church hall has a large mural dedicated to the parish's Lithuanian roots that has been unveiled in 2001, long since the parish is no longer Lithuanian. It includes ethnic symbols of Lithuania such as the flag, Vytis, as well as Lithuania's religious buildings: the Hill of Crosses, the Three Crosses in Vilnius, a traditional roadside cross and Lithuanian ethnic patterns. Once, the church hall also served as a school cafeteria, however, the school has been closed in the early 2010s and the premises rented out.

A fragment of a mural with Lithuanian syymbols in the cellar of the church (that serves for the community meetings and, as long as the school was open, served as school's cafeteria)

A fragment of a mural with Lithuanian syymbols in the cellar of the church (that serves for the community meetings and, as long as the school was open, served as school's cafeteria)

Lithuanian anthem, pictures of Lithuanian priests are also available near the church entrance, while outside one may see the Divine Mercy symbol that has originated in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Since 1926 the church is being cared for by Maryan fathers; however, as of 2018, they are Polish rather than Lithuanian.

 


The map

All the Lithuanian locations, described in this article, are marked on this interactive map, made by the "Destination Lithuanian America" expedition (click the link):

Interactive map of Wisconsin Lithuanian sites

Click to learn more about Lithuania: USA, Wisconsin 9 Comments

Washington (State)

Washington State like all the US Pacific Coast has little Lithuanian heritage as there have been almost no old Lithuanian communities.

One exception is the Roslyn Lithuanian cemetery. Being the only Lithuanian cemetery west of Mississippi it became a kind of pilgrimage site for some Lithuanian immigrants there. Celebrations of Vėlinės (the traditional Lithuanian day of the dead) are commonly held there, symbolically memorizing the graves of loved-ones left back in Lithuania. They are attended by the fairly recent Lithuanian community of Seattle as well as the Lithuanians of Oregon.

Currently, Roslyn has just 800 inhabitants but back in 1910, it has been a major mining center attracting numerous immigrants. Instead of establishing cemeteries solely along the religious/parochial lines (as have been common) 20 small cemeteries have been erected in Roslyn. Some of them are dedicated to different ethnicities: in addition to the Lithuanian cemetery there are also Polish, Croatian, Serbian, Slovak cemeteries. In 2010 a small memorial has been constructed at the Lithuanian cemetery for 16 000 USD.

In the Seattle itself the Lithuanian community, lacking their own building, meets at the Latvian House as Latvians are a "brother nation".

Click to learn more about Lithuania: USA, Washington (State) 2 Comments

Maine

Maine has one of the prettiest and most popular Lithuanian locations in the USA: the Lithuanian monastery and park in Kennebunk resort. Moreover, there is some historic pre-WW1 Lithuanian heritage in the Rumford/Lewiston area further north.

A chapel for those died for Lithuanian freedom glowing in the night at the Kennebunk Lithuanian park

A chapel for those died for Lithuanian freedom glowing in the night at Kennebunk Lithuanian park

Kennebunk Lithuanian Franciscan monastery

The calm town of Kennebunk attracted the attention of Lithuanian Franciscans who fled the Soviet Genocide, arriving there in 1947. They acquired a 1908 Tudor-style manor originally built for industrialist A. Rogers (architects Green and Wicks) for their monastery, which still operates although it is no longer the hub of Lithuanian Franciscans as that has relocated back to Lithuania after its independence. In 1953, the Kennebunk Franciscans attached a nice chapel to the manor. Its pretty expressionist stained-glass windows and metal decor were created by a famous Lithuanian church interior designer V. K. Jonynas. The windows are especially Lithuanian, as both the inscriptions and the depicted scenes are related to Lithuania (the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius, the only Lithuanian Saint Casimir, the coat of arms of Vilnius, etc.).

