T-Bone Slim ja hankkeemme tutkijoita Tervetuloa, tervemenoa-podcastissa
(In English below)
Siirtolaisuusinstituutti tuottaa Tervetuloa, tervemenoa -nimistä podcastia, joka “kertoo Suomeen tulleiden ja Suomesta lähteneiden kiehtovia tarinoita ja selittää ilmiöt niiden takana”. Podcastin uusin jakso käsittelee T-Bone Slimiä, hänen aikansa poliittista ja historiallista kontekstia sekä IWW (International Workers of the World) -musiikkia ja runoja. Jaksossa esiintyvät hankkeemme tutkijat Saku Pinta ja Saijaleena Rantanen sekä taiteilija-tutkija John Westmoreland.
Vaikka jakso käsitteleekin aihetta myös laajemmassa historiallisessa kontekstissa ja peilailee aihetta myös nykypäivän aktivismiin, summaa tämä jakso hyvin ja selkeästi sitä kaikkea mitä olemme tässä Koneen säätiön rahoittamassa ‘T-Bone Slim and the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America’ -hankkeessa tutkineet. Samalla tulee esille, kuinka tärkeää laajempikin historiallisen ajanjakson ja aikaisemman tutkimuksen hahmottaminen on niin T-Bone Slimiä kuin nykypäivänkin aktivismin ilmiöitä tutkittaessa. Vaikka olemme varmasti hieman puolueellisia, suosittelemme lämpimästi kuuntelemaan! Podcastin lopussa summataan hyvin sitä, miksi T-Bone Slimin ja hänenkaltaisten historialliseen marginaaliin jääneiden yksittäisten ihmisten tutkiminen on merkityksellistä.
Kuuntele podcast alla olevasta soittimesta tai erillisestä linkistä täältä (avautuu uuteen välilehteen). Tervetuloa, tervemenoa -podcast löytyy myös useimmista ilmaisista podcast-sovelluksista sekä Spotifysta.
T-Bone Slim and Our Researchers in Tervetuloa, tervemenoa podcast
The Migration Institute of Finland produces a podcast called Tervetuloa, tervemenoa [Welcome, Farewell], which “tells the fascinating stories of those who have come to and left Finland and explains the phenomena behind them”. The latest episode of the podcast looks at T-Bone Slim, the political and historical context of his time, and IWW (International Workers of the World) music and poetry. The episode features our project researchers Saku Pinta and Saijaleena Rantanen and artist-researcher John Westmoreland.
Although the episode also deals with the topic in a broader historical context and mirrors the topic in contemporary activism, it sums up well and clearly everything we have been researching in this Kone Foundation funded project ‘T-Bone Slim and the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America’. At the same time, it shows how important it is to have a broader historical perspective and an outline of previous research when studying both T-Bone Slim and contemporary activist phenomena. While we are certainly a little biased, we highly recommend a listen! The end of the podcast sums up well why it is relevant to study T-Bone Slim and individuals like him who have been historically marginalized.
Listen to the podcast from the player above or from a separate link here (opens in a new tab). The Tervetuloa, tervemenoa podcast is also available on most free podcast apps and Spotify. The podcast is mainly in Finnish.
A lot has been going on in the past few months and our project has already done a lot this year. To celebrate the international foundation day last week, we wrote a summary of this year’s achievements so far on social media (read on Facebook or view on Twitter). Our blog has become a place where we share what we’ve been up to lately – sometimes even in almost real time. Our thoughts shared here are incomplete and unfinished as the aim is to share our project and process as we go. Our more evolved thoughts will be published in research articles later.
One of our main goals in this project is to create a T-Bone Slim database and staying true to our blog’s style, next I will give a short introduction to the T-Bone Slim database and how it is progressing at the moment. But first we need to explain why the database is needed.
The Challenge: Scattered Materials
Matti Valentinpoika Huhta wrote (or his texts were published) at least in ten publications, of which nine he wrote as T-Bone Slim. These nine are: Industrialisti,Industrial Pioneer, Industrial Solidarity, Industrial Worker, Little Red Song Book, One Big Union Monthly, Solidarity, Tie Vapauteen and Truth. The tenth publication that we have been able to find and verify, is Amerikan Sanomat that has been noted in this blog previously. In Amerikan Sanomat he wrote with a name Mathew Houghton, but he worked as the correspondent for “Tyyni” [Calm] Temperance society few years earlier by his own name. We haven’t yet been able to find his (possible) texts for “Tyyni” correspondence.
The challenge with finding the texts and information about T-Bone Slim is multifaceted. Because of the amount of publications he wrote for, the original materials are scattered around in several archives in North America and Finland. This is a common challenge with immigrant literature and publications and works as an example of another challenge embedded in these materials. It is sometimes hard to draw the line if they are Finnish or American or Canadian. Thus, immigrant, North American Finnish in other words, often fall in between “categories”.
