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       Hungarians in this one area was so great that for several decades Cleveland was considered the city with the second largest Hungarian population in the world, after Budapest. The Buckeye neighborhood was deservingly named the American Debrecen; Debrecen was the second largest city in Hungary at the time.

B. THE UNIQUE "SUB-CULTURE" OF BUCKEYE

       By 1920, Cleveland's Hungarian population had reached 43,134; Hungarians constituted eighteen percent of the city's foreign-born population.39 The Buckeye Road Hungarian Community was a unique phenomenon, nowhere else in the United States were there so many Hungarians concentrated in one neighborhood. Immigration from Hungary was literally halted by the Quota System of 1924, and the next wave of immigrants did not arrive until after World War II. These Hungarians became isolated from their homeland as well as from the general American public and as a result, a unique sub-culture developed which was exclusive of "Buckeye Hungarians".

       Immigration presented a two-fold transition for the Hungarians who immigrated at this time: from native to foreign country and from rural to urban surroundings. Due to the en masse nature of immigration to Cleveland and the creation of the Hungarian neighborhood, however, the "old country" village customs and attitudes were transplanted to Buckeye Road. The ethnic enclave helped many cope with the drastic changes and alienation which are so much a part of the immigrant experience.

       The neighborhood was expansive and the number of Hungarians significant-one was not reminded of the fact that this was indeed a foreign country. The children playing in the streets spoke Hungarian. Businesses and all services were provided by fellow countrymen. The

 


 

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heritage, customs and attitudes of the old-timers were cherished and preserved within the community. The immigrants who toiled in steel mills or factories were usually surrounded by other Hungarian workers. Often even the foreman would be a fellow countryman. Peddlers who came in from the farms were compelled to learn a basic knowledge of Hungarian in order to sell their produce successfully on Buckeye Road. Hungarians on Buckeye to this day insist that the Black bus drivers who drove the Buckeye Route could understand and converse with the Hungarian riders.

       Hungarians thrived during these years on Buckeye. Community and social events were of such magnitude and multitude that the neighborhood could truly be described as a dynamic, ethnic entity. Seven churches of six denominations were built by the community, in addition to three synagogues. The facilities of these churches were in constant use, as the social calendars of the churches were usually loaded with activities. Most Hungarians were dedicated to their particular church, and the well-attended church activities were considered family and community affairs. The eight clubhouses owned by Hungarian organizations provided meeting halls for the vast variety of community activities. The community's social calendar included the following regular annual events (on the average): twelve grape harvest festivals, eleven New Year's Eve dances, fourteen picnics, twelve plays, twenty banquets and over 100 Hungarian weddings.40 In addition, lectures, forums, meetings (both civic and political), bazaars and card parties were weekly events held at individual clubhouses and church halls.

 


 

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Buckeye neighborhood children in Woodland Hills Park. 1925. (Cleveland Public Library)

 

The Moreland Theater

 


 

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       Six Hungarian-language newspapers served the community. The largest, Szabadság, reached a daily circulation of 40,612 in 1940.41 By 1920, more than 300 Hungarian-owned businesses were thriving, and eighty-one Hungarian organizations were active in Cleveland.

       Neighborhood dances and balls were weekly events and Hungarian bands were in great demand throughout the year. This was especially true in the years between the two World Wars, when the number of community events usually outnumbered the available number of Hungarian bands. One such orchestra was organized by Michael Veres, the son of immigrant parents. The orchestra became known as the Veres Huszárs, as they performed wearing Hungarian Huszár uniforms. Michael Veres and his Huszárs were commissioned to play at President McKinley's funeral.42

       It was not uncommon to witness a gypsy band travelling along Buckeye Road in a wagon, serenading all who cared to listen. Gypsy bands were part of nearly every community event and most major privately sponsored events. Characteristically, the Hungarian people have always demonstrated a great love of music and dancing and this love of music occupied several generations of gypsies in the service of the Cleveland Hungarian colony.

 

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       The Hungarian neighborhood was self-contained; children were born, raised and educated within the community. Intermarriage with outsiders was shunned, although in later years this became more lax. In 1928, fully three-fourths or 75.5 percent of Hungarian-born men in the United States married Hungarian-born women.43 It may be assumed that in Cleveland this percentage was closer to ninety percent at this time.

 


 

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Pupils of St. Elizabeth of Hungary R. C. School 1940

 


 

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       The greatest degree of thrift was exercised. Rose and vegetable gardens were cultivated in every yard. Garbage could go uncollected for weeks because there was so little of it, nearly everything was used up or re-cycled in the home. Clothing was sewn at home, only the material was purchased. In the 1920s, many households kept chickens. The canning of fruits and vegetables was commonplace and even wines were prepared at home. Thrift was considered to be a special talent, and a degree of spartan-type living was a source of pride. Children usually devised and hand-crafted their own toys and playground equipment. They organized their own block teams and these neighborhood teams would challenge each other for the area championship.

       Generally, automobiles were considered an unnecessary luxury and homes were modestly furnished. Above all, financial stability and savings were greatly valued. Everything was purchased with cash, going into debt in order to own an automobile seemed incomprehensible. In 1940 a supervisor of the Buckeye Relief Office estimated that only some 350 Hungarian families were on the total case load of 4,100.44 Mrs. Elizabeth Mudri, organizer and first President of the Senior Citizens Coalition, said of the elderly on Buckeye in 1978: "You have a hard time convincing them that they are entitled to certain programs, certain benefits."45 This attitude was not only reflected in private ownership, but community ownership as well. The mortgages for the neighborhood churches and clubhouses were amortized usually within less than a decade and the community maintained these churches and facilities even during the darkest days of the depression.