Lithuanian monastery palace

Lithuanian monastery palace

Monastery chapel stained-glass windows with St. Casimir and the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius (famous for its Virgin Mary painting)

Monastery chapel stained-glass windows with St. Casimir and the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius (famous for its Virgin Mary painting)

The former manor grounds were effectively turned into a Lithuanian park (19 ha) which now attracts many American tourists as well. In addition, to calm walking paths with nice river views, it has an impressive Stations of the cross chapel for those who died for Lithuanian freedom by another Lithuanian-American star-architect Jonas Mulokas. It is part of his attempt to create a new architectural style that would be both modern and Lithuanian. The materials are thus modern, however, the design evokes village belfries of the lost Lithuania. The sculptures of the chapel are by Vytautas Kašuba, a famous Lithuanian-American sculptor.

The close up of the Jonas Mulokas's chapel, with a  dedication to those who died for Lithuanian freedom visible in the center

Jonas Mulokas chapel from a closer location. Under the cross the inscription says 'In memory of those who died for freedom of Lithuania'

The park is teeming with more Lithuanian artworks: a wooden Lithuanian chapel-post that came from EXPO 1939 New York Lithuanian pavilion (this is a unique form of Lithuanian folk art), a sculpture by V. K. Jonynas from the EXPO 1964 Vaticanian pavilion that shows Triple church: triumphant (in paradise), fighting (on Earth), and suffering (in hell). The common Lithuanian interpretation is, however, that the "suffering church" was a depiction of the situation in Soviet-atheist-occupied Lithuania at the time, when many churches and all the monasteries were closed, and the religious people persecuted (often killed, exiled or imprisoned) - inspiring the relocation of Lithuanian Franciscans to America in the first place.

Triple church by V. K. Jonynas

Triple church by V. K. Jonynas

Another large artwork by Jonas Mulokas is his Lourdes (a manmade cave with a Virgin Mary statue, 1953), crowned by a Lithuanian mini-chapel. The wall of the chapel includes a prayer inscription asking the Virgin to defend the Fatherland. Lithuanian coat of arms is also depicted. Undoubtedly, the "Fatherland" in this case is Lithuania rather than the USA, as back in the 1950s, the Lithuanian Soviet-Genocide-refugees felt that they could return soon once Lithuania is liberated and that their stay in the USA would be temporary (unfortunately, Soviets proved to stay much longer than they expected and only a few did actually return after the 1990 independence). The Lourdes used to serve as an altar for an outside mass; however, the mosquitos drove the believers away and now the mass is held in the monastery chapel.

Kennebunk Lithuanian Lourdes

Kennebunk Lithuanian Lourdes

One may also stay within the Franciscan park as the Franciscan Guest House operates here. It has 65 rooms and is the most Lithuanian hotel in the USA. Numerous Lithuanians work there, there are many Lithuanian inscriptions and adverts. The guests may freely take English descriptions of all the artwork in the park. The guest house is located less than a mile from both the beach and the Kennebunkport resort center, making it a pleasant hike. The Lithuanian park itself includes nice walking paths with river views, non-Lithuanian artworks too (e.g. the native saint Kateri Tekakwitha sculpture).

A river view from a walking path within the Kennebunk Lithuanian park

A river view from a walking path within the Kennebunk Lithuanian park

The Guest House was constructed in 1959 as a Lithuanian gymnasium (high school) and it has replaced the manor stables. However, the gymnasium closed down in 1969 as there were few Lithuanians in the region. This meant that the students had to move in on a boarding-school-basis from Chicago, Boston, New York, and elsewhere, which proved unpopular. After all, the monks themselves would likely have not chosen Kennebunk for their monastery if not the negative attitudes of the local bishops towards the Lithuanian "refugee monks" in the more Lithuanian areas of the USA. Still, the situation may came out to be better, as Kennebunk is a very calm place popular among tourists, far from the urban areas and the associated negativities (high crime, ghettos, etc.) which have "consumed" numerous Lithuanian sites in America (as the "white flight" led to their abandonment).

Kennebunk Lithuanian guest house guests are greeted in Lithuanian language as well

Kennebunk Lithuanian guest house guests are greeted in Lithuanian language as well

The entire Lithuanian complex of Kennebunk has been funded by Lithuanian-Americans whose surnames now are inscribed on many of its objects. Today, however, the area attracts non-Lithuanian-Americans as well, perhaps the most so among the Lithuanian-American sites of New England. It is even described in the "Lonely Planet" books. G. W. Bush Sr. is said to have visited the site regularly as he has a house in Kennebunkport. By the way, when Lithuania fought for its freedom restoration in 1990, the Franciscans organized a march from the monastery to the Bush's house (he was president back then), asking for his support.

