Who Was Casimir Pulaski? And When Did We Start Celebrating His Birthday?

Engraving of Casimir Pulaski
Casimir Pulaski
Source: New York Public Library

CPL will be closed on Pulaski Day (along with other City offices), so you won't be able to come in or call to ask about Casimir Pulaski. But no worries. We've got a considerable about of information about him in the online resources we subscribe to and offer through on our website.

To learn more about Pulaski, check out a few of these articles, presented in order from shortest to longest.

"Casimir Pulaski"
By James Kirby Martin
World Book Online

"Casimir Pulaski"
By Paul David Nelson
American National Biography Online

"Kazimierz Pulaski and the Birth of American Cavalry"
By David T. Zabecki
Military History, March 1997

Today in Chicago, we celebrate Pulaski Day on (or around) his birthday (March 6). But it wasn't always that way. For a history of the holiday, a perusal of articles from the Chicago Tribune gives a brief outline of events (if not much on the players behind those events).

The earliest celebrations of Pulaski Day here in Chicago that were covered by the Tribune took place in October on the anniversary of Pulaski's death. (This is when the federal government and New York City still observe Pulaski Day.) The earliest celebration I was able to find was in 1933, and there seems to have been a groundswell of support for the day around this time. In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt vetoed a bill that would have created an federal commemoration of Pulaski.

"City to Observe Next Wednesday as Pulaski Day"
Chicago Tribune, October 8, 1933

"Roosevelt Vetoes Bill for Annual Gen. Pulaski Day"
Chicago Tribune, April 16, 1935

The first mention in the Tribune of a Pulaski Day in March comes in 1947, when Governor Dwight Green set March 4 as Pulaski Day to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Revolutionary War hero's birth. Yet Chicagoans continued to observe the anniversary of his death.

"Green Sets March 4 as State Pulaski Day"
Chicago Tribune, February 27, 1947

"Pulaski Day Parade to Be on Channel 9"
Chicago Tribune, October 9, 1958

It wasn't until 1973 that Pulaski's birthday again pops up, when Governor Dan Walker signed legislation marking the first Monday in March as a commemorative holiday.

"Illinois now has a 'Pulaski Day'"
Chicago Tribune, September 16, 1973

Then, in 1985, Governor James R. Thompson signed legislation making the first Monday in March a bank and school holiday. On its first observance, in 1986, the Tribune reports a bit of confusion.

"Bank, School Holiday Honors Pulaski"
Chicago Tribune, August 23, 1985

"New Holiday Takes Illinois by Surprise"
Chicago Tribune, March 4, 1986

In 1995, the Illinois General Assembly passed legislation allowing school districts to request waivers from certain state laws, opening the possibility of schools staying open on Pulaski Day. Many districts opted out of the holiday. In 2012, Chicago elected to keep schools open the first Monday in March.

"School Reform Bill Becomes State Law"
Chicago Tribune, February 28, 1995

Looking for more? WBEZ's Curious City project recently posted a nice overview of the general and his holiday:

"The Rise of Casimir Pulaski Day"
By Jesse Dukes
wbez.org, February 25, 2015

Have memories of past Pulaski Days in Chicago? Please share in the comments. Or if you didn't grow up in Chicago, did they celebrate Pulaski Day where you're from? How? In what month?

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