Third challenge is his name. It was common for Finnish immigrants and their descendants change their name to fit in the North American society better. But in T-Bone Slim’s case we have more than one, two or three names. He used at least these names/ versions of his name:
Matti V. Huhta
Mathias Valentinpoika Huhta
Matt Ahrlund (or Ahlund)
Joe Hilger (or Hilgor)
This makes raking the numerous possible publications, often available only in physical or microfilm copy, slow. Which brings us back to the first challenge: the number of possible publications where his text might have been published.
Our researcher Marija Dalbello and her assistant Monica Genuardi prepared a census of IWW materials in the American and Canadian archives and libraries for the project. The result is 249 located IWW newspapers and other publications. Even though the language of the publications varies between 10 different languages (English=186, others=63), this gives us an impression of the viable publishing possibilities for an IWW writer writing in English and possibly in Finnish. Not to forget that many of T-Bone’s texts were translated in Finnish (mainly in Industrialisti) even though it is possible he wrote also in Finnish in IWW papers. This is a topic Saku Pinta is currently working on.
But this is not all the challenges we and all T-Bone Slim researchers face. There is also the contextual information and related research materials concerning T-Bone Slim and the historical time he lived in. For example the documents scattered in different archives about his death, newspaper articles about events regarding his family and information about his family history, to mention just a few.
To put it short: Finding T-Bone Slim’s texts and related sources is hard.
The Solution: T-Bone Slim Database
Recently, we have been collecting and combining our main research materials – T-Bone Slim’s texts – into one place to create a T-Bone Slim database from the archival materials and articles. This is one of the main goals in our project: To provide an open database for everyone to find information about T-Bone Slim and his texts to study them. We are currently researching and analyzing the texts to create this coherent corpus – The Database-to-be.
To give a tangible example what we are working on: We are currently creating an Excel document where we add all the texts (that we have found) with a date, publication, title and so on. After that, we categorize and add searchable tags to every individual published text based on topics central to our research but also to provide quantitative and qualitative data about the T-Bone Slim corpus we are creating. This means that after our work, we are able to tell how many of his texts were poems or songs or where he travelled (or said he travelled), what (own) illnesses he mentions and to who he refers to in his texts, to give just a few examples.
Currently, we are creating a small-scale crowdsourcing system among ourselves where the research assistant Lotta Leiwo manages the overall process, and our researchers contribute by analyzing the materials bit by bit based on tasks or “homework” they are given based on the phase of the process. First, we are experimenting this system by creating a manual or instructions for the topics and tags to be included in the database (the examples given above are almost certainly included). As we have approximately 1500 to 2000 texts to analyze, we need to be careful and consistent. The richness in this process is that we all come from different expertise, and some have studied these texts previously and others have more “fresher” eyes for the materials. Everyone’s contribution provides depth to the analyzing process. We feel very enthusiastic about this and even with all the challenges we feel that we are truly creating something important here.
In addition to collecting and analyzing the materials, there is also a lot of practical challenges to tackle such as where and how to maintain the materials so that it is easy to find for researchers but supported safely for years to come. A challenge all researchers and institutions pursuing towards open data need to consider: How open data actually can be and is maintained after our time? The work has just begun, but at the moment we are truly excited about this all and can’t wait to share more!
Newspaper Symposium 2022: New Exciting Finds from the Archive
Our PI Kirsti Salmi-Niklander and I, research assistant Lotta Leiwo attended the Newspaper Symposium organized by National Library of Finland on 30 August 2022. The day was full of interesting presentations by researchers from various fields from history, literature, ethnology to folklore studies.
In our presentation ‘Finnish American newspapers – benefits and challenges of digital and physical materials’ we discussed about Finnish American publishing, it’s relations to our project and presented our T-Bone Slim project to the audience both on site and online. As we have already discussed on our blog, American Finnish publishing in Ashtabula was lively already from 1880’s.
Our presentation in Newspaper Symposium was based on the corpus of material from the research project which focuses on the Finnish immigrant community and includes the Finnish-language newspapers Pohjantähti (1886-1887) and Amerikan Sanomat (1897-1913) published in Ashtabula, Ohio. The early newspaper publications provide opportunities to examine the daily lives, communities, and networks of Finnish immigrants at the turn of the century. In our presentation, we discussed our methodology with the newspaper material and the solutions we have adopted. Some Finnish American newspaper materials are available digitized in the Chronicling America database of the Library of Congress (LOC), but the newspapers in our corpus are only available as microfilm copies or as physical copies in the National Library of Finland. This means that the material has to be studied using more “traditional” methods, and that, for example, quick word searches are not possible as is on digitized materials. At the same time, the existing digital Finnish newspaper database provides valuable reference material, allowing us to examine, for example, the folklore texts in our materials and the networks of texts published in several journals.
The hybrid nature of our data corpus and the manual nature of our work offer both benefits and challenges for research. Going through the material manually is a prerequisite for conducting qualitative analysis – at the same time, the time spent collecting, processing and transcribing the non-digital materials takes time away from other research work. However, browsing physical copies of newspapers gives tangible understanding compared to the more distant digital material. Physical copies of magazines also provide an opportunity to get a feel for the reader’s experience. In our case we were able to find a gem: possibly one of the texts T-Bone Slim might have published in Finnish. Previously there has not been record of T-Bone Slim writing in Finnish or knowledge whether he could write in Finnish at all. This text was written by another pseudonym we knew he used later: “Mathew Houghton” in Amerikan Sanomat 1.1.1903.