The plaque of the sponsors of the Kennebunk Lithuanian Lourdes

The plaque of the sponsors of the Kennebunk Lithuanian Lourdes

After Lithuania became independent (1990) and opened up, the Lithuanian activities in Kennebunk declined somewhat as the Lithuanian Franciscans have moved their hub back to Lithuania. Parts of the Lithuanian religious activities have folded earlier, e.g. minor seminary in the 1960s and the recollections house in the 1970s. However, the Lithuanian atmosphere remained, the Lithuanian monuments were restored in 2004. At its apex, some 30 Lithuanian Franciscans lived in the monastery. At the beginning of the monastery (and now) merely four. The Guesthouse is overlooked by the secular people since 2001.

V.K. Jonynas artowk in the monastery chapel

V.K. Jonynas artowk in the monastery chapel

Lithuanian sites of Maine countryside

Maine towns of Rumford and Lewiston are the only ones in the state which had significant prie-WW2 Lithuanian communities.

In Rumford, the Lithuanian history is reminded by the LPK Lithuanian cemetery. Entrance lists its opening date as 1920 whereas a nearby grave of the cemetery founder Viskantas (Wiskont) lists it as 1923. In any case, the first significant wave of burials came in the 1950s and just a single grave has Lithuanian inscriptions as by that time many Lithuanian-Americans of Rumford area preferred English. Still, Lithuanian surnames (either original, Anglicized or Polonized) abound. „LPK“ in cemetery name likely means „Lietuvių piliečių klubas“ (Lithuanian citizens club) that used to operate in the town. The cemetery is a part of a larger cemetery complex by the road. The cemetery was owned by a Lithuanian association until 1998, at which point it was ceded to the municipal cemetery.

Mexico Lithuanian cemetery

Mexico Lithuanian cemetery

Rumford also had the St. Rocco Hall that served as a Lithuanian club and was frequented by the workers coming from the factory. It closed down ~1960s and the white wooden building is now abandoned with no Lithuanian signs.

Former St. Rocco Lithuanian Hall of Rumford

Former St. Rocco Lithuanian Hall of Rumford

On the contrary, Lithuanian Hall of Lewiston (St. Bartholomeus Society, SBS) still has a nice facade inscription about its original purpose. The building of 1914 now serves as a pawn store, however, the pre-WW2 interiors survive. The building has been inscribed into the list of heritage buildings of Lewiston.

St. Bartholomeus Society Hall of Lewiston sign

St. Bartholomeus Society Hall of Lewiston sign

St. Bartholomeus Lithuanian hall (middle building)

St. Bartholomeus Lithuanian hall (middle building)

Much further north in Maine, in the Alexander Art Trail of wooden sculptures created by a Latvian artist Roland Paegle and his wife Grazina there is also a sculpture of Lithuanian goddess of forests Medeinė, modeled after a similar one in Vilnius.

 


Map of Maine Lithuanian sites

All the Lithuanian locations, described in this article, are marked on this interactive map, made by the "Destination - America" expedition:

Map of Maine Lithuanian sites

 


Destination America 2017 expedition diary

Destination America map

When I saw the Kennebunk Lithuanian site the first time, my heart was happy. This is how all the Lithuanian-American places could look like, instead of slowly disappearing! After arriving at the Guest House, we barely found a place to park a car. The director explained that usually there are even more cars, however, at that time one student group arrived in the bus.

Far in the park, we could see the nicely-lit Mulokas's Lithuanian chapel and Lourdes, mystically glowing in the dark. The American students were walking around, reading the dedications to Lithuania and mentioning Lithuania in their silent conversations. Some of them, perhaps, heard its name for the first time, some others heard about the occupation of Lithuania and the dangers to Lithuania for the first time. Perhaps this will stay somewhere in the corner of their memory. The Guest House reception is full of English booklets describing what, how, and when was built in the park and what are the meanings of that.

