The earliest reference to Obrowo dates from the early fourteenth century. In 1564, most of it belonged to Mikołaj Działyński. The subsequent owners were the Łubieńskis, Tarnowskis and Nałeczes. Sometime around the middle of the eighteenth century, Obrowo passed to the Ramocki family. From 1808 to 1842, the owner was Hieronim Ramocki. His daughter Józefa later married the son of the owner of Szafarnia, Dominik Dziewanowski, a school friend of Chopin’s, whom the composer called ‘Domuś’.
Obrowo is some 32 km from Szafarnia. Chopin stayed there on his 1824 and 1825 summer holidays. He was fascinated with the folklore around Dobrzyń and constantly took in the local folk customs. In his letters, Obrowo is mentioned in connection with the entertainment and refreshments his host laid on for the farm workers at the end of harvest time. This is how he described one of these scenes in the ‘Kuryer Szafarski’ [Szafarnia courier] of 24 August 1824: ‘On the 20th of the current month, the harvest festival took place in Obrowo. The entire village, which was gathered before the manor house, made sincerely merry, particularly after the vodka, and the girls sang out in a squeaky, semitonal off-key voice:
Before the manor, ducks in slop,
But Our Lady is all in gold.
Before the manor hangs a rope,
If Our Lordship should be gloomy.
Before the manor hangs a snake,
Mistress Marianna will marry.
Before the manor lies a cap,
If the maid should be a ninny.’
As a collector of folk songs and customs, Chopin thus anticipated Oskar Kolberg’s monumental work Lud. Jego zwyczaje, sposób życia, mowa, podania, przysłowia, obrzędy, gusła, zabawy, pieśni, muzyka i tańce [The common folk, their customs, way of life, speech, legends, proverbs, rites, pagan ceremonies, games, songs, music and dances] by more than thirty years.
Chopin again took part in the harvest festival while on holiday the following year (1825) – this time in Szafarnia. From the description we have from the composer himself, we can say that he did not merely observe the fun but was actively involved in the dancing and even picked up a cello and accompanied the fiddler. These were invaluable experiences for the young composer. To some extent at least, he thus got to know folklore first hand, as a living tradition.
Fortunately, the neo-classical manor where Chopin stayed in Obrowo is still there. The building, which now serves as the local municipal offices, was erected in the early nineteenth century. A stone plate commemorating Chopin’s stay here was unveiled in 2004.
From one of the surviving letters of Chopin’s sister Ludwika Jędrzejewicz, dated 1842, we know that he kept in touch with the Ramockis and stayed with them in Obrowo on the way home from Ciechocinek, where he had gone for medical treatment.