On this day, we commemorate the loss of Ignacy Jan Paderewski, who died in New York 81 years ago on June 29, 1941. The impressive and genius life of this pianist and statesman has been well-documented by the PMA and others alike, but the story of his burial is one that wasn’t complete until 51 years after his death.
After a huge parade and a Requiem mass in New York, President Franklin D. Roosevelt offered a temporary resting place for his body in Arlington National Cemetery “until Poland shall be free.” His casket was placed in the crypt of the USS Maine Mast Memorial, where it rested unmarked until 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was prompted to officially recognize Paderewski’s resting place.
When free presidential elections led to the end of communism in Poland in 1989, moves to have the body returned to Poland began, and the event was planned for the summer of 1991 on the 50th anniversary of Paderewski’s death. However, President Lech Wałęsa asked that the return be delayed a year until after the Polish parliamentary elections. Finally, Paderewski was returned to a free Poland and rests in St. John’s Archcathedral in Warsaw.
Following his sister’s wishes, Paderewski’s heart was removed from his body after his death, like his idol and fellow countryman Frederic Chopin, where it lies encased in a bronze sculpture in the National Shrine of Our Lady of Częstochowa near Doylestown, Pennsylvania. This lower church of the shrine houses a reproduction of the Black Madonna icon of Częstochowa, Poland, where the lower church interior is remodeled to resemble the original Jasna Góra shrine.
Antonina Paderewska Wilkonska, Paderewski’s sister and executor of his will, donated his personal items and historical artifacts to the Polish Museum of America. This would become the Paderewski Room, a permanent exhibit that includes Paderewski’s practice Steinway & Sons piano, the feather-shaped gold pen he used to sign the Versailles Treaty of 1919 as Prime Minister of Poland, and furnishings from his suite at the Buckingham Hotel in New York where he passed away.