The most important fact is, perhaps, that the Lithuanian complex may this get revenue to support itself. Even though many employees have been hired from Lithuania (one guy through Work and Travel, two women come there every summer for decades) there are non-Lithuanian Americans as well, including the director. The survival of it thus depends less on the goodwill of some 'old' Lithuanian-Americans, the ranks of whom become scarce.

Lithuanian Franciscan activities in Kennebunk may have declined and could decline further. As the Fr. Jonas Bacevičius told "Destination - America", the novitiate has been relocated to Lithuania according to the wishes of the superiors (after all, Lithuania became independent, the Soviet occupation and atheism has ended so there were no reasons to expand in exile). However, the Lithuanian Franciscans are still very active in America although they are getting older (the bishop Baltakis is 92 already). Some of the monastery programs, e.g. the icon-painting-workshops, are now presided by Lithuanian Franciscans arriving from Lithuania.

Still, in Kennebunk, you may feel that nothing will be quickly lost. Lithuanian masterpieces will continue to make visitors happy in the 21st century as well, even if these visitors will be different. Although Kennebunk never had an "old" Lithuanian community, the monastery actually attracted lay Lithuanians to the area as well. In the morning mass, we met a Lithuanian who relocated to Chicago and a 31-year-old immigrant from Lithuania who established the Maine Lithuanian community.

Elsewhere, Lithuanian-American communities may be getting old and dying off, while here a new-generation-inspired community of ~35 people was created. Would this have happened if not the Lithuanian park? Fr. Bacevičius told about an Italian who was so enthralled by the monastery that he decided to join the Lithuanian Franciscans even though that required learning Lithuanian. "In Kennebunk, you couldn't speak Lithuanian expecting that no one will understand" - we were told by the aforementioned vice-leader of the local Lithuanian community while taking the walk in the monastery woods.

Augustinas Žemaitis, 2017 09 23-24.

Augustinas Žemaitis with Jonas Bacevičius at Kennebunkport monastery

Augustinas Žemaitis with Jonas Bacevičius at Kennebunkport monastery

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Minnesota

Agricultural Minnesota has been too far west of the main pre-WW1 American industrial cities where most Lithuanians settled. Thus the local Lithuanian community established 1922 was too small to continue working after 1970 (re-established 1991). There are no Lithuanian churches, halls or other such buildings.

However there is a village Wilno called so after the Polish name of Lithuanian capital Vilnius. This is one of quite few settlements named after Lithuanian cities. The village has been established in 1883 by Polish immigrants; they could have been Polish-speaking Lithuanians as the village main street also has a Lithuanian-themed name Kowno (after Kaunas, Lithuania's 2nd largest city). If you have information on the first citizens of Wilno write a comment. The village of merely few houses is outflanked by the gothic revival St. John Cantius church (3069 Kowno Street, built 1902), nicknamed "cornfield cathedral" (it has stained glass of Lithuania's patron saints St. Casimir and St. George but this is likely due to similar Polish-Lithuanian histories). Wilno is known to be an epitomic Polish agricultural community (something that Lithuanians did not establish, preferring industrial labor).

A map of Wilno, Minnesota with Kowno street marked

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Florida

Over the recent century, Americans have been attracted to Florida in large numbers, often to spend their retirement.

Most of Florida's Lithuanians arrived there after living in other states (rather than directly from Lithuania). After earning money in northern cities some of them began exchanging their former homes into ones at the Floridan seaside. There Lithuanians have attempted to recreate what they left in New York, Chicago or Boston: Lithuanian religious and secular organizations and clubs. However, the times of grand buildings had already passed by that time and so the Florida Lithuanian heritage is more modern and modest.

Some 32 000 Lithuanians call Florida home today (only Illinois, Pennsylvania, California, Massachusetts and New York have more). Such growth in Lithuanian numbers coincided with general growth of Floridan population. In 1900 (when Lithuanians were already arriving en masse to America) Florida had merely 500 thousand people while today it hosts 20 million (in comparison Pennsylvania, the top Lithuanian destination during the first migration wave, only grew from 6 to 13 million during the same era).

