Bits of Swedish-American History


by Harry Anderson

Late in August, 1927 a considerable crowd of Milwaukeeans, certainly including members of the local Swedish American community, gathered at the lakefront in Juneau Park for a welcoming reception to honor the then most popular hero of the day, both in the United States and throughout the world, Charles A. Lindbergh, the young aviation enthusiast and airmail pilot whose solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean has taken place barely three months earlier.

Lindbergh’s visit to Milwaukee was part of a cross-country tour of important cities in this country which also included a later stop at the state capital in Madison, and some 80 other visits to major centers for air travel in the U. S. The principal purpose of this effort was to stimulate popular interest in aviation and to encourage development of more urban air fields and demonstrate the reliability of air travel.

Arrangements for the visit of “Lucky Lindy” and his plane, “The Spirit of St. Louis,” to Wisconsin involved his arrival on a Saturday afternoon at the Milwaukee County Airport (today’s General Mitchell Field). From there a 15 car motorcade escorted the visitor to downtown Milwaukee’s Juneau Park, passing through thousands of cheering spectators lining the curbsides enroute. A special grandstand had been erected on Lincoln Memorial Bridge where the official welcome was made along with formal addresses by Lindbergh and local dignitaries.

Following this, while enroute to a local hotel, Lindbergh remarked to a reporter that his welcome to Milwaukee had been “the most orderly reception I have received so far.” He also praised the city for its progress in the area of aviation, probably referring to the then recent developments at today’s Mitchell Field.

On the evening of August 20, more than 800 guests attended a dinner at the Pfister Hotel in Lindbergh’s honor where he again spoke, as did several local dignitaries. These included Major Daniel Webster Hoan who observed that Lindbergh “did more for us in Europe than all of our diplomats in the last one hundred years.” Lindbergh responded (after a standing ovation that lasted more than four minutes) that in Milwaukee the objective of his nationwide trip to promote aviation “had been accomplished.”

Lindbergh and his party stayed overnight in Milwaukee as guests in the home of local businessman Clarence Falk on Green Bay Avenue. Thirty deputy sheriffs provided security on the grounds around this home to keep out intruders.

Lindbergh left Milwaukee on Monday, August 22, flying “The Spirit of St. Louis” to Madison, but first dipping the plane’s wings over the Soldiers Homes at Wood, Wisconsin to honor the war veterans residing there. He also flew over Oshkosh enroute to the capital.

In all, Lindbergh’s flights touched down in all 48 states, before returning to New York on October 23. He had flown over 22,350 miles and had been seen and heard by an estimated 50 million people.



by Harry H. Anderson

More than a quarter-century ago I conducted several interviews with 89-year-old Reuben Bergman, recording his memories of boyhood in the Milwaukee Swedish-American community. His recollections of “Christmas Pasts” were part of this experience. The Bergman family were active members of what was officially known as the Swedish Congregational Church of Milwaukee, but was in reality a forerunner of what was later known as the Swedish Covenant Church, or the “Mission Friends” among local Swedes.

As the youngest child in the Berman household, Reuben had delightful memories of the Jultide season which he shared with me, and I pass along herewith. I note with pleasure that Rube’s daughter, Carol Gauger and her husband, Dave, are today active members of our Historical Society.

Reuben recalled, for me, such incidents as the Christmas Eve dinner in his boyhood home, carried out with the traditional menu from the Old Country: brown beans, herring, cheeses, rice pudding and meat balls, etc., etc. A feature of this was the serving of lutefisk, a great favorite of his father’s, but a liking for which Reuben did not share. One Christmas Eve, a guest at the table noted Rube had not taken a serving of lutefisk and asked “What kind of Swede are you, not eating lutefisk at Christmas?” Rube responded by pointing to several forks and spoons nearby on the table which already had begun to turn black from the fish, and responded, “Look what it is doing to Mother’s silverware. Imagine what it will do to my stomach!”

Following dinner, the Bergmans sang the usual Swedish Christmas hymns and exchanged and enjoyed gifts, prior to retiring fairly early due to the need to attend the Julotta service at the “Mission Friends” Church which began at 5:30 a.m. The trip from the Bergman home on N. Oakland Avenue, on the east side, to the church on Scott Street was by street car, no matter how infrequently they ran at that hour, accompanied by the usual snow and freezing cold.

