Paderewski’s Heart in Greenpoint.

Ignacy Jan Paderewski,  1860 – 1941) was a Polish pianist and composer, politician, and spokesman for Polish independence.He was one of the greatest pianists who ever lived and  was a favorite of concert audiences around the globe. His musical fame opened access to diplomats and the media. He was the prime minister and foreign minister of Poland in 1919, and represented Poland at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.

In 1939, after the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union triggered World War II, Paderewski–who was by then living in Switzerland–turned down Polish patriots who asked him to head a government-in-exile, saying that at age 79, his health was too fragile. But he eventually agree to head an advisory council for the resistance regime. After the German army swept through France in June 1940, Paderewski decided to move to the U.S. in order to promote Polish relief efforts. In September of that year, he arrived in New York on his 80th birthday, accompanied by his sister. But 10 months later, at age 80, he died of pneumonia in his Manhattan hotel suite. After learning of Paderewski’s death, President Franklin Roosevelt arranged to transport the Polish leader’s body from New York to Washington for a state funeral, in addition to memorial service that was to be held for him at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

Here is the Greenpoint connection. Before his death Paderewski became good friends with a Greenpoint State Assemblyman John Smolenski who was also an undertaker. When Paderewski died Smolenksi did the grim business of preparing the body, but following Paderewski’s instructions he removed the great pianist’s heart. There was a Polish tradition of leaving the heart in a place the person loved and Paderewski did not want his heart in communist Poland.

On July 3, 1941, the train carrying Paderewski’s coffin arrived at Union Station in Washington, in the midst of a thunderstorm. An honor guard of veterans from the Polish army, clad in pale blue uniforms, carried the coffin, and Jan Ciechanowski, the ambassador from Poland’s government-in-exile, and his staff escorted the body to the Polish Embassy on 16th Street NW., where Paderewski lay in state. On July 5, Paderewski’s remains rode on a caisson through the cemetery’s marble entrance, as a battery of cannon boomed a 19-gun salute in his honor, and the U.S. Army Band played a funeral dirge. The procession was headed by a squad of Polish exiles who’d enlisted in the Canadian armed forces. On a velvet cushion, one of them carried the Polish military cross, which the government-in-exile had awarded to Paderewski postumously. Perhaps because of American sympathy for Poland’s plight at the hands of HItler and the Soviets, the service attracted a big crowd of mourners. “Mingling with diplomatic officers wearing silk hats and striped trousers were throngs of plain Americans, some men in shirtsleeves and some women in slacks,” a wire dispatch on the front page of the New York Times reported.

Smolenski, however, kept the heart, but  when he died in 1953 he did not tell anyone what he did with the heart.

Rumors about what had happened to the heart ran rampant. “We had a lot of rumors – it was walled up in church somewhere, placed in a refrigerator in some florist’s somewhere. Crazy stuff,” Archacki said. ”But (the mortician) was a great man and a great patriot. I knew he must have done something with the heart.”

What the mortician did with the heart remained a mystery to Archacki and the Paderewski family until 1958. That year, Archacki’s mother-in-law died, and the family attended a service at a mausoleum in New York’s Cypress Hill Cemetery.

After the service, the family members split up and began wandering about the mausoleum, Archacki said. He was looking at plaques in the huge vault when his brother-in-law, normally a placid man, ran up to him in a state of excitement.

“He said, ‘Paderewski is buried here,’ ” he said. “I knew he wasn’t buried there. But I hurried over and I saw this marble slab” with his name. ”That was the heart.”

Archacki said he alerted officials in the Polish American Congress and other organizations about his find. But it was 18 years before the heart was enshrined at Doylestown at a Mass attended by more than 7,000 people, Clarence Paderewski said.

Archacki said the Doylestown shrine was chosen because of its importance to the Polish-American community. Its sister shrine, the Shrine of Our Lady of

Czestochowa near Krakow, Poland, is one of the holiest places to Polish Catholics.

The heart now rests inside a bronze carving in the shape of a spread eagle in the shrine’s memorial hall. In the middle of the eagle sits a bust of Paderewski. Below that is a golden heart, and below that, a piano keyboard. The heart was placed inside the hollow head, which was then welded shut, Clarence Paderewski said.

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