St. Pete Beach sunset. The sun and the beaches attract people to Florida, while Lithuanians are also fond of sandy beaches and sunsets into the sea as they seem similar to Palanga, Lithuania's top resort

St. Pete Beach sunset. The sun and the beaches attract people to Florida, while Lithuanians are also fond of sandy beaches and sunsets into the sea as they seem similar to Palanga, Lithuania's top resort

St. Petersburg Lithuanian club

The largest Lithuanian community of Florida is located in and around St. Petersburg, which has the sole Lithuanian club of the state (4880 46th Avenue North). The building is modest but rather lively as Florida still attracts new Lithuanian-Americans (often relocating from the north). In the club, Lithuanians gather for Lithuanian lunches, library, and school. The heart of the club is its great hall and small hall, both decorated with works of major Lithuanian-American artists.

St. Petersburg Lithuanian club

St. Petersburg Lithuanian club

The club was established by the first wave of Lithuanian-Americans (those immigrated before World War 1). After World War 2, many of them were elderly. It coincided with the time it became popular for Americans to retire in Florida. St. Peterburg became the conurbation most popular for that among Lithuanians. In 1960, some 300 Lithuanians already lived there.

The main hall of St. Petersburg Lithuanian club during a community meeting

The main hall of St. Petersburg Lithuanian club during a community meeting

Being accustomed to having their own Lithuanian clubs in the northern USA, in 1963-1964 they also built such a club in St. Petersburg. The existence of this club and the articles in the Lithuanian-American press written by St. Petersburg Lithuanians attracted more Lithuanians to the area. ~1970 the DPs (Soviet genocide refugees who fled Lithuania ~1944) also began settling in Florida, as they too were aging. They gradually took the organization of the club.

Entrance to the Lithuanian club of St. Petersburg adorned with a Lithuanian flag

Entrance to the Lithuanian club of St. Petersburg adorned with a Lithuanian flag

In the years 1976, 1980, and 1989 the Lithuanian club building was expanded. Initially, it consisted only of a single great hall, so the annexes included another (smaller) gall, a bar, a library, restrooms, warehouses and more. The club was expanded from 451 sq. meters to 970 sq. meters. The building is functionalist in style, without Lithuanian architectural details (previously there was a large wooden Columns of Gediminas symbol near the entrance but it was removed as it decayed). During events a Lithuanian flag is masted near the door while a commemorative plaque there declares that the club is dedicated to Charles Bliza who was instrumental in its construction.

St. Petersburg Lithuanian club as it looked soon after its construction in 1964

St. Petersburg Lithuanian club as it looked soon after its construction in 1964

St. Petersburg Lithuanian club after the expansions in 1992, with Columns of Gediminas on the facade

St. Petersburg Lithuanian club after the expansions in 1992, with Columns of Gediminas on the facade

Some third of the club members live in Florida in winters alone and they go back to their homes in the northern USA for the rest of the year. There, they are also members of the local Lithuanian parishes and clubs. In total, St. Petersburg and its suburbs has some 3000 Lithuanians and they make 2% of the population in St. Pete Beach. However, not all Lithuanians participate in the club activities. Historically, some of the St. Petersburg Lithuanians from the pre-WW1 migration wave were radical leftists; they had their own organizations and did not participate in establishing the club. Some of the third wave immigrants (those arrived after 1990) did not join the club either.

The bar of St. Petersburg Lithuanian club

The bar of St. Petersburg Lithuanian club

One of the patriotic Lithuanian artworks inside the club. This artwork depicts a Lithuanian pagan god Praamžius. Painted in 1979 (by V. Vaitiekūnas), while Lithuania was still under a deep Soviet occupation and the liberation of Lithuania was the topic that unified all Lithuanian-American communities and clubs. The text on the painting means: 'I call the mighty Praamžius! I call, arise, oh heroes,.. I see a Fatherland that is becoming free'

One of the patriotic Lithuanian artworks inside the club. This artwork depicts a Lithuanian pagan god Praamžius. Painted in 1979 (by V. Vaitiekūnas), while Lithuania was still under a deep Soviet occupation and the liberation of Lithuania was the topic that unified all Lithuanian-American communities and clubs. The text on the painting means: 'I call the mighty Praamžius! I call, arise, oh heroes,.. I see a Fatherland that is becoming free'

The club is open on Sunday afternoons.

