As I render my Twelve Canvases of Revelations, Dvroak’s New World Symphony will be blaring from loud speakers! Why not a live performance complete with Native Americans, and Zulu Nazarite Warriors? I will revive The Jesse Scouts and Fremont’s bodyguard so the original Republican Party can be restored. I am going to write the British Embassy and tell them Rena is living as a destitute. She will be seventy in April. She is – THE ONE WHO FOUND ME! She leads me back to – my people! This is the greatest Muse Story in all of history!
John ‘Bohemian Artist of Revelations’
Antonín Leopold Dvořák (/d(ə)ˈvɔːrʒɑːk, -ʒæk/d(ə-)VOR-zha(h)k; Czech: [ˈantoɲiːn ˈlɛopold ˈdvor̝aːk] (listen); 8 September 1841 – 1 May 1904) was a Czech composer, one of the first to achieve worldwide recognition. Following the Romantic-era nationalist example of his predecessor Bedřich Smetana, Dvořák frequently employed rhythms and other aspects of the folk music of Moravia and his native Bohemia.
Dvořák was interested in Native American music and the African-American spirituals he heard in North America. While director of the National Conservatory he encountered an African-American student, Harry T. Burleigh, who sang traditional spirituals to him. Burleigh, later a composer himself, said that Dvořák had absorbed their ‘spirit’ before writing his own melodies. Dvořák stated:
I am convinced that the future music of this country must be founded on what are called Negro melodies. These can be the foundation of a serious and original school of composition, to be developed in the United States. These beautiful and varied themes are the product of the soil. They are the folk songs of America and your composers must turn to them.
The symphony was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, and premiered on 16 December 1893, at Carnegie Hall conducted by Anton Seidl. A day earlier, in an article published in the New York Herald on 15 December 1893, Dvořák further explained how Native American music influenced his symphony:
I have not actually used any of the [Native American] melodies. I have simply written original themes embodying the peculiarities of the Indian music, and, using these themes as subjects, have developed them with all the resources of modern rhythms, counterpoint, and orchestral colour.
In the same article, Dvořák stated that he regarded the symphony’s second movement as a “sketch or study for a later work, either a cantata or opera … which will be based upon Longfellow‘s Hiawatha“ (Dvořák never actually wrote such a piece). He also wrote that the third movement scherzo was “suggested by the scene at the feast in Hiawatha where the Indians dance”.
In 1893, a newspaper interview quoted Dvořák as saying “I found that the music of the negroes and of the Indians was practically identical”, and that “the music of the two races bore a remarkable similarity to the music of Scotland“. Most historians agree that Dvořák is referring to the pentatonic scale, which is typical of each of these musical traditions.
Church of the Brethren (Czech: Církev bratrská) is an evangelical free church in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It was formed in 1882 as the Free Reformed Church by merging the Czech Free Evangelical Church based in Bystré near Náchod, and the Free Reformed Church, which was formed by American Congregationalist missionaries in Prague. In the Czech Republic, the church reports having over 11,000 in almost 80 congregations. In Slovakia, it is organized in 22 congregations. The church is member of International Federation of Free Evangelical Churches and the ecumenical councils of churches in their respective countries.
Section II of the seven-map set depicts “the Great Platte River Road” from present-day Grand Island to beyond what’s now North Platte. Even more fascinating than the thin line of river and surrounding topography, are the comments printed on the map. For example, he remarks, “Timber is extremely scarce, except on the islands. Some driftwood and buffalo excrement makes the fuel, as that of camels does in the deserts of Arabia.”
The organization was known as the Fremont Body Guard as it was assigned to General John C. Fremont’s command in Missouri. On October 25, 1861, the organization participated in the First Battle of Springfield, Missouri. At this engagement, 150 members of the Fremont Body Guard, under the command of Major Charles Zagonyi, routed two thousand Confederate soldiers. With sabers drawn, the Northern soldiers charged across the battlefield, screaming “Fremont and Union!,” “Old Kentucky forever!,” “Hurrah for Cincinnati!,” and “Remember the Queen City, boys!” The Fremont Body Guard had fifty-two men and an additional four officers killed or wounded at the battle, while the Confederates had 107 men killed and approximately thirty soldiers captured.
