Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture

Chicago Lithuanian Landmarks - the Darius and Girėnas Monument in Marquette Park

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    CHICAGO, IL 60629
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Darius and Girėnas

Darius and Girenas Monument
The Darius and Girėnas Monument in Marquette
Park, Chicago. (Move mouse over image to get
a larger view.)
Darius & Girenas monument in Marquette Park, Chicago, IL

A tour of Lithuanian landmarks in Chicago is not complete without a stop at the monument commemorating Lithuanian pilots Darius and Girėnas at the northeast corner of Marquette Park. (Read more about the architect of this monument below ...) Darius (Steponas "Stephen" Darius) and Girėnas (Stasys "Stanley" Girėnas) were Lithuanian American pilots whose ill-fated flight in the early days of Transatlantic aviation, garnered considerable attention for its contribution to the history of aviation as well as for its tragic ending. On July 15, 1933, the pair left New York and flew non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean, covering a distance of 3,984 miles (6,411 kilometers) in thier single-engine, modified Pacemaker plane Lituanica (Latin for Lithuania). The duration of their flight, a total of 37 hours and 11 minutes (107.1 mph) ranked fourth in the aviation record books of the day; the distance travelled was second to record holders Russel Boardman and John Polando. The flight is regarded as one of the most precise in air navigation history, a remarkable feat considering Lituanica lacked sophisticated navigation equipment and encountered severe weather en route. Lituanica entered the record books for carrying the first Transatlantic airmail delivery, a bag of letters postmarked for Lithuania from the Brooklyn Post.

Darius and Girėnas Commemorative Postcard
Commemorative postcard of the Darius and Girėnas Flight reads: "Our Nation's Pride - Conquerors of the Atlantic" (Move mouse over image to get a larger view.) image source -Facebook:Lietuva senose fotografijose/Lithuanian in Old Photographs
A commemorative Postcard of the Trans-Atlantic flight

Despite having enough fuel to complete the journey and the proven skill of the pilots, Lituanica crashed in a forest near the town of Soldin, northeast of Berlin, just 650 km short of Kaunas, Lithuania, its final destination. (The crashsite was located in pre-WWII Germany, but the area is considered part of present-day Poland.) An investigation by the Lithuanian government attributed the crash to adverse weather conditions and pilot and/or instrument error. Rumors that the plane had been shot down, on suspicion of being a spy plane or for flying too close to a German concentration camp, were never substantiated. An autopsy completed in Lithuania revealed no evidence that the pilots had sustained bullet wounds. Whether or not the plane had been fired upon could never be ascertained because not all pieces of the aircraft were returned to the Lithuanian government. The Lithuanian-bound mail, nevertheless, was recovered and ultimately delivered. The two heroes are buried in the Aukštieji Stančiai military cemetery in Kaunas, Lithuania. The wreckage of Litaunica is on display at Kaunas's Vytautas the Great War Museum.

Read more about Darius and Girėnas and their historic flight in Bridges: The Lithuanian American News Journal (Created: July 16, 1998/Revised: October 29, 2002)

Who was the architect of the Darius and Girėnas monument in Chicago?

The Director of the Genealogy Department and Lithuanian Museum Review editor Karilė Vaitkutė provides an account of her investigation into the identity of the architect of the Darius and Girėnas monument in Chicago's Marquette Park.

Darius and Girenas monument Bronze relief detail

JULY 17, 1933 DARIUS
Also inscribed on the monument:
Erected by Lithuanian-Americans
in memory of the heroic fliers
who met with tragic death upon
the threshold of their goal
Anno Domini

(We dedicate this flight
to you, young Lithuania)
FDY - CHICAGO - 1935

This article was triggered by several telephone calls to the Museum. The callers asked who was the architect of the famous art deco Darius-Girenas monument in the Marquette Park neighborhood in Chicago. The marble sculpture with bronze reliefs was unveiled in 1935 to commemorate the transatlantic flight from New York to Kaunas, Lithuania, by Captain Steponas Darius and Lieutenant Stasys Girenas. The two heroic flyers met with a tragic death upon the threshold of their goal. Their plane, Lituanica, crashed in the woods near Soldin in 1933. Every year since the monument was unveiled in 1935 large crowds of Lithuanian Americans come together by the monument to commemorate the tragic event. Every Lithuanian knows the story of Darius and Girenas. Their names are among the biggest heroes in Lithuanian history. Many know of the memorial in Marquette Park. However, it was interesting to find out that nobody knew who the architect of the monument was. I caught myself not knowing too. But then why would I know? I was a new arrival to this country. Chicago was not my home town. I asked the Museum staff and the Museum President. They did not know. I started calling people I knew. Nobody could tell me the answer. That was strange. I began thinking why would Lithuanians not know the name of the architect of the most famous Lithuanian monument in Chicago? Why would it not be mentioned in Lithuanian encyclopedias or in numerous articles that come out every year and describe the annual commemoration of Darius Girenas flight and tragic death?

And then I googled. The only web site that came up with the name of the architect was that of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Their Art Inventories catalog listed the architect as Charles Koncevec. That was the beginning. Koncevec. Was he Lithuanian? The name sounded Lithuanian, however slightly "distorted".

