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Wayside Crosses of Warsaw

 

Making our way toward Warsaw, the Polish immigrant community in Walsh County, we knew there were some wonderful historical attractions in store. The centerpiece, of course, is the great red-brick church, St. Stanislaus, so stunning on the prairie horizon, and its interior so chock-full of wonderful religious art, including, of course, a magnificent stained glass window devoted to the patron saint of the Poles himself.

Not so well known are the fascinating cast iron grave markers in the cemetery, manufactured by Charles Andera, of Spillville, Iowa. One of them has that puzzling skull-and-crossbones motif on it, which I hope someone someday will be able to explain to me. These are fabulous artifacts under our noses. Around town we discovered the family monument to Kiedrowski’s store and the impressive old Warsaw Hall.

Then, in the countryside roundabout, we went looking for something mentioned, tantalizingly, in the WPA guide to North Dakota, published in 1938. The guide reads,

On ND 44 to the junction with a graveled road. In a triangle formed by the junction is a CRUCIFIX. On a base of natural boulders, in summer the clear, marble-like whiteness of the cross and canopied figure stands out in contrast with the green of the surrounding countryside.

That reference led us to a site just west of I35 and a few miles east of Warsaw, where we found, sure enough, a crucifix atop a pole, a rough plaque on the pole reading,

WAYSIDE SHRINE / ERECTED BY PIONEER POLISH IMMIGRANT LAWRENCE MOZINSKI IN 1910 / VINCENT & ISABEL GRANANSKI FAMILY PAINTED & PLANTED FLOWERS / LATER YEARS, EARL & LYDIA PLUTOWSKI FAMILY TOOK CARE OF IT / IN 1969, BIG WIND TOPPLED THE CROSS & BROKE IT / A NEW CROSS WAS ERECTED BY ANTON & MARGARET MOZINSKI / CHILDREN FLORIAN, STEVEN, HENRY, SARAH & FRANCES. / CURRENT CARE TAKERS WALLY EBERTOWSKI AND GLORIA KOLTES / CHILDEN OF SARAH WOZINSKI EBERTOWSKI / GRANDCHILDREN OF ANTON WOZINSKI.

Reached by telephone, Wally Ebertowski confirmed that he was one of the family members taking care of the wayside cross, as they call it. By exploring the countryside, and also by talking further with Mr. Ebertowski, we came to learn there actually are seven wayside crosses arranged across about a township of terrain surrounding Warsaw, each one erected early in the 20th century and maintained ever since as a family tradition.

This is a tradition transferred directly from the old country, as the erection of wayside crosses has both a long history and continued currency in Poland. Polish immigrant enclaves across North America have made their own wayside crosses, too. The complex of wayside crosses around Warsaw, North Dakota, is unknown outside the locality, but what a stunning display of prairie piety they constitute.

Mr. Ebertowshi says, “A lot of people as they would go by, they would stop, some would pray, some just tip their hats.” His father, he recalls, commonly would stop at a cross on the way to town and, ritually, “take off his hat and say a prayer.” Of the cross under his care, he says, “I promised my mom we would maintain it.”

It’s not enough just to say, Oh, what a charming, old-country custom this is. Every one of these wayside crosses has a story, and I want to know every one of them. Every such story, recorded and told, enriches us as people of the plains.

See images of the Wayside crosses of Warsaw here – http://travel.webshots.com/album/572120671zqGMtT?vhost=travel

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