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The very first map of the United States of Virginia and Maryland was produced in 1670 by Augustine Herman, a prominent merchant and cartographer from Bohemia in today’s Czech Republic, who settled in the new world. While in the employment of Lord Baltimore, Herman produced an incredibly accurate map of the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay regions in exchange for permission to establish an enormous 30,000 acre plantation in what is now southeastern Cecil County, Maryland. He named his plantation Bohemian Manor, building the manor north of the Bohemian River. Herman’s descendant and inheritor of the plantation was Richard Bassett, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and signers of the United States Constitution. Today, a high school and middle school are named after the plantation Bohemian Manor.
The humanist John Amos Comenius (1592-1670) was a great educator from Moravia in today’s Czech Republic. He is considered to be the 'Father of Modern Education,' establishing modern educational methods and promoting universal education. Comenius wrote about how people learn and how they should be taught through out their entire life. He produced the first children's picture book, Orbis Pictus (The World Illustrated). In his book Didactica Magna (Great Didactic), he outlined a system of schools that is the precise counterpart of the existing American system today. As his methods were respected and influential even in his time, Comenius was offered the prominent position of President of Harvard University (which he declined).
The Infant Jesus of Prague is a revered symbol and a sixteen century statue of the chid Jesus located in the Church of Our Lady of Victory i the Karmelitska Street in the Little Quarter of the Czech capital. During the plunder of the Thirty Years' War in 1631, the statue was damaged and forgotten. When found years later, legend has it that by miracle, its spirit spoke, "Have pity on me, and I shall have pity on you. Give me my hands, and I will give you peace." Since then, the Infant's many devotees, local and international, speak of its miraculous powers; so much so that a porcelain statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague was donated to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, in 1960. Pope Benedict XVI granted a Canonical Coronation to the Infant in 2009. Most recently, even Hollywood alluded to its powers in the last scene of the Academy Award winning film Argo.
Infant Jesus of Prague
Photo courtesy: Petr Hron
Antonín Dvořák, one of the most prominent Czech classical composers of all time, left an enormous musical footprint on the United States. Dvořák’s fascination with his ethnic roots and folk melodies gained him an invitation to direct New York ’s National Conservatory of Music and develop an American music style. Taking in the sounds of Native and African Americans, Dvořák produced in the 19th century one of the most listened to symphonies on Earth called From the New World. This beautiful piece inspired U.S. Astronaut Neil Armstrong in the 20th century as he took man’s first steps on the moon. Dvořák’s legacy also thrived through his students, who taught American legends George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, and Duke Ellington. Over 500 artists, 30 venues throughout the nation’s capital, and 10,000 attendees celebrated the composer’s work and influence at the Mutual Inspirations Festival 2011- Antonín Dvořák.
Photo courtesy: National Museum of the Czech Republic
Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) was a Czech artist, famous even today for his Art Nouveau decorative style. He is best known for his numerous paintings, posters, and advertisements, in which he depicts beautiful women in long flowing robes with flowers in their hair and in the background. His illustrations gained the support of American millionaire and philanthropist Charles R. Crane, who was also a friend of Czechoslovakia’s first President T. G. Masaryk. One of the works that Crane funded was Mucha’s Slavonic Epic, a masterpiece of paintings portraying the history of the Slavic people. Perchance in return, Mucha selected Crane’s American wife, Josephine, as his model for the female image illustrated on the one hundred crown banknote, put into circulation in 1920 in the newly founded Czechoslovakia.
Picture from a banknote
US President Woodrow Wilson’s strong support for the formation of an independent Czechoslovak state has not been forgotten. Initiated and funded by Americans of Czech and Slovak descent, a larger-than-life sized monument of the President was erected in 1928 in Prague, across from the main train station, which was renamed “Wilson Station” in his honor. However, the Nazis tore down the Wilson Monument on December 12, 1941, after the US declared war on Germany and Japan. Following WWII, Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk, the son of President Masaryk, installed a plaque at the site in 1946, only to be removed again after the communist takeover in 1948. The Wilson monument was rebuilt and rededicated on October 5, 2011, by the American Friends of the Czech Republic, the City of Prague, and the Metropolitan District of Prague 1, as an enduring symbol of the friendship between the United States and the Czech Republic.
Czech born Anton Cermak (1873-1933) became the 44th Mayor of Chicago in 1931. He was an opponent of the Prohibition and waged a battle against the mob. As Mayor, Cermak also traveled back to his native lands and met with Czechoslovak President T. G. Masaryk. Unfortunately, while shaking hands with U.S. President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) in Miami, Florida, on February 15, 1933, Cermak was fatally shot by assassin Joe Zangara. While on his deathbed, Cermak humbly told FDR, "I'm glad it was me instead of you." A plaque inscribed with these words to honor Cermak still lies at the site of the assassination in Miami's Bayfront Park. Cermak is buried in the Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago and has a major street in Chicago named after him. Still, it has never been determined who was the target of the assassination, if the bullet was meant for the President-elect or Cermak in retribution for ordering the shooting of gangster Frank Nitti.