The cover of the Darius and Girenas Monument Unveiling Program Booklet from July 28, 1935
My next step was to search the archives of the Balzekas Museum. The Museum holds extensive archives pertaining to Darius and Girenas and their flight. However, painstakingly searching thorough the archives, I could find only a few newspaper clippings that mentioned not only the monument in Chicago, but the name of the architect. To my amazement I found several variants of the name. I will list them all here. In a booklet entitled Dariaus ir Girėno Paminklo Atidengimas Liepos 28 d. 1935 m. (The Unveiling of the Darius and Girenas Monument, July 28, 1935), the architect is mentioned as V. Koncevicius. The same booklet has an advertisement for the architect’s firm. In the ad, his name is written as Koncevic (the Americanized version). In the Art Archive of the Balzekas Museum, there is a folder devoted to the architect. The name, again, is listed as V. Koncevic. Only a few newspaper clippings with pictures of the monument are held in the folder. There is also a picture of the architect’s model of the monument. The writing next to the picture says "Koncevic. V." So then, which source is more trustworthy: The Smithsonian American Art Museum or the booklet published by the Darius Girenas Memorial Foundation, which worked to erect the monument? Was it Charles Koncevec or V. Koncevic? I looked further. In an article by E. Jasiunas, who was a famous researcher of Darius and Girenas, published in Lithuanian daily "Draugas" in 1973, the architect is mentioned only by his last name: Koncevicius. Another article published in the same daily in 2001, written by long-time Lithuanian journalist in Chicago, Petras Petrutis, mentions the architect as K. B. Koncevicius. Here we go again! So now he is not V. Koncevicius, C. Koncevicus, but K.B. Koncevicius? Who was this guy? And finally, one more article that I found in the Museum archives, written by Leonardas J. Simutis and published in the same daily "Draugas", writes of the architect as Kazys B. Koncevicius. One more variant of the name, K. B. Konevicius, mentioned in an article published in "Lietuvos Sparnai" in 1993 I dismissed as a simple typo. One more variant would have been just too much. So here we are: V. Koncevicius, Charles Koncevec, Koncevic, Kazys B. Koncevicius, K. B. Koncevicius. Where else should I look? Who else should I trust? My belief in historical accuracy and facts was crumbling before my very eyes.

And then it dawned on me: the Obituary Archive! How silly of me not to look there before. If he was Lithuanian, which by then I understood he obviously was, his obituary might have been filed in the Museum's extensive Lithuanian Obituary File. I looked. What I found was the obituary of his mother! Aleksandra Koncevicius (nee Sakalauskaite). She lived at 2557 West 43rd Street in Chicago. She died April 14, 1964. She was 79 when she died. She was born in Lithuania, Kaunas Region. She lived in America for 60 years. She has seven sons: John, Charles, Walter, Alex, Van, Stanley, and Joseph. She had eleven grandchildren a and sixteen great-grandchildren when she died. She was buried in St. Casimir’s Catholic Cemetery in Chicago. I went to the cemetery.

Koncevicius's mother's gravestone
Koncevicius gravestone
I found her grave which she shared with her earlier deceased husband Joseph. I found several graves of her sons and daughters-in-law too. I found the grave of one of her grandsons, Jim Koncevic, who unfortunately was stabbed to death in 1970 in Chicago dojo wars. (See Wikipedia) Jim was the son of Alex Koncevic. However, I could not find an obituary of Charles Koncevic, neither in the Museum files, nor on the internet.

Then, in the vast internet waters, I managed to fish out a name of Paul Koncevic of Geneva, Illinois. The death place of Charles Koncevic, even without an obituary, was listed as Geneva Illinois in Paul Koncevic was a beauty salon owner in Geneva. I decided to write him a letter asking to call me if he was a relative of the late architect of the famous Darius-Girenas Monument.  He called. He said he was the son. The only son. His dad was dead. His ashes scattered. No cemetery, no grave. So much for some wishes expressed by several Lithuanians to put a flower on the grave of this architect so important to Lithuanians. Paul did not know anything about his father’s involvement in the building of the most famous Lithuanian monument in Chicago. He mentioned his father worked for Barry and Kay in Chicago and later, for Frazier and Rafferty in Geneva, Illinois. His first name was Bruno, his middle name was Charles. He did not like Bruno and called himself Charles. In the Lithuanian Telephone Directory for the City of Chicago and Suburbs for the Year 1936, I found that Koncevic Chas (Charles?) B. resided at 2305 W. Garfield Blvd. in Chicago. That address is a just a block away from the Lithuanian Youth Center many Lithuanians know of today. However, the Center was not even built in 1936. In the same directory Koncevic J. was listed as a barber, residing at 2557 W. 43rd Street and 2754 W. 43rd Street. Same address as in Alexandra Koncevicius’s obituary. So that was her husband, Joseph. He was a barber. Charles Bruno Koncevicius-Koncevic was born in 1909. He was married to Mary. At the time of Darius-Girenas monument unveiling he was 26 years old. And he already had his own architect company "Koncevic and Recher”. The address of the company was 5415 S. Albany Avenue in Chicago. The booklet of the Darius-Girenas Monument unveiling states that the decision was to invite only Lithuanian architects to take part in the contest for the monument's design. There were several projects. The member of the Monument Building Foundation voted for the project by Koncevicius on April 3, 1935.  The mystery remains: why was  the architect in this booklet mentioned as V. Koncevicius and not Charles (or at least Kazys) Koncevicius? What name is hidden under the initial V?  I hope somebody knows.

Darius and Girenas monument unveiling Ppogram cover

By Karile Vaitkute
Director of Genealogy Department

Article in Lithuanian

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Darius & Girėnas

Darius and GirenasCaptains Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas whose ill-fated inaugural transatlantic flight from the United States to Lithuania ended tragically when the pilots crashed just shy of their destination, Kaunas, Lithuania. The monument is located at the corner of California and Marquette, on the northeast corner of Marquette Park, Chicago. See the Google Map below:
Captains Steponas Darius and Stasys Girenas