St. Pete Beach Lithuanian sites

St. Pete Beach is the most Lithuanian town of the area. There, ~1975 Lithuanian Franciscan priests established a St. Casimir Lithuanian Catholic mission which has acquired a modest two-floored house on 555 68th Ave. At the time, Lithuania was occupied by the atheist Soviet Union which had banned Lithuanian monasteries and friaries. Many priests and monks were killed, tortures or expelled as the Soviet Genocide progressed. In 1944, some of them managed to flee to the USA, staffing the Lithuanian parishes there.

The story of the Lithuanian mission is thus similar to the story of the entire Florida Lithuanian community. ~1975 many of the refugee Lithuanian priests were aging and the mission was a place for them to retire. In this retirement, however, they would still provide services for Florida Lithuanians - some of them, perhaps, retired members of the priests' former parishes up north.

The mission building had two apartments with four bedrooms. The garage of the house was transformed into a small chapel, decorated in Lithuanian style by the famous Lithuanian-American artist Rūkštelė. Lithuanian priests of the mission also used to hold Lithuanian mass in the non-Lithuanian church at Gulfport.

Lithuanian mission of St. Petersburg

Lithuanian mission of St. Petersburg

The chapel and mission have been closed in 2017. Since then, the Lithuanian mass in the area is only held in Gulfport and only in special circumstances such as the main holidays.

Near the former chapel, a Lithuanian Jonas Valauskas has built two apartment buildings named in Lithuanian. "Venta", named after a Lithuanian river, was constructed in 1972 while "Nida", named after one of the most famous Lithuanian resorts, was built in 1976. Initially, most of the residents there were Lithuanians but now Lithuanians no longer live there, although the Lithuanian names and plaques remain.

Apartment building 'Nida'

Apartment building 'Nida'

Apartment building 'Nida' sign close-up

Apartment building 'Nida' sign close-up

Apartment building 'Venta' in St. Pete Beach

Apartment building 'Venta' in St. Pete Beach

Other Lithuanian communities in Florida

In the rest of Florida Lithuanians mostly live in coastal towns and resorts as well. The communities exist in Daytona Beach, Miami, Sunny Hills, Cape Coral, Pompano Beach, Palm Beach.

Lake Worth Historical Museum has Lithuanian exhibits in addition to Polish and Finnish exhibits.

There is no additional Lithuanian heritage in Florida that is known to us.

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Sioux City, Iowa

Sioux City (Iowa) had its own Lithuanian St. Casimir church (2524 Leech Ave) among its early 20th century imigrant heritage when the Missouri River served as America's main highway and the cities on its banks swelled from factory workers.

Sioux City St. Casimir church had enough architectural value to be inscribed into the National Register of Historic Places on 1998. Originally funded by 1000 local Lithuanians (in 1915) in a place near city stockyards the church was designed by a famous Prairie School architect William L. Steele who decided to build the iconic domed tower on an otherwise simplified gothic revival building. William L. Steele was also responsible for the Woodbury County Courthouse building.

Historic image of Sioux City's St. Casimir Lithuanian church

Historic image of Sioux City's St. Casimir Lithuanian church.

The church interior has also been impressive, created by a Lithuanian-American Adolfas Valeška ~1950. Like many new members of the congregation at the time he was a Lithuanian artist on the run from Soviet genocide and censorship. He is also known for having created props for Chicago Lithuanian opera.

Sadly, the NRHP inscription did not save the church from the diocese-induced demise. Wishing to do away with the ethnic parish the Diocese of Sioux City forbade accepting new members ~1990 (even though the parish was solvent), held the final mass on 1998 and torn down the historic church building on 2007. Only the old priest's house remains on the site while the church itself has been replaced by a modern single-floored detached dwelling. The Valeška's interior decorations and even the dome have been saved however through the ardous work of the local Lithuanians.