Did you know that such a common word as robot was taken from the Czech language? Robot, which comes from the Czech word robota, meaning "serf labor," was introduced to the world in 1920 by the influential Czech writer Karel Čapek in his play Rossum's Universal Robots. The play begins in a factory that makes artificial people called robots. Although Karel Čapek was best known as a science fiction author, he was also involved in politics, interviewing the First Republic's President for his book Talks with T. G. Masaryk, and even wrote children's stories.
President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and writer Karel Čapek
Photo courtesy" Archives of the Masaryk Institute at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Jaroslav Ježek became a popular jazz composer, pianist, and conductor during the 1920's, fearlessly crossing the borders between popular and classical music. He organized and conducted an orchestra featuring his original jazz compositions and arrangements, recording some of the most original music in Europe. Still, Ježek is best known for the songs he composed for the famous pre-WWII satirical cabaret, the Liberated Theatre, led by playwrights and comedians Jiří Voskovec and Jan Werich (V+W). As the theatre's performances were anti-fascist, all three artists fled to the US after the nazi occupation in 1938.
The popular and prolific Czech composer of modern classical pieces, Bohuslav Martinů, fled the Nazis to America due to his involvement in the Czech resistance movement. Spending over a decade in the US in the 1940’s and 50’s, Martinů composed many works, including all six of his symphonies, and taught at the Mannes College of Music, Yale University, and the Berkshire Music Center (now Tanglewood). Martinů offered several of his works to the Library of Congress, which holds the originals along with his correspondence for special viewings. Martinů’s 1943 orchestral work Memorial to Lidice, is a tribute to the innocent victims of the village of Lidice in the Czech Republic, which was destroyed by the Nazis in retaliation for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the mastermind behind the Holocaust, by Czechoslovak special trained soldiers in one of the most important resistance actions in World War II. To this day, the community in Phillips, Wisconsin, holds an annual memorial service for the victims at its Lidice Memorial each summer.
Photo courtesy: Archive of F. J. Rybka
The Czech Republic belongs among the top ten countries in the world with the most developed film infrastructure. Many American filmmakers take advantage of the famous Barrandov Studios in the architecturally stunning city Prague, shooting films such as Mission Impossible (1996), The Bourne Identity (2002), Alien versus Predator (2004), Hellboy (2004), and The Brothers Grimm (2005). Referred to as the "European Hollywood,” the studios offer all production needs under one roof, along with a wide range of the most comprehensive services currently available at an appealing price. The Barrandov Studios were founded by brothers Miloš and Václav Havel, after visiting the University of California, Berkley. “America was my inspiration,” said Václav Havel, the father of the Czech President with the same name.
Photo courtesy: Barrandov Studios
Many dissidents in Communist Czechoslovakia listened to smuggled in, underground music such as The Velvet Underground, which was an influential American rock band, formed in the 1960’s. American artist of Czechoslovak heritage Andy Warhol managed the band and it played at his studio. The Czechs voiced their own dissenting views of the totalitarian regime through bands, such as The Plastic People of the Universe (PPU), formed in 1968 after the Soviet invasion and reversal of Prague Spring’s liberalization period. The PPU were strongly influenced by American song writer Frank Zappa and hired Paul Wilson, an English teacher, to teach them the lyrics of American songs. In 1976, PPU and others were put in prison for disturbing the peace. Their prosecution led dissident Václav Havel and others to write the Charter 77. Two decades later as President, Václav Havel requested, Lou Reed, a founding member of The Velvet Underground, to perform at a White House dinner held in his honor and hosted by President Bill Clinton in 1998.
Plastic People of the Universe perform at Czech Embassy
Photo courtesy: Mary E. Fetzko
Madeleine Korbelová Albright, the first woman to serve as the United States Secretary of State and, hence, asthe highest ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government, was born in Prague in the inter-World War period. Her father, Josef Korbel, was a diplomat and loyal supporter of the democratic regimes of the first Czechoslovak President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and his successor President Edvard Beneš. After the communist takeover in 1948, Korbel moved his family to New York and obtained a teaching position at the University of Colorado, where he would later mentor another future U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. Following the end of Albright’s term as Secretary, her good friend, Czech President Vaclav Havel speculated about the possibility of Albright succeeding him after he retired, which she declined. In May 2012, Madeleine Albright was honored by US President Barack Obama with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Photo courtesy: Lillis Werder
The Little Mole (Krtek) is an enormously popular Czech cartoon character, loved by children in over 80 countries around the world today. The Little Mole was created by Czech animator and illustrator Zdeněk Miler in 1956. Being strongly influenced by Walt Disney, Miler got the idea for his protagonist when he stumbled on a mole hill in a forest. The first released film was "How the mole got his pants,” which taught children how linen is made, and since then about 50 educational episodes for young children have been produced. The film series is highly universal, as the Little Mole’s speech is limited to brief, abstract sounds. In 2011, the Little Mole even traveled in stuffed-animal form aboard the US NASA shuttle Endeavour to promote children’s interest in space exploration. The launch also inspired the commission of IPad and IPhone apps for the character and Apple Inc. is planning on helping the Little Mole enter the $21 billion US toy market for the first time.