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The Pilica River Open Air Museum in Tomaszów Mazow

The Pilica Open Air Museum in Tomaszów Mazowiecki

The Pilica Open Air Museum in Tomaszów Mazowiecki is located 15 minutes bus ride from the train station in Tomaszów Mazowiecki, opposite the entrance to the “Niebieskie Źródła” (Blue Springs) landscape nature reserve. Gathered on this small area are numerous interesting objects relating to the history of the Nadpilicze land. Upon entering through the decorative gates, a visitor is presented with various buildings, vehicles, machines and instruments. Collected here are objects characteristic to the Pilica and Tomaszów Mazowiecki regions, the most common themes being millwork, local battles and the Spała Township.

The place is well known to military enthusiasts, since the Tomaszów Open Air Museum, one of the youngest such objects in Poland, hosts annual historical festivals and military reconstructions, recounting the bloody history of the 20th century. “September 1939 – The Pilica Episode,” “Breaching the Pilica Line,” “In Pilica Trenches” are the names of just a few events organized here. These reconstructions are well worth seeing, since aside from the “regular” participants - reenactors dressed in authentic uniforms, taking part in the action are also vehicles, such as the famous “Lufcik” (www.skansenpilicy.pl/index.php?id=ekspozycje/2&licz=0&mr=0&ml=ekspoz), an armored artillery carriage built on the Sdkfz 8 chassis. This prototype vehicle was deployed to serve with German Luftwaffe ground units, but proved too heavy for the frozen Pilica River to support it and sank during the fighting in January 1944. When clearing the area of post-war debris was carried out in the 1950s, only the top of the drivers cab was still visible in the river bed. The clean-up crew blew it up. In 1999, after an exhausting struggle with the river, the vehicle was finally salvaged. It was a complicated enterprise, both due to the river’s muddy bed as well as the vehicle’s 18 ton mass. In 2005, after a lengthy restoration work, the machine’s engine came to life and it continues to work to this day. During historic reenactment events, Lufcik is accompanied by an Sdkfz armored personnel carrier nicknamed “Rosi,” also recovered from the Pilica River, restored and operational (on loan from the Tomaszów Mazowiecki Museum). Several cannons and trenches dug in accordance with German Wermacht guidelines are used to set the scene for the reconstructions.

Pilica’s military acquisitions contain: vehicles, weapons and equipment of the soldiers who led their lives in the trenches and fought bloody battles in both world wars. The two exhibitions which present these objects - “The Pilica Verdun. December 1914 – May 1915” and “War at a standstill in Pilica,” are located in the Museum’s largest building, a water mill brought from Kuźnica Żelechowska. Located here is a collection of “Trench Art,” the only such collection in Poland and one of the largest such collections in the world. Its content ranges from simple keepsakes and decorations crafted in the trenches, to rich sets of gifts commemorating a senior officer’s retirement from service.

The mill is also the Museum’s oldest building and houses the exposition “Millwork on the Pilica River.” Displayed here are country scales, called bezmiany. They are made from a metal bar with a hook on one end and weights on the other. Items being weighed were hung from the hook while the counterweights are removed from the other end. When used, the bezmian had to be leveled and the center of gravity marked an objects weight. However, the units were not permanently inscribed onto the device and sometimes even the scale was not permanently marked, so every new user had to calibrate the device anew. Bezmians were manufactured by blacksmiths out of unwrought metal or any other material they could find. The weights at the ends of bezmians are their most intriguing feature. They take different shapes and sizes, form simple iron spheres or polyhedral blocks to artillery igniters and even grenade shells. There is also a bezmian made out of a German riffle barrel. The Museum’s collection of giant weights is probably the largest and the most interesting of all such collections presented at public facilities.

The scales are part of a larger collection entitled “Swords to Ploughshares” which, hopefully, will one day be made into an exposition. Currently, aside from rural scales, the collection includes elements of military vehicles which local farmers adapted for household work after the war, such as cannon wheel axels made into carriages and tank treads used as building foundations.

In addition, models of mills built in 1:10 scale introduce visitors to the mechanisms powering a millstone. Each model is electrically powered and constructed to display the inner workings of a mill. All the aspects of millwork have been included by the creator, Jan Ekiel, a former mill worker. The only model not powered by electricity is a replica of a horse drawn army mill, of the type used by all participants of the First World War. Also displayed here are replicas of bridges and local water mills, reconstructed with great attention to detail by another retired mill worker, Jerzy Sosnowski.

Scales, wartime remnants, models and displays, the collection assembled at The Open Air Museum of the Pilica River in Tomaszów Mazowiecki is truly awe-inspiring, and the best time to see it is during one of the Museum’s many festivals.

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