Like the traditional Swedish practice the front windows of the church were brightly lit with candles. Inside, the raised platform at the front of the worship area held a piano, the pulpit, room for the choir, and a pair of Christmas trees also lit with candles. Nearby were two men of the congregation equipped with long poles, pails of water, with rags and sponges for use in event the trees caught fire from the candles.

Sometimes as part of this service or special holiday meetings for the Sunday School, the children, including young Reuben, recited their usual Christmas “pieces” in both English and Swedish.

One year, in the middle of Rube’s recital, the 2-year-old son of his sister, Esther, climbed onto the platform, took Rube’s hand and joined in the presentation.

The Julotta service concluded with wishes expressed to all for a God Jul och Gott Nytt År, and of course, coffee and baked goods.


by Harry H. Anderson

 The Swedish Midsummer celebration was introduced to a large segment of the American reading public over 140 years ago through an article appearing in the January, 1871 issue of the then widely read Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. The article “Folk-Life in Sweden,” by A. H. Guernsey, a travel writing contributor to Harper’s, was accompanied by what must have been the first illustration to appear in an American publication of the Swedish Midsummer festivities showing ring dancers and dominated by a towering 1870 version of the traditional Maj-stang. The accompanying text also provided some background about Swedish Midsummer’s origin in earlier heathen times and the festive bonfires and dancing that were features of it almost a century and half ago.

That portion of the text follows here:

St. John’s Day which comes at Midsummer is ingrafted upon an old heathen festival held in honor of Balder, the god of light, or the Sun. St. John’s Eve is the most joyous night of the whole year, and is signalized by bonfires blasing on every height, around which the people dance, through which they jump, little thinking that the custom dates back to the old times when their heathen ancestors passed through the fire in honor of Balder, Baal or Moloch. The great attraction of St. John’s Eve is the Maj-stang, usually translated “May-pole,” although it appears to have nothing to do with May-day. It consists of a tall spruce often the size of a man’s body, stripped of its branches, and hung from top to bottom with ornaments, hoops, branches, flowers, flags and streamers. Each hamlet and nearly every considerable homestead has its Maj-stang, around which on St. John’s Day all the population, old and young, dance and sing. Every care is laid aside and all give themselves up to the enjoyment of the hour. On St. John’s Eve, also it is held that the curtain between the visible and invisible worlds is partly lifted, and various forms of divination of the future are practiced.

Conclusion—a note on the source:

Throught the second half of the 19th century, Harper’s Monthly was among the leading literary publications in the United States, offering readers fiction, history, current affairs, and travel narratives such as the description of “Folk=life in Sweden.” The original Harper Brothers relinquished their control in 1962, and the magazine continues today under other ownership.


by Harry H. Anderson

From a few surviving written records some insights are possible today on how the often financially strapped Swedish immigrants to Wisconsin celebrated the Christmas and New Year’s holidays that had been so significant in their lives before they left the mother country.  One of the richest sources of this information is the writings of Gustaf Unonius, leader of the Pine Lake settlement in today’s Waukesha County, where he and his immediate following settled in 1841.  In particular the Unonius memoirs of his pioneer years in Wisconsin described the manner in which central themes of Swedish holiday observances were continued in the New World—the importance of the family circle; gift giving; the dependence upon extensive use of candle lighting; serving of special foods; and the reading of the Biblical Christmas story in the home.  These practices were all part of the Pine Lake observances in December, 1841.  That year Christina Sodergren, the family maid, prepared a splendid rice pudding (“risgrynsgröt”) for the holiday morning meal; extra candles were obtained to brighten the otherwise gloomy interior of their log cabin residence; and for Julotta, Charlotte Unonius received a gift of a homemade oak dining table, her husband observing that this very welcome present no longer made it necessary to serve the traditional rice pudding meal on a trunk lid.  After their family devotional service, the household traveled to nearby Delafield town, where they were surprised to see sawmills in full operation in spite of the religious holy day.  They not only missed hearing the singing of familiar hymns (including of course “Var Hälsad Sköne Morgonstund” (All Hail to Thee O Blessed morn) but also found that a number of Protestant churches did not hold worship services at all and only the Roman Catholic Congregations did so.

Several years later, after children became part of the Unonius household, more candles were added to brighten the cabin’s interior; bread served with Christmas meals was whiter in color than usual; ginger cookies (undoubtedly the beloved “pepparkakor”) were served for dessert; and economical but imaginative gifts of raisins and candy were distributed to all present.