Mathew Houghton’s text is correcting a previous correspondence letter from Erie, Pennsylvania published in Amerikan Sanomat. Mathew Houghtons letter was sent to the editorial staff of Amerikan Sanomat, and printed in the last page of the paper where they had a column for “local news”. Additionally, the text is describing a Christmas party of the temperance society “Tyyni”. We were restrainedly enthusiastic with the find but were not 100 % certain this was “our T-Bone”. Literally, as I was finalizing this text yesterday, I ended up turning few more stones to find out more about Tyyni Temperance Society. We have just found out that some of the American Finnish periodicals are actually digitized on National Library of Finland’s database, so I did some searches with different search terms. After a while I was able to find a true gem from Raittiuslehti : Raittiuden Ystäväin Äänenkannattaja [Temperance Paper: Organ of the Friends of Temperance], 25.5.1899:
“Tyyni Temperance Society’s officers are as follows; agent* Matti W. Huhta, chairperson Petti Lakari, keeper of the minutes Otto Ranta, treasurer J. Erkkilä, servant mrs Hietikko, [hall] caretaker E. Suutala, aid for keeper of the minutes miss Ida Huhta, servants aid miss Katri Lakari. W. Erie”
*Agent probably means a correspondence officer for the publication Raittiuslehti : Raittiuden Ystäväin Äänenkannattaja as the address of “Math. W. Huhta” is available on another page of the publication where all the local correspondents of Suomalainen kansallis-raittius-veljeysseura [Finnish National Temperance Fraternal Society] are listed. The address has a typo, but is the same where T-Bone’s parents Matti and Johanna Huhta had a boarding house at the time (mentioned also on another blog entry here). Apparently, also T-Bone’s sister Ida Huhta was an active member of the Tyyni Temperance Society.
In this case we can be quite certain that this person is “our T-Bone” and it confirms the text written by “Mathew Houghton” is his writing, too. Both texts give us important information of people he worked with and the networks he had. This is truly a significant find as we now have evidence of T-Bone Slim also writing in Finnish. Tyyni Temperance Society is known publishing a monthly hand-written newspaper (see ‘Overview of the Activities of the Tyyni Temperance Society’ in Valoa : amerikan suomalaisen raittiuskansan kesäjulkaisu [Light: American Finnish Temperance Folk’s Summer Issue], 01.01.1938, p. 20, text is in Finnish), could T-Bone have written in that paper? Hopefully we are able to find Tyyni’s “Nyrkkilehti” [Fist Press], as the hand-written newspapers were often called, somewhere to study this topic further!
This topical find is even better example of how we have conducted research on our different research materials, than we were able to provide on our presentation at Newspaper Symposium. This also gives an example how our work is in a really interesting phase right now. We find something exciting almost every day and have several leads from physical, actual newspapers, periodicals and journals that are kept in several archives. With these leads we can do comparative research on digitized materials. Currently, we are working on with several interesting leads and topics concerning T-Bone Slim’s text’s, intertextuality, and his networks.
It seems that the Newspaper Symposium keeps on giving. Besides networking with other researchers and discussing future research prospects, we were able to find new materials that illuminate early years of T-Bone Slim with the inspiration we got from others!
Kuumana kesäiltana 18. elokuuta hankkeemme järjesti tapahtuman, joka oli osa Helsingin Taiteiden yö -konseptia. Taiteiden yö, jolloin kuka tahansa voi järjestää kaupungissa taidetapahtuman, on osa kolmiviikkoisia Helsingin juhlaviikkoja. Tapahtumamme teemana oli “Uusia tulkintoja”.
Hankkeemme taiteilija John Westmoreland ja hänen “löydetyt ystävänsä”; Luode-yhtye sekä kansanmuusikko Emmi Kuittinen esiintyivät noin 100 hengen yleisölle Topelian sisäpihalla, kauniissa puutarhassa Helsingin yliopiston keskustakampuksella. Suurin osa yleisöstä seurasi esitystä Thirsty Scholarin terassilta. Ennen esitystä hankkeen johtaja Kirsti Salmi-Niklander esitteli T-Bone Slim -projektia yleisölle. Voit katsoa esityksen Unitubesta tai lukea transkriptin alta. Esittelyn jälkeen löydät kaksi videota musiikkiesityksestä.