The site of St. Casimir church in Sioux City

The house that replaced St. Casimir church (left) and the surviving rectory (right). Google Street View.

Sioux City was the second westernmost city in the world to have a Lithuanian church (after Los Angeles).

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Texas

The population of Texas skyrocketed recently (from 9 000 000 in 1960 to 26 000 000 today) and Lithuanians were among many migrants the state attracted. Many of them are Lithuanian Americans who moved in from the north. These are however new trends and the massively growing Texan cities lack old Lithuanian churches, schools or memorials.

However it has been little known that the first Lithuanians moved in to Texas in mid-19th century, soon after the Mexican-American war. They moved in from then-German-ruled Lithuania Minor rather than the Russian-occupied and more economically backwards Lithuania-proper (where serfdom still existed and migration was thus hampered). Having been raised in a German-dominated society these Lithuanians then integrated into German American communities (although their surnames still told of their Lithuanian origins). Together with Germans they also shared a migration goal: to find empty land lots in Texas, after a long journey by ship and then on foot into the interior.

Some descendents of the early Lithuanian Texans funded a memorial plaque in Yorktown after they had learned of their origins through genealogical research. This is one of just a few Lithuanian-related plaques in the USA and, interestingly, it is located in a town where 2001 census counted 0 Lithuanians (37% report German ancestry). The plaque reads: "Lithuanians in Texas. Among the many European immigrants arriving in Texas in the mid-19th century was a small group of Lithuanians who settled in the Yorktown vicinity of De Witt County. Due to their eventual assimilation with the numerous German immigrants in the area, the Lithuanians and their contributions to the history of this region were overlooked for generations. Records reveal that the first Lithuanian family to settle in this area probably was that of David and Dora (Scholze) Stanchos. They arrived about 1852, making them among the earliest documented Lithuanian immigrants to America. By 1874 they were joined by about 70 more immigrants, most from the province of Gumbinnen in what was then part of east Prussia. Leaving their homeland for a variety of religious and political reasons, the Lithuanians arrived in Texas primarily through the ports of Galveston and Indianola. Establishing farms in the area, the Lithuanians became American citizens and contributed to the history and culture of this area. Men from the community fought on both sides of the American Civil War. A small graveyard south of Yorktown known as Jonischkies Cemetery contains the interments of many of these early settlers.".

Notes: the original Lithuanian surnames of David and Dora Stanchos were likely Dovydas Stančius and Dora Stančienė. The original versions of other anglicized or germanized Texan Lithuanian surnames are: Kirlikas (Kirlikcs), Mertinas (Mertine), Lundšėnas (Lundschen), Ragošius (Ragoszus), Joniškis (Jonischkies), Gelžius (Gelszus), Lenkaitis (Lenkeit), Mastaitis (Mosteit), Vaičys (Weichies), Vaišvila (Weischvill), Gudaitis (Guddaitis).

Gumbinnen is the German name of a town known in Lithuanian as Gumbinė. In 1945 this town and surrounding areas were occupied by the Soviet army, its inhabittants (both Germans and Lithuanians) murdered or expelled and then replaced by Russians. The town was renamed Gusev after a Russian communist who died there.

A film about the old Texas Lithuanians.

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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". The fatc that club and its documents were destroyed by fire make sit difficult to surely state when was the club established.

The map

All the Lithuanian locations, described in this article, are marked on this interactive map, made by the "Destination Lithuanian America" expedition (click the link):

Interactive map of Illinois Lithuanian sites

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Springfield, Illinois

The Lithuanian history of Springfield (the capital of Illinois and home and burial place of President Abraham Lincoln) is immortalized in one of just a few historical plaques/markers for Lithuanian-Americans in the entire United States.

This historical marker, entitled “Lithuanians in Springfield,” was erected in May 2012 on the corner of 7th and Enterprise streets at the southwest edge of Enos Park. It mainly commemorates the several thousand Lithuanians (coal-miners and their wives) who arrived between 1890 and 1914 and from whom the majority of Springfield’s Lithuanian-Americans are descended.