At another pioneer Swedish colony near Lake Koshkonong in Jefferson County (the nucleus of this settlement had arrived from Sweden in 1843), one prominent member kept a diary which described other traditional practices of Swedish holiday observances brought to frontier Wisconsin.  On December 25, 1845 Thure Kumlien wrote in ths diary: “I hauled the womenfolk to [Carl] Reuterskold’s; then to [Gustaf] Mellberg’s [and at each] I read Hagberg’s Christmas dissertation.”  [Hagberg’s writing was from a widely known Swedish book of Christmas sermons.  Two years later Kumlein’s entry for January 6, 1848 described how visits to friends’ homes still played a traditional role in the New Year’s observances: “I call on all Swedes [in the neighborhood] and greeted them all and helped them celebrate New Year’s Day.”  A year later, 1849, Kumlein described a different dimension to the day’s activity, writing that he had invited to his home “All my countrymen here” for a celebration.

And, if the Wisconsin pioneer Swedes looked forward to special foods and the enjoyment of a unique menu for Christmas dinner they sometimes utilized unusual methods to provide the meat dish for their celebration.  The household of the celebrated Friman family, the first Swedes known to have settled in Wisconsin near Genoa City in Walworth County, offer one example of this.  In August, 1841 one of the Friman sons wrote home to relatives in Sweden that during a wind storm, a fallen tree trunk had badly injured the back of one of their oxen.  The animal survived but was unable to perform farm work.  The letter writer added that they planned to nurse it along “but we intend to butcher him for Christmas

Christmas gifts apparently came in many forms, especially for imaginative Swedes, in that time period


by Harry H. Anderson

Probably the most stereotypical identity of a Swedish immigrant to appear in popular entertainment in the late 19th Century was the character of “Yon Yohnson,” or “Yohnny Yohnson” (Johnny Johnson) as he was sometimes called.  Originally “Yon Yohnson” was the title of and principal personality in a highly popular comedy-drama that was a favorite for theater audiences in much of the American Midwest, includingMilwaukee.  When the play came to this city in September, 1898, one newspaper review stated that it was the same old play with the same characters and scenes, but also noted that the Bijou Theater had every seat in the house filled by a delighted crowd that found the production more enjoyable than when it had been presented locally years before.

In this Bijou run, the title role, once played by “the great Swedish character actor Gus Heege,” featured one Ben Hendricks, who it was said had his particular dialect well learned and spoke it with a quaint naturalness, sustaining the role through all three acts.  The review predicted “Yon Johnson” would have a good week inMilwaukeeand continue to have many years of prosperity before it yet. This prediction seems to have been correct when another item in theMilwaukeepress in the spring of 1902 (when “Yon Yohnson” was again playing the Milwaukee Bijou) that the production company was soon to embark on a six-month tour of theBritish Isleswith another Swede, Knute Erickson, handling the title role.

The “Yon Yohnson” character reappeared in another popular entertainment medium during the 1917-18 era when Tin Pan Alley songwriters featured him in the lyrics of two widely popular recordings produced for Swedish American audiences.  An original dialect hit in 1917, “Holy Yumpin Yiminy” was resurrected by Anne-Charlotte Harvey in the mid-1960’s as part of a revival of interest in immigrant dialectic music.  In “Holy Yumpin Yiminy” a young Swedish immigrant girl, “Hilda Hansen” described her boy friend “Yohnny” with warm affection.  Sending his picture back home to her parents inSweden, she wrote that he may not be much to look at and didn’t know much “about reading books” but he was acquainted with “cows and dogs and everything” and most importantly of all, “Oh how my Yohnny can love.”

The romantic attachment of “Yohnny Yohnson” and Hilda reappeared the following year (1918) in a recording titled “HelloWisconsin” popularized by the well-known singer and vaudeville performer, Sophie Tucker.  In this version, Hilda arrived (by boat of course) in New York from Sweden and tried to contact “Yohnny” by telephone, saying “Hello Wisconsin” and asking whomever answered, “would you find my Yohnny Yohnson?”

Hilda added that “Yohnny” would be easily recognized because he was “over six feet high” and that she wanted to “change her name from Jansen to Yohnson.”

Historians and modern performers of Scandinavian dialect music have rediscovered such tunes as “Holy Yumpin Yiminy,” “Nikolina” (another great old-time favorite) and “Hello Wisconsin” for the enjoyment and pleasure of modern listeners, but I have yet to hear of anyone venturing to produce a revival of the comedy-drama “Yon Yohnson” for a Broadway (or local) audience.