“Tervetuloa Taiteiden yön musiikkitapahtumaan, jonka tarjoaa Koneen Säätiön rahoittama tutkimus- ja taideprojekti ’T-Bone Slim and the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America’. Hanke tutkii siirtolaisvasemmiston ylirajaista poetiikkaa ja verkostoja Pohjois-Amerikassa T-Bone Slimin ainutlaatuisen hahmon kautta. T-Bone Slim oli Matti Valentininpoika Huhdan (1882–1942) salanimi, ja hän oli yksi Yhdysvaltain työväenliikkeen merkkihenkilöistä. Hän syntyi Ashtabulassa Ohiossa vuonna 1882. Hänen vanhempansa ja heidän useimmat sisaruksensa olivat muuttaneet Keski-Pohjanmaan Kälviältä muutamaa vuotta aiemmin. Matti Huhta kuoli vuonna 1942 New Yorkissa hukkumalla East Riveriin. T-Bone Slim oli legendaarinen kulkuri, lauluntekijä, runoilija ja IWW-liikkeen (Industrial Workers of the World) lehtien kolumnisti. Hän kirjoitti tekstejään englanniksi, tosin olemme onnistuneet löytämään ainakin yhden tekstin, jonka hän on saattanut kirjoittaa suomeksi Ashtabulan paikallislehteen noin 20-vuotiaana.
T-Bone Slimin kirjoitukset jäivät pitkään unohduksiin. Niitä julkaistiin alun perin IWW-liikkeen sanoma- ja aikakauslehdissä. 1960-luvulla T-Bone Slimin kirjoitukset innoittivat Chicagon surrealistista liikettä ja kansalaisoikeusliikettä. Hän pysytteli kuitenkin poissa parrasvaloista, ja hänen henkilöllisyytensä pysyi mysteerinä useimmille lukijoille. Muutama vuosi sitten John Westmoreland, hankkeemme muusikko ja taiteilija, sai selville, että T-Bone Slim oli itse asiassa hänen isoisosetänsä Matt, joka oli eräänlainen suvun musta lammas. Hankkeemme sai alkunsa Johnin viime vuonna Koneen Säätiön rahoittamasta residenssijaksosta.
Taiteellisessa ja tutkimuksellisessa hankkeessamme jäljitämme T-Bone Slimin elämää ja verkostoja sekä sosiaalisia, kulttuurisia ja poliittisia liikkeitä, joissa hän toimi. Projektiryhmämme on hyvin kansainvälinen: Minä ja tutkimusassistenttimme Lotta Leiwo työskentelemme täällä Topeliassa, ja olemme keskittyneet T-Bone Slimin sukuhistoriaan ja varhaisvuosiin Kansalliskirjaston ja Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seuran aineistojen pohjalta. Teimme myös jännittävän kenttämatkan Kälviälle toukokuussa. Saku Pinta on suomalais-kanadalainen tutkija, joka asuu Thunder Bayssä ja Winnipegissä. Marija Dalbello on kotoisin Kroatiasta, mutta toimii nykyään informaatiotutkimuksen professorina Rutgersin yliopistossa New Jerseyssä. Saijaleena Rantanen Taideyliopistosta, joka on työskennellyt IWW-laulujen parissa, ja Samira Saramo Siirtolaisuusinstituutista ovat myös mukana hankkeessa. Owen Clayton Lincolnin yliopistosta Iso-Britanniasta on kirjoittanut tähän mennessä ainoat akateemiset artikkelit T-Bone Slimin kirjallisista teoksista, ja teemme hänen kanssaan yhteistyötä hankkeessa. Hankkeemme toimii enimmäkseen virtuaalisesti, ja olemme tutkineet arkisto- ja kirjastoaineistoja sekä Yhdysvalloissa että Suomessa. Ensi vuonna tapaamme vihdoin kasvokkain Suomessa loppuseminaarissamme. Tilaisuuksia on luvassa sekä Helsingissä että Kokkolassa ja Kälviällä elokuun puolivälissä, joten pysykää kuulolla! Hankkeellamme on verkkosivut ja blogi, Facebook-sivu ja Twitter-tili, joilla julkaisemme tutkimustuloksia.
John Westmoreland on työstänyt uusia tulkintoja T-Bone Slimin kappaleista, ja hänen “Resurrection” -albuminsa on tulossa pian. Kaksi kappaletta on jo julkaistu YouTubessa: musiikkivideo “Harvest Land” ja “Weary Years“. John on myös tehnyt tutkimusta näiden kappaleiden taustoista. Hän esittelee laulujen tekstejä tarkemmin pian. Tänä iltana kuulemme siis joitakin näistä uusista tulkinnoista T-Bone Slimin kappaleista. Johnia säestävät “Luode”-yhtye, Antero Kulju ja Jussi Villgren sekä kansanmuusikko Emmi Kuittinen.”
Kirstin esityksen jälkeen John Westmoreland & co. esittivät uusia tulkintoja T-Bone Slimin teksteistä.
Kansanmuusikko Emmi Kuittinen esittää “Street Beggars” -kappaleessa T-Bone Slimin inspiroiman itkulaulun. Emmi esittelee itkulaulua näin:
“Seuraavassa kappaleessa on pieni itkuvirrenpätkä, joka on tehty karjalaista itkuvirsiperinnetyyliä noudattaen omalla kielelläni, suomeksi. T-Bone Slimin teksti “Street Beggars” inspiroi tähän itkuvirteen.”
