Death of Henry Archacki


For almost his whole life. Henry Archacki had never a problem of getting his name in print or digging up a Polish hero or heroine of the past to give them an everlasting presence.

All that came to an end, eight days short of his 91st birthday, when he died of a blood clot August 13th, 1998 in the Dumont Masonic Home at New Rochelle, New York. Several days before that, in Cabrini Hospital, New York City, for the third time in four months, he suffered dehydration and a stroke. Then he was moved to New Rochelle. He lived in New York City with his son.

His life defied simple description. It's hard to find a true reflection of his life through a looking glass. He liked to move things around, turn the mirror out of sight, and stamp everything as he saw fit.

Early in life, however, he was unable to do anything about it. He was born August 21, 1907, in Pieczyska, a village of seven huts roughly 50 miles north of Warsaw, Poland. His father, Jozef, left Poland the same year and settled in Chicago. His mother, Bronislawa, followed in 1908 with Henry, not quite a year old, and there the only child of the Archackis grew up to be an artist.


He graduated from Carl Schurz High School in Chicago and, shortly afterward, was hired as a graphic artist by the Republic Engraving and Design Company. In November, 1930, the company sent him to run its studio in Brooklyn.

Pretty soon, during a New Year's party in a Polish hall, he met Janina Wycka, a 24-year-old legal secretary whom he described as a wychowanka of the Holy Cross PNCC in South Brooklyn, and six months later, in the worst of times, they were married.

In a few years, the company he worked for was forced out of business by hard times, and believing he would do better, Archacki rented a loft in New York, near Union Square, and formed a graphic design company to create everything from advertising to rubber stamps. To make ends meet, Archacki drew cartoons of Polish oddities patterned after Robert Ripley's "Believe it or Not!" a syndicated newspaper feature, and got a number of Polish papers to buy them. For this undertaking, which he called Czy Wiecie, Ze. . . and covered almost 3,000 items, with Polish text, he received a lot of attention over the years.

At the same time, he joined the Kosciuszko Lodge, Free Order of Masons, in the Bronx, and in 1934, six years after it was constituted, he became Master of the Polish lodge. The lodge was active in moving the graves of General Wlodzimierz Krzyzanowski, who distinguished himself in the Union Army during the War between the States, and his wife, Caroline, from Green Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn to Arlington National Cemetery in 1937.

He was also one of the founders of the Polish American Historical Association during the Second World War. As it changed presidents every year or two, PAHA never received as much attention in the Polish press as Archacki did with small committees, made up mostly of history buffs, and in most cases he rescued many historical figures from oblivion.

Among his brainchilds, the American Polish Civil War Centennial Committee, which he organized in 1961, paid tributes to countless Polish heroes and heroines, who served one side or the other in President Lincoln's war.

Another committee got Andrzej Pitynski to design a wall shieid to hold lgnace Paderewski's heart, which was taken out of the famous pianist's body when he died in 1941 and secretly hidden until Archacki's brother-in-law accidentally came upon it in a crypt of a Brooklyn mausoleum, and hung the sculptor's work on the narthex [vestibule] wall of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, on June 29, 1986.

Its successor, the Paderewski Memorial Committee, was largely in the hands of Archacki and Col. Anthony Podbielski of Bayonne, N. J., when the rest of Paderewski's body was removed from the Maine Memorial Rotunda in the Arlington National Cemetery and taken to a crypt in St. John's Cathedral in Warsaw, Poland, on the 125th anniversary of Paderewski's birth.

Archacki's death will not end his historical work. Hundreds of his personal files exist at the University of Minnesota since 1980 and the Archacki Archives were opened Dec. 2, 1984, in the Polish American Museum at Port Washington, New York. Up to this point, none of the Czy Wiecie, Ze... is in the Archacki Archives, which has all the drawings, have ever been exhibited there.


Another sign that his name will not vanish in thin air are the files of various newspapers and magazines. His writing career began in 1928 when his drawings and writings were first used in the youth and sports section of Dziennik Zwiazkowy in Chicago.

The American Polonia Reporter, which Leopold Dende of the famous Polish family in Scranton started in 1956 to promote closer ties with Poland, used plenty of Archacki's prose, art work, and photographs successively in monthly, bimonthly, quarterly issues, and in 1967, when Dende had his office in Archacki's loft at 21 East 17th Street, the magazine folded.

His columns in Straz, which Archacki started soon after when Bishop Leon Grochowski, the primate of the Polish National Church in the United States and Canada, wanted him to devote a page in English, thereby making the official organ of the Polish National Union a bilingual newspaper, would have been another "Believe It or Not" in an earlier time. By accepting Bishop Grochowski's bid and later sending material to his son, Mitchell Grochowski, who became editor of Straz in 1991, Archacki served two generations of one family. Of course, Mitchell Grochowski, who was in the Army when his father died in 1969, never knew of the accomplishment until he became the editor.


[Paderewski Heart] [Paderewski Heart] Chester Grabowski, editor of The Post Eagle, called Archacki, whom I first met at Fort Delaware in 1966, and me the workhorses in the field of Polish American history. The term no longer applies.

Mass of Christian burial was said on August 17th in St. Stanislaus R.C. Church, New York City, for Archacki, who was nine years older than this workhorse, and his body was turned to ashes at Rosehill Crematory, Linden, New Jersey.

Jan Archacki would like to send the ashes of his father to the shrine where Paderewski's heart is enshrined, which was Henry Archacki's greatest achievement, and for which he is not recognized there.

If things work out, for the first time since Paderewski's heart was screwed to a wall in front of the Czestochowa shrine, Archacki would be recognized, albeit on an urn holding his ashes, as the workhorse who got the heart there.

The last time I saw my fellow workhorse was in September when my wife, Connie, Joseph S. Wardzala of Derby, Connecticut, and Bill Kowalski of Bayonne, New Jersey, paid him a visit in his apartment on East 12th Street in New York City. He was surprised to see us.

In one of his previous visits, Wardzala, who came to the United States in 1950, after suffering four years in a Nazi prison camp, brought Archacki a piece of Paderewski memorabilia. It was a piano board, 62 by 8 inches in size, of a Huntingdon piano manufactured in Shelton, Connecticut. In May, 1900, when the noted pianist stayed at the Hotel Manhattan in New York city, he enjoyed the sounds of such a piano and immediately ordered one for the Paderewski Singing Society in Chicago. Wardzala found the board of a Huntington piano in the storage room of his church, St. Michael's, in Derby, Connecticut, in 1994.

When we visited Archacki, the board was under the sofa in the living room. He pulled it out and showed it to us. Since Kowalski was involved in a Paderewski exhibit at the Bayonne Pubiic Library, I asked Archacki to display it there. To know that he turned down my request, I have only this to say to him in death -- he lived an unbelievable life!

From: The Post Eagle, Vol. 36, No. 34, Aug. 26, 1998