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THE GENERAL GETS A BATH

In the 18 years since it was unveiled, the bronze statue of Gen. Casimir Pulaski has been an imposing presence in downtown Buffalo. Big, blocky and solid, the statue has stood among trees in the grassy triangle just north of Ellicott Square, itself big, blocky and solid. The boss building and the boss statue have no historic connection, but they are a great match in a visual sense. Talk about strength!

The good news is that City Hall's program for restoring Buffalo's outdoor sculptures has reached General Pulaski. The statue is being cleaned up, chemically washed free of the dirt and corrosion accumulated through the years.

It is noticeably lighter in color already. A lacquer coating will help protect it in the future. The pedestal is being restored, too. The general himself probably appreciated the cleaning, if only because workers found an old mud wasps' nest on his backside, a most annoying addition to his noble presence.

Gen. Pulaski, a Polish count, is an important figure in American history in two ways. He was a leader of the colonial military forces in the American Revolution, and then, later, a source of ethnic pride for the many people who left Poland to prosper here in a new land. He was one of their cherished links to our nation's birth. In addition to being remembered by the statue, Pulaski is honored each August with the Pulaski Day Parade, formerly a Buffalo event but now held in Cheektowaga.

Casimir Pulaski was born in 1748. In his early years, he played a leading role in an unsuccessful revolt of Polish forces against Russia, which controlled Polish soil at the time. He was arrested and condemned to death but escaped into exile. In Paris, he met Benjamin Franklin and was persuaded to aid the colonies in their fight for freedom.

For distinguished service in the battle of Brandywine, he was commissioned a brigadier general in charge of cavalry. He formed an independent corps of cavalry and light infantry known as the Pulaski Legion. The corps successfully defended Charleston, S.C., against British attack in 1779, but later that year Pulaski was wounded in an attack on Savannah, Ga. He died two days later.

His statue had a few adventures -- less perilous ones -- before it became a Main Street fixture. For some reason, Baltimore had been led to believe it would receive the statue. A site had been selected and shown on city planning maps. The statue was to be a focal point of a redeveloped area. But -- oops -- all Baltimore wound up with was a 2-foot-high scale model.

Meanwhile, in Buffalo, the city's Committee on Arts and Cultural Affairs picked out the Ellicott Square site, only to hit opposition from the state Department of Transportation, in control because of the Church Street arterial. DOT proposed three other sites, all less prominent than the preferred one. Fortunately, after awhile DOT saw it was winning no friends and gave up.

Finally, at the unveiling on a rainy Oct. 7, 1979, dignitaries had a tough time getting the cloth covering off the statue. Police had to scale the pedestal to work the cloth free. But, ever since, Gen. Pulaski has been a massive presence on Main Street. Spiffed up and gleaming, he's ready to continue his role as the boss statue of downtown.

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