The Baltimore Polish Festival is cancelled this year. A sad tradition falling by the wayside due to rising fees by the city government.
I grew up in Baltimore. My heritage is Polish and I have been to many of the annual Polish festivals there.
My parents would take us to the festivals when I was growing up. At the time, it was held at Rash Field, by the harbor. This was long before the grand tourist trap now called the Baltimore Inner Harbor.
It was eventually moved to Patterson Park, where there is more space. The vendors and stages were set up surrounding the statue of General Casimir Pulaski, the Polish hero of the American Revolution.
There would be polka bands, traditional Polish dancers in traditional costumes, Polish crafts, traditional Polish foods, and Polish beer. Lots of beer.
As the Baltimore Sun newspaper put it:
Each June, the festival has attracted throngs from all over the city over a three-day weekend to celebrate Baltimore’s Polish community — largely congregated in Southeast Baltimore’s Upper Fells Point neighborhood, where immigrants established a number of churches, small businesses and social clubs.
When I was growing up, there was a big Polish community in Baltimore. There were many Polish social clubs and churches that did mass in Polish.
Only one Church, Holy Rosary, still does mass in Polish. There are only two of the Polish social clubs left. One, the Polish Home Club, is in Fells Point. The other is the Polish National Alliance.
I remember seeing the Alliance building when we went to visit my Nan every weekend. I always wondered what it was. I always wanted to go there. But, like many of my generation, my heritage meant less and less as I approached my late teens/early twenties. I was totally Americanized. I’ve still never been there.
There is still a small Polish community in Baltimore. These are the people who keep the Polish traditions alive. These are the people who will move the Polish festival out of the city, into a surrounding county, next year. It was too late to do it this year after they found out the city was raising their fees.
Unfortunately, I don’t think it will be the same. Part of the fun of the festival was that it was in the city. Moving it to the fairgrounds will make it seem like just another fair, far away from the Polish community.
This would have been the 38th annual Polish Festival in Baltimore.