In the 1860s, many Czechs primarily from Bohemia and Moravia immigrated to Nebraska. Edward Rosewater and John Rosicky, early Omaha newspaper editors originally from Bohemia, encouraged countrymen to come by extolling promises of free land in frontier Nebraska. By 1880 Czechs were the most concentrated ethnic group in the city.
|Czech population in Omaha|
In 1893, the internationally known Czech composer Antonín Dvořák visited the city and performed there, attracting attendees from miles around. His extended visit to the United States inspired Dvořák to write his 9th Symphony: From The New World, also known as the New World Symphony. It was based on his impressions of the region and inspired by his fascination with birdsong, ragtime music by African-American musician and composer Scott Joplin, band music, and folksongs.
Komenský Clubs were founded in Nebraska, including in Omaha, Lincoln and other cities where there were numerous Czech immigrants. When the Bohemian National Alliance was formed in 1914, its midwestern district was headquartered in Omaha. Czechs in the city helped promote Bohemian independence after World War I. The nation of Czechoslovakia was created in the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. By 1920 an estimated 3,500 immigrants lived in Bohemian Town.
Notable Czechs from Omaha
One of the most famous sons of Little Bohemia was Roman Hruska, elected to the US Senate from Nebraska in the mid-20th century. He was fiercely proud of his Czech heritage. Another notable Czech from Omaha who achieved political office was Thomas Capek, a lawyer and a member of the Nebraska State Legislature in the early 1900s.
Edward Rosewater was a Jewish Czech immigrant who came to Omaha in 1863. In 1871 he established the Omaha Bee. The same year he founded the first Czech newspaper in Omaha, the Pokrok Západu, which means “Progress of the West”. Rosewater associated with Czechs in the community through politics.
Jan Rosický (1845-1910) was the publisher and founder of Západní Česko-Bratrská Jednota, or ZČBJ, a Czech-language newspaper that was printed in Omaha and circulated across the US and in Bohemia. Rosický is credited with encouraging thousands of Czechs to move to the United States, and a monument in his honor located on the grounds of the Czech National Cemetery in Omaha is inscribed with the following (translated from Czech to English):”To an unforgettable brother, Czech patriot, and leader of his people. Erected by the Western Bohemian Benevolent Association and grateful fellow countrymen. To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”
Notre Dame Academy and Convent, November 2010
Czechs from Omaha helped gain legislative approval to found the Czech Language Program at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, instituted in 1907. Additionally, a Czech heritage course was created at the College of St. Mary in Omaha. These programs have served as centers for teaching Czech language, literature and culture for nearly a century.
Nuns of Czech descent raised funds to build and staff the Notre Dame Academy and Convent at 3501 State Street to provide outreach to the area’s Czech community. Czech immigrants and descendants also founded the Sokol South Omaha Czechoslovak Museum at 2021 U Street in South Omaha, and the Bohemian National Cemetery at 5201 Center Street. Other cemeteries with mostly Czech burials or large Czech sections are Calvary Cemetery, Holy Sepulchar Cemetery, and Saint Mary Catholic Cemetery.
The major Bohemian landmark in the city was the ethnic enclave established by Czechs that was centered on a commercial area along South 13th and South 14th Streets, and William Street. This enclave, called Little Bohemia, was bounded by South 10th Street on the east, South 16th Street on the west, Pierce Street on the north, and Martha Street on the south. It included the Prague Hotel, Sokol Auditorium and Bohemian Cafe, all important fixtures in the community.
Foreign Born Czech Population in Nebraska 1870 1950 – pictures
Historical census data identify several distinct areas containing dominant ethnic populations throughout the United States, and an analysis of contemsporary populations identify Nebraska as home of the highest concentration of persons claiming Czech ancestry in the nation. Czechs homesteading in Nebraska left a culturally unique imprint on the physical and social landscape that remains today and a journey into the enclaves reveal these customs.
In a region of the United States where small towns are experiencing tremendous population loss, the cohesiveness and pride in Czech communities counters this trend. Very few small towns in Nebraska are able to support either a bakery or meat market, yet both are found in the towns of Wilber and Clarkson. In recent years, it has become popular for small towns containing an ethnic majority to attempt to capitalize on their heritage by promoting their culture to tourists. Many of these towns celebrate a veneer heritage, meaning that only one weekend a year is devoted to their heritage. This is not the case in many Nebraska Czech communities, where a few customs, distinctively Czech, have been retained and are a part of daily life.