       Sunday was always a special day in the neighborhood, set aside for community events. In the morning hours, the streets were lined with

 


 

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families en route to church, everyone dressed in their Sunday best. The afternoon was reserved for socializing and visiting relatives. In the winter the older children would be allowed to patronize the local neighborhood movie house; some of these establishments ran only Hungarian films. Picnics occupied the majority of Sunday afternoons in the spring and summer. Community soccer teams would challenge each other at these outings. Because of the frequency of these picnics, Woodland Hills Park was virtually renamed the "Hungarian Park".

 

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       Many of the folk customs and rich traditions of the villages in Hungary were transplanted to the Hungarian neighborhood and for several generations these customs endured in much the same way as practiced in Hungary. It may have seemed peculiar to an outsider that a community, situated in a large American industrial center, would continue to celebrate the wheat and grape harvests with numerous festivities; however, these customs were so entrenched in the memories and lives of these immigrants that it was impossible to imagine life without them, even in America.

       The community calendar commenced with the New Year. Around this time there was always much merrymaking and singing at clubhouses, dances, balls, private parties and saloons. Usually, the church halls, as well as most of the clubhouses, held New Year's Eve dances. All were filled to capacity. On New Year's Day, gypsy bands could be seen strolling up and down the streets, anxious to serenade potential customers.

       Before Lent, the "Bogo Temetés", or funeral of the bass viola took place, ushering in the period of no music or dancing until after Easter. The occasion was always a favorite of Buckeye Hungarians. Men, women and

 


 

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"Bogo Temetés", or funeral of the bass viola

 


 

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children dress up as gypsies and reenact, in a comical way, the story of a gypsy caravan burying their bass viola, amidst much heart rendering sorrow and sobbing. It is interesting to note that this custom is not well-known in Hungary. It was adopted by the Buckeye neighborhood, probably from the gypsies who played in the Hungarian colony.

       At Eastertime, a widely practised folk tradition in Hungary, "locsolkodás", or the sprinkling took place. On Easter Monday, the young men of the village visited all the eligible young maidens and sprinkled them with water, so that, as all the fresh flowers of spring, they too would blossom and grow. The maidens returned the favor by presenting the young men hand-painted Easter eggs. The entire community participated in this age old custom, from young boys to old grandmothers. Red Cross Pharmacy on East 89th Street and Buckeye and the St. Elizabeth's Pharmacy (directly across the street from St. Elizabeth's Church) had signs offering free rose water on these occasions.

       Traditionally, on the first of May a decorated "May tree" would be presented by a young man to a maiden, as a sign of endearment. In the Hungarian neighborhood, a man would send a gypsy band to serenade his girlfriend or wife and the scene around Buckeye that day was one of gypsies carrying their instruments from house to house.

       Hungarian weddings were held year-round, but the majority took place in the summertime. The village marriage ceremonies were elaborate, involving many time-honored traditions. Usually, the festivities would last for two to three days. They were communal affairs, with friends and relatives performing all the preparations.

 


 

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Scenes from a grape harvest festival. 1940's. (Courtesy Clevaland Press)

 


 

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       In September and October the wheat and grape harvest festivals were held, commencing on Labor Day at St. Elizabeth's Hall and continuing until October 31. On the average, twelve were sponsored by various community organizations annually.

       On December 6th, the feast of St. Nicholas was commemorated. The children were instructed to put out their shined shoes before they went to bed so that St. Nicholas could fill them with candies, nuts and fruits. Well-behaved children were rewarded with the delicacies, whereas naughty children received a switch.

       Christmas in the community was deeply spiritual, centering around the family. Christmas trees were decorated with homemade items, such as handicrafts, pastries, honey bread and candles. Gifts for the most part were also homemade and modest.

       A few days before Christmas Eve, "Bethlehemezés", or the Nativity Plays were enacted by groups of boys and young men going from house to house. Usually, they depicted the scene of the awakening of the shepherds by the angels and the subsequent presentation of the gifts to the Christ Child. The actors were dressed appropriately and the verses they recited and songs they sang were from original village plays presented in Hungary. In the years since World War II, the Hungarian boy scouts have revived this folk custom in the Buckeye neighborhood. In addition to the Nativity Plays, groups of carolers have also heightened the joy of Christmas for the residents of Buckeye by performing traditional Christmas Carols, in both Hungarian and English.

 

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       Hungarian patriotic and civic holidays were events of major importance in the neighborhood. Two historical events were commemorated in particular by these immigrants because the events happened in their own lifetime or in the lifetime of their immediate predecessors. These events were: the Hungarian War of Independence of 1848 and the partitioning of Hungary after World War I.

       Two days are traditional in commemorating the historic War of Independence: March 15th and October 6th. March 15th, 1848 was the day the revolution against Hapsburg domination was declared and on October 6, 1849, thirteen generals were executed as part of the reprisals carried out by the Austrians. In addition to the commemorations held on or around these dates each year, wreath laying ceremonies are held at the statue of Louis Kossuth by representatives of various community organizations.

       The day of the signing of the Treaty of Trianon, June 4, 1920 was also designated as a day of solemnity. For several decades, commemorations and protests were organized which sought to bring to the attention of lawmakers the injustices of the Treaty.

       On August 20th, Hungarians in Cleveland honor King St. Stephen, the first Christian King and Founder of the Kingdom of Hungary. The day is usually set aside for festivities: speeches are prepared, programs organized and a large picnic and parade are held. The festivities have been revived in recent years on Buckeye Road.

       Recently, an additional day of commemoration has been added: October 23rd, marking the anniversary of the Revolution which began in Hungary on this day in 1956. The commemorations are usually held under the auspices of the United Hungarian Societies.

 


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