By Harry Anderson

 Aspects of the forthcoming Society membership program on Saturday, October 15, will focus on the visit to the United States in 1850-51 of Jenny Lind, the so-called “Swedish Nightingale,” whose tour performances in this country were promoted by the well known entertainment impresario, Phineas T. Barnum.  Jenny Lind’s travels in the United States attracted wide-spread public attention and newspaper coverage, but her tour did not bring her talented voice to a performance in Milwaukee or elsewhere in Wisconsin.  It did, however, create circumstances which resulted in the establishment of a local organization which played an important role in the social, political and judicial history of the state’s largest city under the identity as the “Jenny Lind Club,”

 Prior to Lind’s appearances in the East, a group of influential Milwaukeeans organized a journey to New York to attend her performances.  Included in this group were such local luminaries as Alexander Mitchell, Rufus King, Judge Levi Hubbell, Hans Crocker and others.  In the early 1830s, prior to the creation of railroad links to east coast cities, such a travel venture for this purpose was most unusual, and attracted considerable attention and comment.

 Upon their return from New York those who made the trip, along with other close business andsocial acquaintances, organized what became known as the “Jenny Lind Club” to reminisce about their travel experiences and discuss business and political ventures in which they shared common interests and objectives.

 Not every person of prominence in Milwaukee was a “Jenny Linder,” nor were these non-members sympathetic, or even friendly, towards the club and its mutual ambitions.  Political and professional differences were sharply drawn in this era, and dislikes, personal enmities and even hatreds often divided community leaders over major public questions.

 Typical of these feelings, although perhaps bordering on the extreme, was the relationship between Edward G. Ryan, a prominent Milwaukee attorney and Judge Levi Hubbell, a leading member of the Jenny Lind Club who occupied a dual role as a member of the Wisconsin Supreme Court and a sitting judge serving the circuit that included Milwaukee.  The details behind their enmity are too extensive to be dealt with here, but it probably should be noted that Ryan served voluntarily as the lead attorney for the prosecution and the impeachment trial of Judge Hubbell, made famous in the annuals of 19th century Wisconsin judicial history.  The effort to convict Hubbell failed, enraging Ryan and convincing him that the outcome of the trial was an example of the power and corrupt influence on public affairs of Hubbell and his fellow members of the Jenny Lind Club.  This attitude may not have been far-fetched, as evidenced by successes of Jenny Lind members in the political arena.  George Walker, the promoter of settlement in Milwaukee’s south side, was elected mayor of the city, Judge Hubbell was re-elected as a circuit judge, and Rufus King’s newspaper, The Milwaukee Sentinel, had been awarded the city’s lucrative public printing contract.

To retaliate against the Jenny Lind Club and to expose what he regarded as its odious influence in public affairs, Attorney Ryan undertook to utilize what was potentially his most formidable weapon, his pen.  Possessing unique literary skill and a mastery of biting satire and keen invective, Ryan carefully composed a fictional account of his version of a meeting of the Jenny Lind Club.  Describing their intentions to influence the outcome of an approaching election, Ryan introduced a number of prominent Club members, thinly disguised by outlandish identities reflecting his satirical opinion of their shady character, ethnic backgrounds and questionable public activities.  Few perceptive observers of political issues of the day had difficulty recognizing the true identities of the individuals featured in the skit.  These included:

            “Judge Judas” – Ryan’s hated rival, Levi Hubbell.

            “Sandy Ragbaron” – Scottish born financier and “money power,” Alexander Mitchell.

“Sans Scruples” – lawyer, later mayor and businessman, Hans Crocker.

“Colonel Oldbuckets Heavysides” – the 350-pound plus mayor, George Walker.

“Nancy Pip Nihil” – Club secretary and powerful postmaster in Milwaukee, Josiah Noonan.

“General Renard Fitzdartmoor” – West Point graduate, militia officer and editor of The  Milwaukee    Sentinel,      Rufus King.

“Diego Fernando Waalwaal” – Walker’s predecessor as mayor, Don A. J. Upham

The hilarious satire first appeared in a leading Madison newspaper on September 14, 1852 and was subsequently reprinted for the great amusement of readers of other daily and weekly papers throughout Wisconsin.

