On November 15, 1910, the Czech community of Texas came together to celebrate what was known as Bohemian Day at the Cotton Palace in Waco, Texas.
Czech periodicals of the time referred to the event as Český den (Czech Day) or Den Čechoslovanů (Day of the Czecho-Slavs). American newspapers called it Bohemian Day.
The Cotton Palace was an exhibition center that originally had been built in 1894. It burned down the following year, however, and was not rebuilt until 1910.
From November 5 to November 20 the city of Waco celebrated the reopening of the Cotton Palace with parades, concerts and exhibitions. Each day of the extravaganza was dedicated to one or more segments of the area’s society.
November 8 was Waco Day and Union Labor Day. November 9 was Woman’s Day and the Flower Carnival. November 16 was Brazos Navigation Day and the opening of the Poultry Show. And two days were dedicated to central-Texas ethnic groups. November 17 was German Day, and November 15 was Bohemian Day.
Several Waco-area Czechs were responsible for organizing Bohemian Day, but according to sources at the time, “…to Dr. C. H. Breuer of this city must be accorded the credit of originating the idea and carrying it to such creditable and happy completion.” (“Children of Ancient Race,” Waco Semi-Weekly Tribune, November 19, 1910, p. 1.) Victor Bunata served as chairman of the Bohemian Day planning committee. Leo Macel was deputy chairman, and Dr. Karel Breuer was secretary. Other committee members included Frantisek Bartos, Antonin Buzek, Josef Dusek, J. A. Farek, Josef Janak, Jan Lostak, Matej J. Mazanec, Roman Parma, Metod Pazdral, Vinc Piter, Louis Sulak and F. H. Vojtek, all from the Waco and West area.
The planning committee was soon expanded into a state-wide organization with four additional deputy chairmen: Josef Drozda from Granger, F. G. Fabian from Hallettsville, Judge Augustin Haidusek from La Grange and Josef Kopecky from Hallettsville.
In addition thirteen counties with Czech populations were represented by fourteen directors. They included: Austin County – Josef Mikeska, Baylor County – George Haidusek, Bell County – Paul Malina, Burleson County – Englebert Pollack, Fayette County – Ignac J. Gallia, Fort Bend County – Jan J. Cadil, Galveston County – J. E. Krizan, Hill County – Josef Cervenka, Lavaca County – Rudolf Valenta, McLennan County – Metod Pazdral, Milam County – F. Lesovsky, Tarrant County – J. J. Stangl and Williamson County – F. A. Parma and Frantisek Stefka.
On November 15 Czechs came from far and wide to participate in the festivities. As early as November 9 it was estimated that eight thousand Czechs would travel to Waco. (“Bohemians Coming Eight Thousand Strong,” Waco Daily-Times Herald, November 9, 1910, p. 9.) Special excursion fares were arranged, and trainloads of Czechs descended on the city.
One incident described in a local newspaper illustrates both the great number of Czechs who traveled to Waco and the spirit that they brought with them. “…one train in particular came in with seventeen coaches loaded to the guards and stalled when it attempted to round the curve in the yards. The excursionists were not far from the city, however, and with the usual enterprise manifested by the Bohemians, they alighted from the train and walked to the city as cheerful and fresh as before.” (“As the End Draws Nearer,” Waco Semi-Weekly Tribune, November 16, 1910, p. 12.)
Bohemian Day began with a parade through the streets of town with Josef Janak as Grand Marshal. The most remarkable thing about the parade must have been the fact that the thousands of Czechs that had traveled to Waco for Bohemian Day marched in it. Families marched together, with parents surrounded by their children and with mothers carrying their babies. The marchers were grouped by county, and the resulting delegations were separated by floats and bands.
According to one observer, “There must have been many thousands in that parade. It stretched out blocks and blocks, and they were marching four to six and eight deep. It was magnificent; it was amazing.” (“Parade Commended on all Hands Today,” Waco Daily-Times Herald, November 15, 1910, p. 2.
