The Polish-American Museum is one of the hidden gems of Port Washington


Port Washington’s Polish-American Museum holds concerts and other cultural events in its gallery space. Located just off of Main Street, this museum holds treasures which every Port resident should experience.

August Zeidman, Features Editor

Just off of Main Street, one of Port Washington’s greatest attractions hides in plain sight.  Yes, it may be marked by signs on Main Street and lie a block from our greatest thoroughfare, but most residents have never gone anywhere near our local Polish-American Museum and all the treasures it contains.

“I had no idea that Port was home to such a fantastic facility.  I’ll be making a trip to the Polish American Museum as soon as I can.  I’m especially interested in seeing the exhibit on Chopin,” said sophomore Jeannie Ren.

The museum is housed within the original Port Washington Public Library building, which was purchased in 1982 after the museum’s founding in 1977.  Though the hours are restrictive (Wednesday to Friday, 10 A.M. to 2 P.M.), it is certainly worth the visit.

As you enter through the entrance, you are greeted by a quaint reception desk behind which the building opens up to display 15 exhibits in two wings as well as having an event space where concerts and other cultural events are held.  Admission is by donation and there is a guest book where you can leave your email to be notified about upcoming events. 

In the left wing behind the reception area is the main collection with rooms dedicated to all things Polish.  The main room houses artifacts related to the military careers of various Poles in World War II complete with multitudes of donated artifacts.  This is set directly alongside a wall of paintings of Joseph Pilsudski, the father of the modern Polish State, a collection of pieces related to the Polish Exhibition at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, and the various minerals which are mined throughout Poland. 

Behind this and around a corner lie all the other rooms, separated by theme.  One is dedicated to the Polish Monarchy and contains pictures of all the old kings as well as a mix of authentic and reproduction relics from the medieval era.  Rooms also exist for Poland’s musical history (Frederic Chopin holds a prominent seat here), their Nobel Prize history, and their religious history. 

The most interesting rooms in this wing, however, are those dedicated to Polish folk art and culture which contain a great multitude of beautiful and fascinating examples of traditional art such as reverse painted glass, handmade outfits and shoes, and intricate paper cuttings.  These pieces seem to hearken back to an earlier time when this kind of folk culture was more readily found in society and a visit to this museum can really help anyone get a better understanding of this. 

Across the hall from this wing lies the other that only contains one large exhibit: that of Poland’s military history.  This room focuses on Poland in the First and Second World Wars.  There are artifacts of the Polish “blue army” which fought for independence in World War One, so named for their blue uniforms, some of which can be seen here.  This is in addition to multitudes of medals, photographs, a banner, and other artifacts. 

In World War Two, Poland as a nation suffered great atrocities under the yoke of Nazi Germany and the museum tastefully covers this dark period in the nation’s history.  With a wall dedicated to the quick fall of Poland in 1939 to the preserved concentration camp uniform standing directly across, this part of the room has a somber tone. 

That uniform may very well be the single most poignant piece in the entire museum.  It is marked with a pink upside-down pink triangle indicating that the wearer was imprisoned for being a homosexual or other “sexual deviant.”  The tattered sleeves and faded stripes are a testament to the greatest atrocity that has ever been committed by means of both scale and brutality.  It is an interesting note that this pink triangle has, after being flipped upright, become a lasting symbol of the LGBT community in the United States, prominently featuring on the lab coat of Dr. Frank n Furter in the film and play the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Besides this somber side of the room, there is also a fantastic display of artifacts related to the victories of various Polish volunteer corps from the war.  This includes both air and land corps in the British and American armies which were often made up of members of the former Polish Army or Air Force.  With photographs, medals, and uniforms, you can follow the path of the Allies to eventual victory in the history’s greatest conflict through the lens of the Polish community. 

At the very back of the museum lies the museum’s final treasure: the library and reading room.  With shelves reaching the ceiling across all four walls and books filling every available inch of space, this collection in both Polish and English covers just about any aspect of Polish history, culture, or literature imaginable.  

Port Washington has a large Polish community and the Polish diaspora in the US is one of the world’s most prominent.  The museum’s self declared purpose is to “motivate and supplement Polish American citizens and other American citizens with a greater knowledge and appreciation of their heritage and the values of their culture, customs, social, humanitarian, patriotic, and industrial achievements in education, medicine, science, arts, music, sports, and literature.”

This is certainly accomplished and anyone who visits will discover a newfound or rekindled appreciation for Polish history and culture as well as personal heritage for many residents.  This museum is one of Port’s greatest cultural treasures and is a fantastic location to spend time in.  Located at 16 Belleview Ave, a block off Main Street, and open Wednesday to Friday, 10 A.M. to 2 P.M., the Polish American Museum will not disappoint.