Controversy over the role of the Jenny Linders remained part of local political history of the early 1850s until differences and disputes related to the approaching Civil War shifted attention to the questions of slavery and secession.  From her visit to the eastern United States, Jenny Lind, the touring Swedish performer, attained fame and fortune (her earnings were estimated at $175,000 and at least $200,000 for her promoter, P. T. Barnum) but, for most Wisconsinites at least, the name “Jenny Lind” was far more familiar because of its association with the Milwaukee social and political club.  The beautiful voice of the lovely “Swedish Nightingale” was never heard publicly in the state.



By Harry Anderson

The fine program at our March membership meeting provided delightful insights into Swedish traditions and practices for the historic celebration of the Easter holiday.  As a follow-up, additional details on this subject are described below.  They are paraphrased from an article which appeared in 1871 in a leading American magazine under the title “Folk Life in Sweden.”  The author had traveled extensively throughout rural areas of that country, recording information on customs and traditions from what was then predominantly an agricultural society.  (A census in 1865 disclosed that only approximately 15% of Sweden’s population resided in its principal cities and towns.)  The observations which follow thus reflect how from rural sources what was still a major religious holiday observance was also infused with strong secular superstitious overtones


There were many bird-related legends connected to the crucifixion and death of Jesus on Good Friday.  One related that as he hung on the cross, a small bird perched on the wooden frame twittering, “svala, svala honom” (“console, console him”).  As a result, the bird was given the name svala, or swallow, and in memory of its pity for the suffering Savior, it became customary that blessings should always be given to those who protected this feathery creature.  Among Swedes it was considered wicked to molest the sparrow or destroy its nest.

Another bird was said to have hovered over the cross, crying “styrk, styrk homon” (“strengthen, strengthen him”).  This bird subsequently received the name stork and was henceforth regarded with affection and became a welcome visitor throughout Sweden.  It was believed that the gift of peace and happiness came to households where the stork was permitted to build her nest and raise her young unmolested.


For many Swedish country folk, the egg was regarded as an important symbol of the Easter observance.  Although appearing to be lifeless matter, the egg within itself contained a germ that, when vivified, burst its shell and flew about as a rejoicing bird, the symbol of the resurrection.  For those who believed, hard-boiled eggs were eagerly prepared and eaten, while others were gaily decorated and exchanged among friends and family with the joyful exclamation, “Christ is Risen.”


In rural Sweden, the strangest and seemingly most irreligious folk superstition related to Easter week took place on Maundy Thursday.  On the evening of that day, the “Påsk Käirngar” (“Easter Witches”) were said to embark on their annual journey to Blue Hill, the fictitious habitat of the Devil, to pay homage to their Satanic master.  The witches flew up Swedish chimneys on rakes and broomsticks, so it was traditional that none of these implements were to be left around in the open, readily available for the old hags to utilize for their journey.  No fires were lit after nightfall, nor relit until after sunrise the next morning; neither was smoke permitted to come forth from the chimney after sunset, so as not to assist the witches starting on their flight.  These creatures supposedly began their trip by reciting a traditional phrase, “In Satan’s name, straight up and away past every corner to the end of the world.”  Once, according to Swedish legend, an ignorant servant girl thought it would be fun to follow her old mistress on such a trip.  She mounted a broomstick, but having forgotten the proper incantation, mistakenly said, “In Satan’s name straight up and down.”  As a result, she was dragged up and down the chimney all night long.  The witches remained away until early on Easter morning when they began their journey homeward.  It was believed at this point that they could be safely shot and killed if the shooter used bullets made of silver or steel and fired at the witch while standing on the manure pile at the stable door!

Employment Activities Among the Women of Milwaukee’s Swedish-American Community        
 by Harry Anderson 

Because of time constraints, one aspect of the program at the January membership meeting had to be omitted.  This was the information assembled about women’s employment activities within Milwaukee’s Swedish American community.  Details on this subject are rather limited, due largely to the fact that this information was not normally recorded in one of the primary sources for the Swedish employment survey—the Milwaukee city directories.  Thus, what is readily known about the subject is largely dependent upon less readily available sources such as private narratives (letters) or reminiscences and personal interviews.

Source insights, however, are also available from census records.  For example, the 1860 census listed a pair of Swedish-born sisters employed as domestic servants in local households.  This was an occupation that had involved Scandinavian immigrant girls (initially Norwegian) two decades earlier.  The 1860 domestics we know of were the “Bussy” or more properly “Bussie” sisters Mathilda (age 15) and Mona (age 17).  The latter worked in the household of John P. Johnson, the prominent Swedish-born jeweler and watchmaker.

