Lithuanian Cultural Garden
The Lithuanian Cultural Garden extends between the upper and lower East Boulevard, commanding an inspiring view from both levels, and constructed in the shape of a large lyre, emblematic of the Lithuanian love for music in which , through centuries of national oppression, the Lithuanian people has expressed both its sorrows and its joys.
The stone work in this garden portrays three epochs of Lithuanian history.
The unification of the three Lithuanian provinces or tribes under the rule of the Grand Duke Gediminas at the beginning of the fourteenth century—an event which inaugurated an era of pride and strength for the Lithuanian nation—is represented by a sculptured wall in the lower garden. A reproduction of a three-pillared symbolic piece of sculpture built by Gediminas to commemorate Lithuanian unity in the City of Vilnius in ancient Lithuania, it stands as a memorial to Lithuania's past greatness.
Another stage in Lithuanian history is symbolized by the large stone Fountain of Biruta, the central feature of the upper boulevard level of the garden. It represents the era of pagan worship of the country before the Christianizing of Lithuania. Biruta, Grand Duchess and first Queen of Lithuania, was, according to legend, the daughter of a fisherman. Consecrated a vestal virgin to the goddess Praurime, whose shrine stood on a lofty mound overlooking the shore of the Baltic Sea, Biruta, when on the verge of becoming a priestess to the goddess, was seen by Keistutis, the son of Gediminas, who had stopped at the shrine to give thanks to the goddess on his return from battle with the Crusaders in Prussia.
On beholding Biruta, he fell in love with her and bore her away with him to make her his wife. Their son, Vytautas the Great, in 1410 defeated the Crusaders at Gruenwald. After this event, Lithuania voluntarily espoused Christianity.
Biruta is revered by the Lithuanian people as an ideal of feminine virtue, and many little Lithuanian daughters have been proudly named in her honor.
By implication, an emblematic fire is assumed to illuminate the Biruta Fountain, symbol of the everlasting flame kept by the vestal virgins in the pagan temple of old Lithuania.
The Fountain of Biruta is dedicated to the Lithuanian women of Cleveland, and bears a plaque testifying to their generous contributions and enterprising fund-raising which have made this monument possible.
A unique and fascinating feature of the Lithuanian Garden, also traceable to pagan influence, is the zig-zag motif used as a decorative theme. This
symbolizes lighting in honor of Perkunas, ancient god of thunder, once worshipped in Lithuania.
The third stage of Lithuanian history—that of its rebirth after the First World War, is commemorated in the stone-paved lower court of the garden by a bust of Dr. Jonas Basanavicius (1851-1927), scholar, historian, and first president of the Lithuanian Republic in 1918. The bust is a gift of the Lithuanian Government.
In a nook of the upper level garden, which is planted with alleys of oak leaf and mountain ash, there is a bronze bust of Vincas Kudirka (1859-1899), poet, author, and composer of the Lithuanian national anthem. The Kudirka bust was erected by the Dr. Vincas Kudirka Society of Cleveland, and was dedicated on September 21, 1938.
On the opposite side of the garden, a nook has been appropriated for the placement of a bust of Maciulis Maironis, the poet-priest whose poems were the inspiration for the Lithuanian's struggle for independence. Funds for this bust, at the present writing, are being raised by St. George's Church.
Both the Basanavicius and Kudirka busts are copies of originals by Jonas Zikaras, now in the garden of the Museum of Kamas, Lithuania.
Also in the Lithuanian Garden are two oak trees, dedicated respectively to the Lithuanian Alliance of America and the Lithuanian Roman Catholic Alliance of America in appreciation for their large financial contributions and moral support in the building of the garden. A linden tree was dedicated to the Lithuanian Metropolitan opera star, Miss Anna Kaskas, whose concert yielded a contribution to the Lithuanian Garden sufficiently large to wipe out debts incurred during construction.