Lithuanians in Springfield commemorative plaque

Lithuanians in Springfield commemorative plaque

Sandy Bakšys, daughter of a World War II Lithuanian refugee, spearheaded the creation of the marker—officially a project of the Illinois State Historical Society (ISHS) and the Lithuanian-American Club of Central Illinois. She wrote the text of the marker, provided proof of its factual accuracy to the ISHS, raised $3,300 for the marker’s creation in an Indiana foundry (including $1,000 of her own money), and obtained permission from the Springfield Park District for its siting.

Several blocks from the historical marker is the parking lot where St. Vincent de Paul Lithuanian Catholic Church (built by Lithuanian coal miners in 1909,) had once stood (at Eighth and Enos streets). The church was simple and towerless, with a basement the coal miners dug themselves after finishing their work day in the mines. It was closed in 1972 over the opposition of its parishioners and demolished in 1976.

The place where St. Vincent De Paul Lithuanian church of Springfield used to stand

The place where St. Vincent De Paul Lithuanian church of Springfield used to stand

Yet for decades, the church had served a Lithuanian community that was scattered around the city due to the scattered sites of mines and miners’ neighborhoods. From about 1900 to 1980, however, there was a “Little Lithuania” with homes, saloons, and groceries about two kilometers north of St. Vincent de Paul’s, along with the southern and eastern boundaries of the Illinois State Fairgrounds. This “Little Lithuania” had the highest concentration of Lithuanian immigrants in the city because it was centered around four active coal mines and two major commercial thoroughfares.

The reason why the Lithuanian plaque was not constructed in the parking lot where St. Vincent de Paul’s once stood was this: The parking lot had private owners (and a city easement), and thus, two different types of owners who might be difficult to negotiate with. Luckily, with the support of the Enos Park Neighborhood Association, the Springfield Park District quickly agreed to the placement of the marker in Enos Park, and even to insure the plaque in perpetuity. Last but not least, the chosen park location was determined to be safer and more stable and scenic for visitors for years to come.

Springfield Lithuanian church before its demolition

Springfield Lithuanian church before its demolition

To the plaque’s sponsors, its care and survival in perpetuity were crucial. The marker was being created to immortalize an immigrant history whose last witnesses had mostly already died. And the only remnant of that community, the Lithuanian-American Club (founded in 1988) was also, already, in steep decline. Sixteen years after the closing of St. Vincent de Paul Church, the Club had formed and had actively lobbied for U.S. support for Lithuanian independence. Yet by 2010, the Club was dying due to a lack of fresh immigration and the disinterest of younger generations with diluted Lithuanian ethnicity.

Therefore, the only solution was to create some form of memory in physical space--to leave behind some concrete mark that could survive. As a result of the plaque, now all the key elements of local Lithuanian history are “in place”--and under the sponsorship of institutions likely to last much longer than any individual human being or community. (Time and again, physical community in the U.S. has proven transient, at least at the lower end of the socio-economic scale.)

The creation of this marker also has led to further Lithuanian historical activity: the creation of a well-populated blogsite (http://www.lithspringfield.com), which, in turn, led to a book (“A Century of Lithuanians in Springfield, Illinois.”) And as a result of all this historical activity, the local Lithuanian-American community also has been temporarily re-energized and revived.

One of the US’s leading senators, Sen. Richard Durbin (born to a Lithuanian immigrant mother), has lived in Springfield since the 1970s. He made a donation for the plaque and has visited Lithuania on numerous occasions, supporting its independence in the U.S. Congress in 1990. Rep. John Shimkus, long-time co-leader of the Baltic Caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives, once represented part of Springfield and also contributed to the creation of the plaque.

(The information and text provided by Sandy Bakšys, the author of the book about Springfield Lithuanians)

The map

All the Lithuanian locations, described in this article, are marked on this interactive map, made by the "Destination Lithuanian America" expedition (click the link):

Interactive map of Illinois Lithuanian sites

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