Another form of household employment that involved primarily women and that helped augment a Swedish family’s income was managing roomers and boarders in the private household.  Anna Viden, wife of the machinist John Viden, served both types of non-family residents—two young (early 20’s) American men who roomed or lodged in the household.  In addition, the Viden home contained one metal worker who took meals with the family and was classified as a “boarder.”  Love bloomed at the breakfast and dinner table and he subsequently married a daughter of the household.

In the George Larson house on Scott Street, rooms were rented to single Swedish workers.  One of these, at Christmas time, prepared his own lutfisk for the traditional holiday celebration.  Keeping his sticks of frozen cod fish in a barrel outside his second floor room, the Swedish worker changed the water regularly each evening until it was ready for cooking on Christmas Eve by his landlady, Mrs. Larson.

Another form of income-producing household employment practiced by Swedish-American women was dressmaking.  The mother of my informant, Ethel Hagland, was one of these skilled workers.  She kept a notebook containing the physical measurements of her customers who, when they came for a fitting for a new dress or blouse, brought with them an illustration from a magazine or newspaper showing the style and/or color they desired.  From this start, Carolina Erickson Hagland cut out an appropriate pattern from full sheets of newsprint.  She had learned this technique and skill as a young woman in Sweden, and her daughter recalled years later the numerous rolls of dress patterns stored in her sewing room.

Perhaps the most successful example of a Swedish-American women’s employment experience in the greater Milwaukee community was that of Charlotte Bergwall.  Charlotte was born in 1855 in the Unonius colony near Pine Lake, Wisconsin, the oldest daughter of Ebba Marie Eleonora Hallstrom Peterson (emigrated 1843), one of the teenage Swedish apprentice tailors spoken about at the January meeting, and George Edward Bergwall (emigrated 1842), a native of Göteborg, Sweden.  At an early age she expressed a strong desire for a career as an educator and, while still a teen-ager, secured employment as a teacher for three years in a Waukesha County country school.  In 1869 she enrolled at the Whitewater Normal School for advanced training not only in primary subject matter and teaching skills but also for classes in academic administration.  By the mid 1870’s Charlotte had obtained a position in the Milwaukee school system.  Her starting salary for 10 months of teaching was $450, quite modest even for that time period but still noteworthy for a female offspring of immigrant parents.

In 1881, at the age of only 26 years, Charlotte Bergwall was appointed principal of the new 8th District Primary School built on Milwaukee’s south side at South 10th and Madison Streets.  She was the only female principal of a city primary school then serving in the Milwaukee system.  Here her salary was double that of her first position in Milwaukee ($900 annually), and she had four teachers serving under her on her staff.  About this time her mother sold the family farm in Waukesha, moved to Milwaukee and built a new home for her family (including Charlotte) on Washington Street.  In letters home to relatives in Sweden,  Mrs. Bergwall wrote proudly of Charlotte’s position and of the modern improvements in their new residence (gas for lighting, hot and cold running water, a second floor bathtub) which Charlotte’s presence helped pay for.

Charlotte Bergwall died prematurely in 1893 at the age of 38, having reached a level of employment success in terms of status and salary that was well above many of her fellow Swedish Americans, both male and female.

The Tragedy of the Public Museum’s Swedish-American Naturalist

by Harry Anderson

           One of the tragic figures among the Swedish-American pioneers who immigrated to Wisconsin in the 19th century was Thure Ludvig Theodore Kumlien (1819-1888).  A native of Skaraborg, Sweden, and a one-time student of the natural sciences at Uppsala University, Kumlien was listed as a ”zoologist” on the manifest of the vessel “Svea” when he landed at the port of New York in 1843.  Coming to Wisconsin he filed land claims in the Koshkonong settlement near Madison, but regarded farming as a “hard life” and instead embarked on a career as an ornithologist, becoming one of the first and most prominent in the state.  He specialized in collecting bird specimens—skins, nests, blown-out eggs—for museums, other scientists and educational institutions in Wisconsin, elsewhere in the United States and many European countries.

For a number of years he taught natural history as professor of botany and zoology at Albion Academy (Dane County) and in 1881 organized the Natural History Society at Wisconsin, serving as its taxidermist and conservator for two years.  When the Society’s collections were transferred to the Milwaukee Public Museum in 1883, Kumlien moved to that institution, becoming its conservator of natural sciences at a salary of $800 to $1000 annually.