The original design was drawn up in Lithuania by Professor Dubinecras, and was modified to fit the boulevard topography by the City Plan Commission of Cleveland. WPA funds for the construction of the garden were approved to the amount of $27,000/
The Lithuanian Garden was dedicated on October 11, 1936, with the unveiling of the statue of Dr. Jonas Basanaviciu. An impressive procession marched to the strains of the Lithuanian national anthem, and about 2000 spectators witnessed the ceremonies. A wreath of Lithuanian rue, red roses, and foliage of the diemedis, or God's tree, was placed before the bronze statue by ladies in Lithuanian national costume.-
Principal speaker was Bronius K. Balutis, Lithuania's Minister to the United States.
"Aside from being a picturesque lesson on the origins of the diverse population of this city, the Cultural Gardens development offers also an excellent course in international relations," Mr. Balutis said. " It is an encouraging sight to see a great municipality actually demonstrating that its citizens may speak many different tongues, may have many distinct customs, may be partisans of various political or religious beliefs—and still be peacefully united in a common purpose, for a common and noble achievement."
Mr. Balutis also spoke on behalf of his government in the Lithuanian language. K. S. Karpius, editor of Dirva, Lithuanian weekly, and the Reverend Vincent G. Wilkutatis of St. George's Catholic Church, also spoke in Lithuanian. John L. Mihelich, first vice-president of the Lithuanian Cultural Garden Federation,
Mayor Ray T. Miller accepted the bust of the Lithuanian hero on behalf of the city. Mrs. together with Mrs. Lottie Sukys, secretary, unveiled the statue. Mrs. Mihelich also acknowledged the co-operation of the nineteen Lithuanian societies which worked to establish the garden.
Other distinguished visitors to the Lithuanian Garden, in addition to Mr. Balutis, Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States, have included the late Antanas Smetona, President of Lithuania Mikas Bagdonas, attaché of the Lithuanian Embassy, and Mykolas Skipitas of Lithuania. The Sportsmen of Lithuania also staged a basket-ball game with the local St. George's Church team, for the benefit of the garden.
Funds for the garden were raised by a local cultural committee and by the Cultural Garden Federation by sponsoring picnics, concerts, theatrical events, and bazaars and by solicited contributions through individuals and the contributions of twenty-one affiliated clubs and societies in the Lithuanian Cultural Garden Federation. In this manner, $11,000 was raised.
The first meeting of the Lithuanian Cultural Garden Association occurred on October 4, 1929. The first officers were Vincent P. Chesnul, president John T. Kerichter, first vice-president Mrs. John L. Mihelich, second vice-president K. S. Karpius, executive secretary and Peter P. Muliolis, treasurer.
Officers at the present writing are John Brass, president Florionas Saukevicius, first vice-president Joseph Grazulevicius, second vice-president Mrs. John L. Mihelich, recording secretary and Mrs. Justin Mischik, financial secretary.
Active members who have contributed generously of their time and efforts through the years since the beginnings of Lithuanian Garden history, have been Mrs. John L. Mihelich and Mrs. Justin Mischik, both continuous office-holders in the Lithuanian League and its parent organization, the Cultural Garden Federation. Mrs. Mihelich is also president of the Women's Committee of the Cultural Garden Federation. Mrs. Pola Glugodas has been active as a tireless publicity chairman, and in fund raising since the garden's inception. Mr. V. P. Chesnul, first president, rendered outstanding service during the planning and dedication of the garden. Mr. John Brass has ably succeeded him as president. Mr. Peter P. Muliolis has served on the board since its inception, in charge of organization finances. Mr. K. S. Karpius, secretary, has successfully secured contacts with Lithuania and aid from the Lithuanian government, for the benefit of the garden. Mr. George Vensluvas, successor to Mr. Karpius, deserves credit for his direction of the Lithuanian Sportsmen's show. Mr. Joseph Blaskevicius has led committees raising largest amounts in funds.
By such loyal efforts as these, has the beautiful Lithuanian Garden been added to the Cultural Garden chain.