“Kuunnelkaa kuinka kurjat kulkurit
Joutuvat kuraisilla kujilla kulkemaan
Katsokaan kallehia kanssakulkijaisia,
Jotka kauhistuneita katseita keräävät,
Kuka voisi auttaa noita apeutuneita asukkaita,
Armahimmat asuntasijaset saamaan.
Oi mistä löytyy kaunehimmat kasvattopaikkaset,
Kaikille kallehille kanssakulkijoisille.
Oo, oommeko yhessä yrittäneet tarpeeksi,
Että eheinä saisi kaikki elellä,
Ettei vain onnekkaimmat,
Kaikkea onnea itselleen ottaisi,
Kaikkea valtaa, omaisuutta itselleen haalisi,
Ja kaikkea yksin hallitsisi.
Oi, armahat syntyset,
Ja kurjille kulkijaisille.”
(Jos haluat lukea tekstin suomeksi, löydät sen täältä.)
On a hot summer evening on August 18 our project organized an event that was part of the Night of the Arts concept in Helsinki. Night of the Arts is part of three-week Helsinki Festival, a night when anyone can organize an art event in the city. The theme of our event was “New interpretations”.
Our project’s artistic John Westmoreland and his “found friends”; Luode band plus folk musician Emmi Kuittinen performed to a crowd of approximately 100 in Topelia courtyard, a beautiful garden in the University of Helsinki city centre campus. Most of the crowd enjoyed the gig at Thirsty Scholar’s terrace. Before their performance, our PI Kirsti Salmi-Niklander presented our project to the audience. You can watch the presentation on Unitube or read the transcript below. After the introduction you find two recorded videos of the musical performance.
”Welcome to this music event presented by the research and artistic project T-Bone Slim and the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America funded by Kone Foundation. This project explores the transnational poetics and networks of the migrant left in North America through the unique character of T-Bone Slim. This was the pseudonym of Matti Valentininpoika Huhta (1882–1942), who was one of the most seminal figures in the US Labor movement. He was born in Ashtabula, Ohio, 1882. His parents and most of their siblings had emigrated from Kälviä, Central Ostrobothnia a few years earlier. He died in 1942 in New York by drowning to the East River. T-Bone Slim was a legendary hobo, songwriter, poet, and columnist in the periodicals of the IWW (the Industrial Workers of the World) movement. He wrote his texts in English, even though we now have discovered at least one text which he might have written in Finnish in a local newspaper in Ashtabula when he was about 20 years.
T-Bone Slim’s writings were forgotten for a long time. They were published in newspapers and periodicals of the IWW movement. In 1960s T-Bone Slim’s writings inspired the Chicago surrealist movement and the Civil Rights movement. But, he stayed out of the limelight and his identity remained as a mystery for most of his readers. Few years ago, John Westmoreland, the musician and artist in our project, discovered that T-Bone Slim actually was his great-granduncle Matt, who was kind of black sheep of the family. Our project has originated with John’s residence period funded by Kone Foundation last year.
In our artistic and research project we trace the life and networks of T-Bone Slim, and the social, cultural, and political movements in which he operated. Our project group is very international: Myself and our research assistant Lotta Leiwo work here in Topelia, and we have focused on T-Bone Slim’s family history and his early years, based on materials in National Library and Finnish Literature Society. We also made an exciting field trip to Kälviä in May. Saku Pinta is Finnish-Canadian researcher based in Thunder Bay and Winnipeg. Marija Dalbello is originally from Croatia, but now a professor of Information Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Saijaleena Rantanen from Arts University and has been working on IWW songs, and Samira Saramo from Migration Institute of Finland are also involved in the project. Owen Clayton from University of Lincoln in the UK has written so far, the only academic articles on T-Bone Slim’s literary works, and he is a collaborator in the project. Our project functions mostly virtually, and we have explored archival and library materials both in the US and in Finland. Next year we will finally meet face-to-face in Finland in our final seminar. There will be events both in Helsinki and in Kokkola and Kälviä in mid-August, so stay tuned! Our project has a website and a blog, Facebook page and a Twitter account where we publish the results of our research.
John Westmoreland has been working on new interpretations of T-Bone Slim’s songs, and his album “Resurrection” will be coming soon. Two songs have already been released on YouTube: music video “Harvest Land” and “Weary Years”. John has also made research on the background of these songs. He will introduce the texts of the songs he’s performing. Tonight, we will hear some of these new interpretations of T-Bone Slim’s songs. John will be accompanied by “Luode” band, Antero Kulju and Jussi Villgren, and folk musician Emmi Kuittinen.”
After Kirsti’s presentation, John Westmoreland & co. performed new interpretations of T-Bone Slim’s texts.
If the video is not showing, you view it on YouTube here.
In “Street Beggars”, folk musician Emmi Kuittinen performs a lament inspired by T-Bone Slim. Emmi introduces the lament:
“The short lament piece in this song is created following Karelian lament style in my own language, Finnish. T-Bone Slim’s text “Street Beggars” inspired me to create this lament.”
Translated lament lyrics:
“Listen how the wretched vagrants,
Are forced to wander through miserable alleys,
Look at the poor fellow-travellers,
Who gather terrified glances.