Kumlien held that position at the Public Museum until a fateful day in August, 1888.  While sorting a large collection of South American bird skins, he inhaled a quantity of preservation poisons and became violently ill.  Although taken immediately to a hospital, he died the same day, August 5, 1888, at the age of 69.

Thure Kumlien was a remarkable natural scientist and scholar.  His widely recognized professional accomplishments helped establish the foundation of the Public Museum’s reputation.  Kumlein’s son, Ludvig, later used the results of his father’s 45 years of collecting to write the outstanding ornithological work, “Birds of Wisconsin.”

Gustaf Unonius’ Homemade “Snoose”

by Harry H. Anderson

                The use of snuff (or “snoose” as it was known to many Scandinavians) was a form of chewing tobacco popular among many of the male immigrant generation.  Gustaf Unonius, leader of the Pine Lake Swedish colony, was one of these who regularly used snuff when it was available from local sources.  When not, during his early years in Wisconsin when winter snows isolated the remote Pine Lake settlement, or his purse lacked sufficient funds to purchase the article, he was forced to develop a formula for a homemade version of his favorite habit.  The process he followed in manufacturing this substitute was as follows:  obtaining a package of long-leaved black smoking tobacco which he dried on the stove and then ground up finely in the household coffee mill.  Then he dampened the ground-up tobacco with a mixture of water and refined potash.  This mixture was then placed in a closed container which was, in turn, put on the stove to ferment until suitable for use.

Unappealing as the finished product may sound, it apparently satisfied his needs until the weather and/or his pocketbook permitted Unonius to obtain a new supply of the real thing.

Carl Sandburg and Milwaukee Politics

by Harry H. Anderson

Carl Sandburg, the Swedish-American literary giant, was early in his career a resident of Milwaukee and politically active in local politics as a member of the Social Democratic party.  In 1910, after the Socialists captured the Milwaukee Mayor’s office and control of the common council, Sandburg served as private secretary to Emil Seidel, the city’s new chief executive.

Later that year, the Socialist party caucus selected “Charles” Sandburg (as he was then known) to run as their candidate in the race for Wisconsin’s Seventh Assembly district.  This district encompassed the townships of Franklin, Greenfield and Wauwatosa (Sandburg resided in the latter), the industrial communities of West Milwaukee and West Allis, and the heavily Republican city of Wauwatosa.

In the election race, Sandburg ran against candidates from both the regular Republican and Democratic parties and wound up finishing a fairly respectable third in the contest.  The vote totals, out of 3,385 ballots cast, were:  The Republican winner, 1,886 votes (48.6%): the Democratic runner-up, 1,033 votes (26.7%); and Sandburg, 856 votes (24.7%).  Two years earlier in a similar three-way race, the Social-Democratic candidate (not Sandburg) received only 14% of the votes cast in the district.

In March, 1911 Sandburg quit his post at the mayor’s office, disenchanted with the day-to-day routine of public service (he had become tired of answering phone calls from irate citizens complaining that their garbage had not been collected on time).  Sandburg subsequently moved to Chicago and eventually literary fame and never again was a candidate for public office.   None of the several Sandburg biographies contain any mention of his 1910 venture into the political arena.


by  Harry H. Anderson

                 A pair of recently planted apple trees, descended from a species brought from Sweden to the New World by a member of the New Sweden Colony, survived a class two tornado that caused severe damage to the timber growth at Old World Wisconsin historic site and to residences in a neighboring community in Southeast Wisconsin on Monday, June 23, 2010.

Damage was so extensive at the Old World Wisconsin site that more than 2000 trees were flattened or destroyed and several structures damaged.  The Midsummer celebration scheduled for the following weekend had to be cancelled and the park closed  indefinitely to public access.

The two Swedish related apple trees were planted several  years ago by the Swedish American Historical Society of Wisconsin (sponsors of the annual Midsummer event) as a tribute to Swedish immigrants who settled in Wisconsin. The trees, popularly known as the “Rambo Twins” by the park’s staff,  have already attained a height of over six feet and displayed several apple blossoms earlier this spring.  Peter Gunnarsson, who later changed his name to Rambo, brought seeds of his favorite apple tree with him to the New Sweden colony in 1639. Descendants of these seeds are growing near the historic Finnish homestead in the park in recognition of the fact that Peter Rambo’s wife, Brita Mattsdotter, also a member of the New Sweden settlement, was born a Finnish Swede.

