The Garden Party

by Tomáš Biskup - 2003-12-09
I am writing this article to share information about Czech and Slovak Americans who visited Czechoslovakia in 1928. I came across this information while collecting data for a client whose grandfather attended a Garden Party at Prague Castle on July 3,1928. This event fascinated me, since it concerned the return of several hundred Americans of Czech and Slovak ancestry to their old country.

The year 1928 was the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Czechoslovak Republic. Of the many Czech and Slovak Americans attending these celebrations in Europe, most used this opportunity to visit their places of origin. It is quite likey that the addresses found on the invitation list for this event can be used to identify the attendee‘s place of origin. Those who appear on the invitation list to the Garden Party, also represent at least one of several Czech-American interest groups. Thus, it should also be possible to determine their place of residence (in America), through newspaper reports or rosters belonging to the groups who they represented.

The Garden Party was held in honor of the Czech and Slovak Americans who attended. It coincided with the dedication of a memorial to American President Woodrow Wilson, and a parade of the Czechoslovak Legions. This was one of the biggest events of it's kind held during the period known as the First Republic (1918 - 1938). About 700 people participated, from whom more than 380 were guests from North America. The host was Czechoslovak President T.G. Masaryk. Those invited were members of organizations (ie. Sokol, Czechoslovak Red Cross, Czech National Union, Slovak League in America, etc.), who played a significant role in the founding of independent Czechoslovakia.

Information concerning four independent groups is know through different telegrams sent to President Masaryk. The first group, "Doubrava", sent their telegram on May 11, from Cherbourg, a port in France. The second was from the "Group of Revolutionary Workers", sent on May 16, from the boat "President Harding" by the leader of this group, Mr. John A Červenka. A third telegram came on June 11, from the deck of the boat "America", sent by the Czechoslovak Legionares and signed by consuls Mr. Kusta and Tvrziaka. The last telegram, in this group, was mailed on June 12, by "Evangelical expedition from America", and delivered via the German port of Bremerhaven.

These compatriots had persuaded American politicians to support the creation of Czechoslovakia. Through their efforts, they prepared the "soil" for negotiations between Masaryk and president W.Wilson, who at first was not inclined towards the creation of such a state. Based on the records concerning this Garden Party, it is clear that perhaps the most influential person, concerning the interests of the Czech and Slovak communities living abroad, was Viktor Emanuel Voska. He can be thought of as the main organizer of the Garden Party, since he was somehow involved with most (if not all) of the groups who attended.

Further data, concerning other organized trips, can be found in the transcript of a telephone conversation, on May 19, between E.V. Voska and an administrative secretary in the President’s office. Voska is recorded to have talked about other important groups of Czechs and Slovaks, such as National Union, Legionnaires, Lyra, Slovaci, who were to attend.

In the newspapers there was more written about visiting compatriots. In one account, Mr. Karel Bernreiter, a Czech man from Cleveland (born July 2. 1867 in Prague) planned to attend, but never arrived. He died on his trip in Dubrovnik (Croatia) on May 8. According to this story he was buried in Královské Vinohrady in Prague. Newspapers also reported that Czech and Slovak Americans organized volunteer collections before their departure for the construction of a house for blind soldiers. In Chicago alone, they collected $18 000.

The Garden Party was held the night before the American celebration of independence. President Masaryk was present and was personally introduced to several delegates. The "Club of American Czechoslovaks", was founded for this event by President Masaryk, who appointed Voska as it’s chairman. This club prepared two lists of names; those invited to attend the Garden Party, and those who would personally meet the president. Almost every name appears together with the address where person(s) stayed. It is important to note, however, that there were some people not listed here who, according to newspaper accounts, did attended the party. Jan C. Štupán, deputy of the Western Czech Unity Bretheren in USA, and administrator of Union of American Friends in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is one of these.

For the purpose of this article, I have transcribed both of these lists. They were combined, and organized alphabetically, to simplify there use for research. Those selected to meet the President Masaryk are identified by an asterix. As for V. E. Voska, his life certainly deserves more attention, since he appears to have been one of the most influential Czech Americans of that time.