Who could help those dejected citizens,
To get the most merciful lodgings,
Oh, where are the fairest nurseries to be found,
To all the good fellow travellers.
Oh, have we tried enough together,
That we may all live in integrity,
That not only the lucky ones,
To take all the happiness for themselves,
All the power, all the wealth,
And rule all alone.
O, merciful divine powers of ancestors,
To the downtrodden inhabitants,
And to the wretched wanderers.”
If the video is not showing, you view it on YouTube here.
In late February and early March of this year, I left my home in North Carolina and headed northwest on an extensive T-Bone Slim research trip that would take me as far as the Twin Cities in Minnesota, then eastward to Ashtabula, Ohio and Erie, Pennsylvania, and ultimately southward back to the more temperate climate of Pittsboro, North Carolina. I should say that while I have not yet experienced a proper Finnish winter, I feel like the climate of Minneapolis during February has given me a bit of a taste of what that might be like…
The main goal of visiting the Twin Cities was to spend time at the Minnesota Historical Society’s Gale Family Library exploring their extensive newspaper archives from Duluth, Minnesota during the early to mid 20th century. T-Bone Slim is known to have spent quite a bit of time in Minnesota, especially Duluth, where he visited and spoke to classes of students at Work People’s College during the early 1930’s. There is even the possibility that he himself may have attended the school as a younger man, however more research needs to be done in order to confirm or refute this hypothesis.”Among the collections at the Gale Family Library are issues of the Duluth News Tribune—a mainstream regional English language periodical—as well as the more radical Industrialisti. The Industrialisti was a Finnish language IWW publication that had at times a readership consisting of 10,000 or more working class Finnish Americans.
I wanted to examine the Duluth News Tribune’s articles from 1912–1920 because of assertions by multiple sources that T-Bone Slim—before he started writing for the IWW—was a mainstream top reporter for a Duluth based paper. The story went that T-Bone was writing a column reporting on an IWW meeting but that the paper’s editor twisted and spun the story to make it portray the IWW in an unfavorable light, which prompted him to quit on the spot and join the union. To date no concrete evidence exists for this story, and I did not come across any articles written by Matti V. Huhta in the editions of the Duluth News Tribune that I was able to view. Nevertheless, T-Bone Slim is known to have had criticism of editors. He once wrote in the Industrial Worker, “I don’t believe there is any necessity for a news censor. Editors have been very careful not to let any news get into the papers.”
New Discoveries I
Fortunately, the Gale Family Library’s Industrialisti collection did result in a new discovery, one that reinforces an understanding that T-Bone Slim indeed had significant connections to the Finnish diaspora in America and to Finnish IWW members in particular. On October 17, 1942, the Industrialisti printed a news item reporting on his death, which included his given name, Matti Valentine Huhta, as well as information about his family background in Ashtabula, Ohio and Erie, Pennsylvania. The article was written by “Jallu,” a Finnish IWW correspondent in New York City, who obviously knew T-Bone Slim personally. Perhaps it will be possible to identify this “Jallu” through Finnish IWW membership records, something that researcher Saku Pinta is currently investigating.
Coming back to Ohio and Pennsylvania again was a wonderful experience. This was actually my third trip to Ashtabula and Erie. The first had been a family pilgrimage with my mom in 2018, when we visited family grave sites, the homes where our relatives had lived, and for the first time met our cousins Vanessa and Liza, who are direct descendants of T-Bone Slim. On this most recent trip I was very happy to have the opportunity to spend more time with my newfound cousins, and to even have Vanessa and Liza join me while conducting research at the local libraries. We were happily surprised to discover that since our last visit to the Blasco Memorial Library in Erie, Pennsylvania a digitization project had taken place which scanned all the historical newspapers from the late 19th century up to contemporary times and made them searchable through keywords in a library database. This fortunate development allowed us to easily search terms such as “Huhta” and see what hits came up.
We found quite a few interesting new research items including a photo of T-Bone Slim posing with the other workers of the Hanna Docks circa 1900, and a notice of a “Non-Support Charge” filed against him by his wife Rose on December 7, 1910. The non-support notification mentions that because the defendant had no money for bail, he was kept in jail until the scheduled court proceeding. Also of note is that the warrant of arrest was issued by an Alderman Klemm. Could this Alderman actually be the same George Klemm who is standing directly to T-Bone Slim’s left in the 1900 photo?
