CHICAGO — With Fat Tuesday nearly here, lines across bakeries and grocery stores to pick up scores of beloved paczki can be traced back to Chicago’s deep Polish roots.
With the craze of getting paczki seeming to grow each and every year, it wouldn’t be quite as popular if Chicago never turned into a massive hub for Polish immigration in the 19th century.
The migration is said to begin in 1851 when Anton Smarzewski-Schermann came over with his wife and three children. He later became a key figure for the Polish community before and after the Great Fire.
Smarzewski-Schermann got his start in Chicago building the first Pullman Sleeping Car for the Chicago & Alton Railway company. In 1867, he opened a tavern and grocery store near Noble and Bradley. That same year, he was a part of a group that established the first Polish parish – St. Stanislaus Kostka, still located at 1351 W. Evergreen Ave. At one time, it was one of the largest churches in the country with 40,000 parishioners.