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Balázs Bagu’s Vintondale grocery

A unique peek into the life of Hungarian immigrants to the US in the first half of the 20th century. The Hungarian Cultural Center is proud to present a collection of unique objects and photos from a Pennsylvania small-town on their way from Vintondale, PA to the Hungarian Open Air Museum (Skanzen) in Szentendre, Hungary where they will be permanent exhibits in a replica house soon to be built. The collection there will represent the most detailed and authentic anthropological exhibit on the lives of first generation Hungarian Americans in Hungary. The opening will be held at 11 May, 2012, 5:30pm at the Hungarian Consulate General. The even includes the ceremony of the oath of citizenship and a short reception. All parts of this free event are open to the general public.

Hungarian immigrants, like most other groups arriving to the United States, tended to establish close-knit communities. These communities have made a major contribution to the historical heritage of the United States, and the Cultural Center, teaming up with the Hungarian Open Air Museum, is proud to honour their legacy by presenting a collection of objects and photos that have survived intact for the past century. The exhibit will be shown for a limited period of time starting with 11 May, 2012. The opening will take place at 5:30pm at the Hungarian Consulate General (223 East 52nd Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues), followed by a short reception. The event is free and open to the general public.  The opening coincides with the ceremony of the oath of citizenship whereby previous US applicants become citizens of Hungary. This festive moment is also a public event.
The butcher shop and grocery on the main street of Vintondale were opened in 1921 after the house was purchased by Balázs Bagu (1889-1942), a miner from the village of Bátyu in Bereg County, Hungary. Bagu and his wife Ida Antal (1902-1993) ran their business in the revamped space on the ground floor while Bagu continued working shifts in coal mine no. 6 of the Vinton Mines & Coke Works (Vintondale, Cambria County, Pennsylvania), owned by the  Lackawanna Company and located a little over 100 yards from the house. Bagu lived together with his family in the room and the kitchen behind the shop and also offered boarding rooms on the floor above, where Hungarian miners lived and paid the family in exchange for lodging.

     Bányászárvák a Ligonier-i Bethlen Otthonban, 1927 (Bethlen Otthon archívumából)

The grocery business lasted for only a short time and was closed for good at the onset of the Great Depression at the end of the 1920s. Following the death of Balázs Bagu in 1942, his widow and other relatives who subsequently inherited the house preserved the entire shop in its original condition along with many of the furnishings in the living quarters, a rare display of respect for tradition that has served as an amazing testimony to the lifestyle and interior décor characteristic of Hungarian mining communities in Western Pennsylvania during the 1920s.
After Balázs Bagu's widow had died, the house was occupied by Zoltán Antal (1913-2010) in 1995. Zoltán Antal, younger brother of Ida, was of the generation already born in Pennsylvania and continued to care for the house and its valuable furnishings until his death in 2010 at the age of 97. The current owner is Zoltán's daughter, Zolinda Antal, a third-generation Hungarian-American who still speaks Hungarian. She is also a relative of Balázs Bagu.
Through their devoted care of the building and its furnishings, Zolinda Antal and her ancestors have carefully nurtured an imprint of the Hungarian community that once thrived in the rapidly deteriorating environment of closed mining settlements. Their respect for tradition and their Hungarian identity stand as shining proof that Hungarians who immigrated to America more than a century ago, along with their descendants, are not only part of Hungarian culture, but also that their cultural values are worthy of preservation and presentation to a wider audience, being also an important part of US history. 

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