New Discoveries II
Another discovery from the Erie Blasco Library archives was an article from July 30, 1903, titled “Slashed With A Razor”. It recounts a rather gruesome knife injury inflicted upon a Finnish man, August Sulstrom (Sohlström), which occurred at the boarding house run by T-Bone Slim’s mother, Johanna Huhta, at 309 Cascade St. The event is reported to be veiled in mystery as Sulstrom claimed he didn’t know for sure who slashed his face from beneath the left eye through his cheek and down into his mouth cavity. The story goes that around midnight Sulstrom and another Finn, Emil Matson, had been drinking heavily and got into a quarrel, which resulted in Matson slashing Sulstrom with a knife. Both were arrested, and Sulstrom stitched up on the inside and outside of his mouth. Ultimately two other Finns residing at the Huhta boarding house—Victor Wielander and Tobias Hokkanen—were also brought in to give their account of the event. The paper states that Wielander told the authorities, “He saw Matson striking Sulstrom, but could not see whether Matson had a knife in his hand or not, but he heard Sulstrom call out to Matson not to strike him with a knife.” Ultimately the victim of the slashing, Sulstrom, told the judge in the matter that he felt he was partially to blame. Both Matson and Sulstrom were fined $5, with Matson incurring an additional $15 bill to pay for the medical costs of Sulstrom’s injury. The article concludes by stating, “Emil Matson, who was covered with blood when arrested last night on the charge of being drunk, and who was thought to have been connected with the affair, satisfied his honor that he knew nothing about the matter and was dismissed by settling the costs.”
Make of that what you will, but in any case, this strange and violent story certainly offers some insight into the kind of environment in which T-Bone Slim, his siblings and other Finnish American children of their generation came of age.
T-Bone Slim’s parents are from Kälviä, Central Ostrobothnia, Finland. Therefore, Kirsti Salmi-Niklander, John Westmoreland and Lotta Leiwo headed to Ostrobothnia this May for a research trip. John had visited Kälviä before, but for Kirsti and Lotta this was the first time. During the trip the group visited Kälviä and met with Central Ostrobothninan Immigration Project in Kokkola to discuss research and event collaboration. Our project’s final seminar will be held in Kälviä and Kokkola in late summer 2023 (stay tuned!) with research and cultural content. In this text I discuss our trip to Kälviä and present some of T-BoneSlim’s family history in Ostrobothnia focusing on his mother’s side.
T-Bone Slim’s parents are Priitta (Brita) Johanna Huhtaketo/ Fast(backa) and Matti Matinpoika Leppihuhta/ Huhta/Arlund. Names from the time might be confusing as people changed surnames based on their place of living. For example, T-Bone Slim’s mother’s surnames Huhtaketo and Fast(backa) refer to the locations she lived in Kälviä. After emigrating, some Finns translated or altered their surnames to accommodate to the new, English-speaking home country. For example, T-Bone Slim’s father Matti changed to Matt or Matthew.
During our trip we visited T-Bone Slim’s mother’s side family history sceneries in rural Kälviä. Our guide was Jukka Hilli, a local history society active. Mr. Hilli is a traditionist who has a vast knowledge of the local history, and he had a story for every place and person!
The first location we visited was Fastbacka. It is located south from Välikylä village in Kälviä. The place does not have any building structures remaining as it is now under a dirt road. Priitta Johanna’s family lived here until 1865. At the time, the father Antti Efraiminpoika Fastbacka (Anders Efraimsson Fastbacka in Swedish judgement books) worked as a farm hand for Klapuri house. Klapuri built a small forest meadow cottage, “niittupirtti”, in Hietakangas and made a tenant farm contract with Fastbacka family and they became “torppari”, or tenant farmers, for Erkki Jaakonpoika Klapuri (Eric Jakobsson Klapuri).
The Fastbacka family moved to Hietakangas tenant farm in 1865. Thus, their surname changed to Hietakangas. The price for starting the tenant farm contract in Hietakangas “torppa” was 600 Finnish marks (FIM) equivalent of 2710€ (1867 USD). The place is located quite near Fastbacka, only some 800 m (0,5 mi.) via bee line. Family lived in Hietakangas torppa farming small forest meadow fields and working day labor for the Klapuri house for 40 FIM worth a year. Additionally, they had an agreement of chopping wood for their own use and for sale from the surrounding forest. In the premises, some traces of the basements of the tenant farm buildings are left.
Hietakangas is located at a distance, roughly 15km (9,3 mi.) from the Kälviä church (image is from 1897), therefore it is probable that the family didn’t travel to the village often.
Today the Hietakangas landscape is dominated by a handsome old spruce. It is likely that T-Bone Slim’s mother grew up with this old tree that also we were able to touch on our trip. The air seems to be really clean here as lots of beard moss grows in the trees.
The family decided to remove their small log cottage from Hietakangas to Huhtaketo with their own permission. In other words, Antti Efraiminpoika broke the tenant farm contract and stole the tenant farm building(s) from the Klapuri house. At the time, people had merely footpaths and a 2-meter-wide cart path in the region. Therefore, the secretly conducted move had to be a struggle as merely the bee line from Hietakangas to Huhtaketo is 4.7 km (3 mi.).
Also, in Huhtaketo, some traces of the basements of the tenant farm buildings are left. The place is on a small hill by the river Kälviäjoki and is nowadays surrounded by small fields. On the remains of Huhtaketo buildings, local history society has set up a sign stating that the Huhtaketo tenant farm was owned by Hilli house, it was inhabited from 1777 with a small gap in the turn of the century and altogether four families lived there.
