When I was growing up, our household recognized only one Polish prince, but yesterday in Central Park I spotted another royal Pole who’s certainly worthy to carve the Easter ham.
That’s King Władysław II Jagiełło, who (the monument tells us) was king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania, “founder of a free union of the peoples of East Central Europe” and “victor over the Teutonic aggressors at Grunwald, July 15, 1410.”
The “Teutonic aggressors” reference was timely: this statue greeted visitors to the Polish pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair. In April of that year, Polish dignitaries at the fair were already worried about a German invasion.
Just weeks after Germany rolled into Poland, Mayor La Guardia was publicly lobbying to keep this statue in New York and hoped to acquire the awesome medieval-ish entrance to the Polish pavilion, a 141-foot tower made of 1,200 gilded shields.
Incidentally, when the old men in my family got this look on their faces, we tended to keep them away from the cutlery.
In 1940, the plan was to raise money to keep the king and his tower in Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, but Poland donated the statue to New York City in 1945. King Jagiełło ended up in Central Park, where he faces west across the Turtle Pond.
I don’t know what happened to the king’s mighty medieval-ish shield tower, but I’ll have to find out later, because right now there’s ham slabs on the table, and they’re not gonna eat themselves.