The remarkable survival of the Rambo apple trees in the face of winds in excess of 100-125 miles per hour was in sharp contrast to conditions in other parts of the park, including the Visitor’s Green where the Midsummer celebration normally takes place.  Arial photos on TV and in the local press revealed that the area where the Majstang was decorated, the procession took place and the musicians and dancers performed was literally covered with fallen tree trunks and damaged picnic benches.  In the nearby community of Eagle, Wisconsin, dozens of homes were destroyed or severely damaged with estimates of losses totaling in excess of 20 million dollars.

Ironically, an important chapter in the Scandinavian history of Wisconsin included the role played by large members of Swedish-born lumberjacks who worked in the vast pine forests of the northern part of the State in the 19th century.  If available today, their services would be most welcome in dealing with the recovery and timber clean-up at Old World Wisconsin made necessary by this recent tornado.


 By Harry Anderson

Early in the 20th century there were three Swedish language churches serving Milwaukee’s Swedish-American community—Lutheran, Methodist and the Mission Friends (later the Evangelical Covenant Church), all three located on the city’s south side.

Although locally organized some years earlier, the Swedish Methodists held services in rented quarters until 1908 when the congregation purchased property on Scott Street, between South 21st and South 22nd Streets with the intention of building their own house of worship.  Permits were obtained to construct a frame structure costing approximate $5,000 and designed by a local Scandinavian architect, P. M. Christianson.  In 1924 a parsonage was built immediately to the west of the church for use by the congregation’s clergy.  The site remained in use for Methodist worship purposes for a number of years, although after the late 1930’s it no longer featured a recognizable Swedish identity.  In 1967 both the church and parsonage were purchased by the City of Milwaukee, the buildings torn down, and the property used for expansion of the adjoining Henry W. Longfellow public school.


 by Harry Anderson

                 Many Swedish Americans are familiar with Swedes who have become famous for their starring performances in Hollywood motion pictures, including Greta Garbo (who at one time had close connections to Milwaukee), Ingrid Bergman, and for a somewhat older generation, Warner Oland, who played the title role in many early Charlie Chan features in the 1930’s.

Much less well known is the fact that a member of the Swedish royal family also had a brief Hollywood career in the 1930’s, not as an actor, but as what was called a “technical advisor” in at least one popular film of this period.

In the David O. Selznick 1937 production of “The Prisoner of Zenda” starring Ronald Colman and Madeleine Carroll, the name of Prince Sigvard Bernadotte appeared in the screen credits (along with a Colonel Ivar Enhörning, possibly another Swede) as a “Technical Advisor” for several spectacular royalty scenes in this black and white film.  Sigvard Bernadotte (b. 1907) was a grandson of the Swedish king Gustaf VI Adolph (1887-1973) and an uncle of Carl XVI Gustaf (b. 1946), the present Swedish monarch.

The scenes in “Zenda” that Prince Sigvard probably provided guidance for included the dramatic coronation of King Rudolph at an elegantly staged cathedral ceremony and for a later coronation, all in which Colman and Carroll are the featured personalities.  Undoubtedly Prince Sigvard had witnessed some comparable incidents at European courts during his younger years (without, of course, the political intrigue and adventures that highlighted this film).

When “The Prisoner of Zenda” was reproduced in Technicolor in 1952, Stewart Granger played the dual role of the imprisoned king and his look-alike cousin Rudolph Rassendyll.  The Madeleine Carroll part in the 1952 picture was played by Deborah Kerr.  This later version almost entirely duplicated the 1937 film, even down to much of the word-for-word dialogue, but the introductory screen credits contained no reference whatsoever to the technical advice on the ways of European royalty provided by Prince Sigvard Bernadotte a decade and a half earlier.

Alfred Newman, who wrote the musical score, received his first Oscar nomination for it. He would go on to receive an additional 44 nominations in his lifetime.  In 1991, the film was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in its National Film Registry.

Of the small roles in the film, one of the most memorable – the comical orchestra conductor who is forced to cease and resume conducting the Künstlerleben Walzer by Strauss every time the royal couple stop and start waltzing – is played by Al Shean, uncle of the Marx Brothers.

This is no place for details on the often complicated story-line of “Zenda”, but a very reasonably-priced CD of both versions is still available for anyone interested in seeing evidence of the contributions by a Swedish prince of the Royal House of Bernadotte to Hollywood history.

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