In those days floats consisted of decorated wagons pulled by horses. One float carried Miss Libuse Breuer, who was the Queen of Bohemian Day. Another float depicted the legend in which Princess Libuse foretold the future greatness of the city of Prague. Still another float showed an old-style Czech wedding with the wedding party dressed in traditional costume. And there were more floats. One showed a ship that carried emigrants across the ocean to America. One showed a classroom in a rural school. One showed carpenters building a piece of furniture. Two floats carried young sokols dressed in their uniforms.
The Texas-Czech community was modern and up-to-date. Several automobiles carried dignitaries of Bohemian Day and officers of several Texas-Czech organizations. More automobiles carried Czech students from Southwestern University in Georgetown (where the Czech language had been taught since 1907), from the University of Texas in Austin and from business schools in Waco.
A local newspaper reported that “such a parade in Texas has never been seen before,” and called it “a marvel to all.” (“As the End Draws Nearer,” Waco Semi-Weekly Tribune, November 16, 1910, p. 12.) Another newspaper noted that the marchers “were greeted by the applauding multitude that lined the streets to watch the unique procession.” (“The Bohemian Parade Today,” Waco Daily-Times Herald, November 15, 1910, p. 3.)
Ceremonies in the Cotton Palace coliseum followed the parade. Bohemian Day Queen Libuse Breuer welcomed the crowd in both English and Czech. Then Judge Augustin Haidusek delivered a speech in English, which was followed by a speech in Czech by Master of Ceremonies Metod Pazdral. Judge Haidusek’s speech, which summarized the history of the Czech people, was subsequently published in a Waco newspaper. (“Oration of ‘Bohemian Day’,” Waco Semi-Weekly Tribune, November 19, 1910, pp. 6, 12.) Dr. Karel Breuer delivered a speech challenging the Texas-Czech community to continue Bohemian Day the following year, and also to form a permanent state-wide Czech organization. A gymnastic exhibition by the sokols came next, as well as music provided by Czech bands.
Social entertainment followed in a nearby hall. There were more speeches, including deliveries made by Miloslav Breuer, Josef Bunata, Karel Cernosky and F. A. Parma. And there was a dance.
Another highlight of Bohemian Day was a display in the Cotton Palace exhibition center. Whereas the day’s activities had been organized and planned primarily by the men of the Texas-Czech community, the display was a creation of the Texas-Czech women. Under the direction of Mrs. Karel Breuer, Mrs. Kveton, Mrs. Matej J. Mazanec and Mrs. F. H. Vojtek, the ladies brought together a wide variety of heirlooms and artifacts. They had women’s handwork, art, machinery and items that had belonged to the original Czech settlers of the state. One treasure in particular was the sixteenth-century Parma family Bible, which is now part of the collection of the SPJST Library and Museum in Temple.
Bohemian Day came to a close around 11:00 PM, when it was time for the thousands of visitors to reboard the trains that had brought them to Waco and head back home. No doubt the experiences in Waco were a topic of conversation for some time to come.
Bohemian Day in Waco continued for several years, but now even the memory of this remarkable occasion is largely forgotten. Being able to show themselves at their best and being well received by the people who saw them must have given a great deal of pride to the Texas-Czech community, and according to reports published in newspapers of the time, those who saw the Czechs were impressed by their character, their ingenuity and their patriotism. In fact, reports were lavish in their praises of the Czechs living in Texas. According to one newspaper, “The Bohemian farmer is recognized as among the very best in the land. The women are industrious and thrifty and the children are among the brightest in the schools.” (“The Bohemian Parade Today,” Waco Daily-Times Herald, November 15, 1910, p. 3.)
Perhaps the greatest legacy of Bohemian Day was the groundwork that it laid. Four years later Europe was at war, and soon Czechs across the United States were asked to help the cause of Czechoslovak independence. The Texas Czechs already had experience in organizing and working together. They already had a proven track record set at Bohemian Day in Waco, Texas, in 1910.
– Robert Janak
“Bohemian Day in Waco, Texas, in 1910,” printed in the series Czech Connections, Cesky Hlas (Newsletter of the Czech Heritage Society of Texas), August 2003, pages 7-8.