Polish American Museum: Surprise Find on Long Island’s North Shore

A former public library on the north shore of Long Island in Port Washington, New York, might not be the first place where people would go if they were looking for a museum devoted to the history, culture, scientific achievements and heritage of the people of Poland. Those who do make the trip to the Polish American Museum at 16 Belleview Avenue in Port Washington will be pleasantly surprised and delighted to discover a building dedicated to spotlighting the contributions made by individuals of Polish descent.

Showcasing Polish Military Memorabilia

Founded in 1975, the museum displays historical artifacts, costumes, paintings, archival photographs, folk art and more to entertain and educate visitors. Under the current leadership of its Director Gerald Kochan and President Barbara Szydlowski it has not only carried on the founders intent but continues to expand both exhibits and the quality of the collection. One section of the museum building is devoted to a bilingual research library and archives available to students, teachers, researchers and others interested in studying about the heritage of Polish Americans.

The museum houses war memorabilia showcasing contributions of soldiers of Polish heritage in military campaigns dating back as far as the American Revolutionary War. Included in the exhibits are uniforms, medals, books, photographs and paintings. The many galleries highlight the contributions of Nobel Prize winners, composers and musicians, scientists, writers, and also feature Polish folk culture, religions and historical and political highlights.

Photographs, newspaper articles from the period, personal notes and letters, and other artifacts document Polish American contributions and participation during all epochs of U.S. history. Displayed materials include documents, paintings and records contributed by the Polish National Alliance, the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America and the Polish Falcons of America.

A bonus for visitors to the Polish American Museum interested in learning about Polish military achievements throughout history is the Center for Military Studies founded by the Museum’s current director, Gerald Kochan. Housed in a wing of the museum, the center focuses on exhibits and archives from the Polish-Soviet War in 1918, World War II and the Korean War. Included are the military contributions of modern Polish forces in the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan.

From Chopin to Marie Curie: Honoring Polish Contributions

Exhibits at the museum are not limited to military contributions. Featured prominently are the works of Polish writers, painters and sculptors. Displays document the scientific contributions made by Marie Curie, the political achievements of Nobel laureate Lech Walesa and the musical genius of Frederic Chopin.

The Chopin exhibit includes plaster castings of his death mask and his left hand acquired in Warsaw by a member of the museum who donated them. Paintings, photographs, sheet music and books depicting the life of the composer are displayed in a room devoted to his life’s works.

Displayed in the museum’s Holocaust exhibit is a jacket worn by a Polish prisoner who was held in concentration camps during World War II. The original wearer of the blue- and white-striped jacket survived internment in seven camps from 1944 to 1945.

Special events held throughout the year in the reading room offer museum visitors the opportunity to view original photos and lithographs on loan to the museum. The Polish Supplementary School of the museum offers adults and children language classes in Polish and English. It also holds classes in traditional Polish art and dance. Public school teachers are encouraged to contact the museum to have their classes participate in programs designed to introduce children to the contributions of the heritage and culture of Poland to their lives.