Czechs who settled in Nebraska during the latter half of the nineteenth century hailed from areas of central Europe known as Bohemia and Moravia, today regions of the Czech Republic, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Economic depression, as well as political and religious oppression by the Catholic Church, drove thousands to emigrate from their homelands in search of freedom. Exact numbers of Czech immigrants is difficult to assess before 1870, as this was the first United States census including Bohemia as a place of origin. Extracting figures from the Census of 1910 is very difficult, as Bohemians were counted as being members of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and between 1920 and 1980 the term Czechoslovakian was used, which included persons of both the Czech and Slovak ethnic groups. When the Velvet Revolution peacefully overtook the Socialist government in 1989 and the Czech Republic became officially organized in 1992, Czechs had finally gained political control over their homeland.
The Homestead Act of 1854 beckoned both Moravians and Bohemians, more of the former, to settle in Nebraska and soon thereafter was home to more foreign-born Czech farmers than any state in the Union . Original Czech settlers arrived to Nebraska via Wisconsin, and once they became established, sent for family and friends in the homeland to join them on the prairie. By 1870, several distinct Bohemian enclaves had been established in eastern Nebraskas Douglas, Saunders and Saline Counties (Fig. 1). In the following decades, thousands of Czech immigrants settled in Nebraska, and in 1900 ranked third behind Germans and Swedes as the most numerous foreign-born immigrant group in the state. Areas of Czech settlement in 1900 included the core of primary settlement in east central Nebraska to communities in the north and settlements in the central part of the state (Fig. 2). As quota laws slowed the wave of immigration during the second decade of the twentieth century, the influx of foreign-born Czechs all but ceased, thus putting to an end the brief period in history which Bohemians settled in Nebraska. These pioneers and their traditions represent the seed of a culture that continues to flourish today.
Contemporary Czech Communities
Vast changes in Nebraskas population occurred during the twentieth century, the depopulation of rural counties having arguably the most significant impact. Most small towns, which the state is largely composed of, saw their population peak in 1920, as the Great Depression and drought that ensued drove many from farms and small communities to larger cities in search of employment. Farm mechanization and decreasing commodity prices, which led to farm abandonment and consolidation, played a significant role in the depopulation of rural Nebraska. Despite this, Czech enclaves established in the 1870s survived and reflect the groups resilience and successful adaptation to an unfamiliar and unpredictable environment. The twenty-first decennial census of 1990 identifies five counties, all in the eastern portion of the state, where over 25% of the inhabitants claim Czech ancestry. Colfax and Butler Counties, where 44% and 42% of the citizens claim this ancestry respectively, exhibit unbelievably high numbers, numbers comparable only to German-Russians in south central North Dakota and Germans everywhere else on the plains (Fig. 4). These percentages are largely due to rural isolation and contribute to the retention of Czech culture.
In order to gain a more precise understanding of where Czech settlements in southeast Nebraska are located, data were examined for each town, identified as a place by the census. This process, which identifies places where 15% of the residents claimed Czech ancestry, clearly distinguishes the locations of Czech ethnic islands in this part of Nebraska (Fig. 5). It is within these communities that the remainder of this study is focused.
Cultural Imprints on the Landscape
While passing through these communities, a person may see business and street signs that identify the ancestry of the local population. However, the roots of the Czech culture go much deeper than this.
Churches and Cemeteries
The steeples of churches in Czech communities, often featuring . turrets at the base of the steeple reflecting a style common in the homeland, rival the water tower and grain elevator for dominance of the skyline. Many Catholic churches in Czech communities are named after Czech saints, St. Wenceslaus being the most common (Figure 11). Czech-American cemeteries are similar regardless of religious affiliation.
Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church, Plasi, Saunders County
To enter most cemeteries one must pass through an aged but maintained decorative iron gate (Figure 6). The use of family plots, with a central tombstone surrounded by vaults capping the graves of family members, is very common and is distinct from other ethnic cemeteries in Nebraska. Until the 1920’s most graves were inscribed in Czech. This practice ceased due to a loss of language retention and pro-American/anti-immigration sentiment in the United States at the time.
Czech National Cemetery, near Bruno, Butler County
Buildings with a familiar style to those in the homeland were constructed in the strikingly different landscape in which the Czechs settled. Most identifiable is the baroque style, which is most commonly found on buildings that served a public function in the past or remain to do so today (Figure 7, Exeter warehouse). Other subtle styles or patterns, such as L-shaped homes and white or beige colored exteriors may be common in Czech communities but are not culturally distinct.Abandoned building in Dorchester, Saline County
The desire to congregate was great with all parties who settled on the vast and empty plains, the Czechs being no different. Organizations such as Sokols and the Zapadni Cesko-Bratrska Jedota (ZCBJ) were formed, and when funds were available a building was constructed (Figure 11). These halls hosted various community activities, from plays to dinners, and although many local chapters of the organizations have folded, their building remains. The majority of the halls have a brick exterior, are two stories in height and feature a short rectangular-shaped false façade on the front (Figure 8, Crete sokol). Other halls may have a one story wooden exterior that has been painted white (Figure 9, Tabor ZCBJ). While some of these community halls may remain in use for gymnastic classes, high school reunions, wedding receptions, dinner parties and dances, others have been abandoned, only to remain as a testament to the organization, its members, and a community proud to call the building its own.The recently renovated community hall in Abie
Ethnic cuisine has played a significant role in the preservation of the Czech heritage. Local grocery stores maintain a steady supply of fruit fillings for kolache, a wide selection of pork products, many varieties of kraut and caraway seed, used to bake bread, in bulk. Duck is popular during the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season, and when describing its price reduction at various times throughout the year and the crowds that follow, a grocery store employee claimed, Its crazy. With the evolution of the grocery store expanding selection to offer food of all types, stores dedicated solely to the production of meats and baked goods are becoming rare, especially in small towns. It is then remarkable to see bakeries and meat markets that offer Czech delicacies and standard American products operating in towns such as Milligan (population 350), Brainard (pop. 350), Clarkson (pop. 700) and Wilber, the state and national Czech Capital (pop. 1,500). The fact that these businesses are able to be successful in such small villages attests to the residents love for specialized meat and baked goods. Included in Figure 11 are locations of bakeries producing kolache and other Czech goods and meat markets which produce meats such as jaternice and jelita. Another trait of Czech communities are the Friday fish frys, offering walleye, perch, cod and halibut at local taverns and restaurants. The roots of this tradition originated with the Catholic observation of Lent, as one could not consume red meat on Friday. When this tradition became a customary weekly event throughout the year is unknown, but the Friday fish fry remains a distinct quality of Nebraskas Czech enclaves with a Catholic population.
The admiration of polka music in Czech enclaves is undeniable. Polka music is heard from loudspeakers on Wilbers streets, jukeboxes in taverns and live at Friday fish frys, wedding receptions, weekly dances and town festivals (Figure 10). There are currently six radio stations, all in eastern Nebraska, which feature a daily or weekly dose of the beloved music that serves a vital role in the preservation of Czech culture (Figure 11).
An accordion jam at the South Central Nebraska Czech Festival in Hastings
The preservation of a cultures language can be vital to the preservation to the culture itself. The low retention of the Czech language in Nebraskas Czech communities reflect other rural ethnic enclaves in the United States. Granted, Czech may still be heard on the streets and in businesses, but it will not be long before the language will only be heard in local nursing homes, as only people in their sixties and older are able to speak fluently. Members of younger generations may only know phrases, if any Czech at all. Although this is somewhat of a hinderance, the decreasing number of persons fluent in Czech does not take away the proud heritage and active preservation in Nebraskas Czech enclaves.
The twentieth century saw vast changes in American culture. A decline of Old World traditions was caused by the evolution of technology, which provided a means of mass communication and transportation. The World Wars encouraged the abandonment of ethnic traditions and the Americanization of the population also contributed to the loss of ethnic heritage.
Aspects of the culture such as language are diminishing with the passing of the generations; Czech is commonly heard at nursing homes such as the Wilber Care Center , where second and third generations of Czech-Americans reside. However, the percentage of persons able to speak Czech drops significantly by the fifth generation, as is the case with most ethnic groups.
Although much has been lost, some culturally distinct aspects remain on the landscape in Czech communities. In a sense, the rural isolation of these communities in the southeast Nebraska has contributed to the preservation of the culture. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, Czech cuisine and music traditions remain strong while the community buildings that were constructed nearly 100 years ago (a long time for America ) continue to be utilized. In conclusion, the Czech community in Nebraska remains strong.