By the fields surrounding the Huhtaketo premises, there is also a large erratic boulder on which the Huhtaketo children are told to have been played house. While visiting Huhtaketo, we also learned that Jukka Hilli’s great grandmother worked as a little maid for Huhtaketo family.
In 1869, Erkki Jaakonpoika Klapuri sued Antti Efraiminpoika for relocating the tenant farm building(s). Klapuri demanded “a compensation for the removed building and anything else that might be involved”. District court judge ordered the Hietakangas tenant farm to a forced sale in May 1872, and the tenant farm was returned to Klapuri house. It is still a bit unclear what happened to Huhtaketo family after that. Priitta Johanna’s brother Antti was first from the family to emigrate to America in 1872 and Priitta Johanna followed in 1879. Altogether six of eight Huhtaketo children emigrated to US in 1872–1890.
Family History in The Newspapers
A short sidetrack from our research trip. Some of the later events in Huhtaketo family life in Finland can be traced from the newspapers. An interesting detail is their old churn that made it to the Pohjalainen newspaper on July 10, 1891. In short, the news piece states that the churn is 130 years old and tenant farm’s wife Briitta Maria (Priitta Johanna’s mother) has inherited the churn from her mother who inherited it from her mother. Both the churn pot and piston are made of spruce. Churn bottom has a marking “y[ear]. 1760”. This news peace indicates that the Priitta Johanna Huhtaketo’s parents, Antti Efraiminpoika and Briitta Maria, stayed as tenant farmers in Huhtaketo after 1872 events. This is supported by Kokkola newspaper on April 15, 1905 as (Briitta) Maria Huhtaketo announces an auction on four cows and movable property of Huhtaketo tenant farm. In 1911 widow Maria Huhtaketo is declared under guardianship in Suomalainen Wirallinen Lehti newspaper.. Maria Huhtaketo passed away the next year in May.
Another interesting detail are Antti Efraiminpoika’s tobacco habits that got some column space from Pohjalainen (10.7.1891, in Finnish, look for Antti Huhtaketo, the churn is also mentioned in this paper on the same page) and TammerforsAftonblad (14.7.1891, in Swedish, look for Anders Huhtaketo) newspapers among three others (Uusi Suometar, Sanomia Turusta and Waasan Lehti). The newspapers state that “this old grandpa” places his (chewing) tobacco by a stove to dry up after chewing it and then uses it with his pipe. After smoking it he puts the rest of the tobacco back into his mouth to get out all the “tobacco power”.
These small newspaper pieces can be important clues in tracing T-Bone Slim’s personal and family history as well as networks of circulating newspaper texts. We will get back to these materials later in our blog.
Experiential Knowledge for The Research
During our trip to Kälviä, we heard many interesting stories about T-Bone Slim’s family history and additionally local legends about Great Wrath, blood stoppers, healers, and wise men of the region. Especially for Lotta Leiwo, who has studied the Kälviän folklore material in Finnish Literature Society’s archive, it was very interesting to hear these stories told orally. On top of everything else, Mr. Hilli offered us the most delicious Köyrisen keeki (sour cake baked with local traditional recipe) and we were also able to visit Välikylä Youth Society Hall.
What was most important for us as researchers (besides the delicious cake!) was to have the spatial and experiential experience of T-Bone Slim’s family history locations. Visiting the actual sites, even temporally distant events and people can be placed in a context better. This kind of experiential knowledge gives better understanding of the places than pictures and written texts. With such a skilled guide as Jukka Hilli, the places really became alive and we definitely got more than we came for!
We want to thank Keski-Pohjanmaan Siirtolaisuushanke (Central Ostrobothnian Immigration Project) and Outi Järvi for organizing the research trip to Kälviä for us. Additionally, we want to thank Kauppi Virkkala and Hannu Pajunpää from the immigration project for the fruitful collaboration kick-off meeting and Keskipohjanmaa newspaper for other collaboration. Special thanks to Jukka Hilli for all the stories and guidance to Kälviä and its folklore.
In this research blog we will present our research materials and interpretations, and reports on archival tours and fieldwork. Our project explores the transnational poetics and networks of the migrant left in North America through the unique character of “T-Bone Slim”. Matti Valentininpoika Huhta (1882–1942), better known under his pseudonym “T-Bone Slim”. He was a legendary hobo, songwriter, poet, and columnist in the periodicals of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World). T-Bone Slim’s writings went on to inspire the Chicago surrealist movement and the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. However, he stayed out of the limelight and his identity remained as a mystery for most of his readers.
The idea for this project originated during John Westmoreland’s Kone Foundation residence period in May – September 2021. An important event was the symposium “T-Bone Slim (Matt Valentin Huhta 1882–1942) – a poet, a radical and a hobo”, streamed at Finnish Literature Society on 30 August 2021. The symposium brought together researchers, artists and activists from Finland, the U.S. and Great Britain, and was the first academic seminar on T-Bone Slim. John Westmoreland continues his artistic work on the new interpretations of T-Bone Slim’s songs in the project, in collaboration with Paleface and Laulava Unioni.
Laulava Unioni’s version of T-Bone Slim’s ”Popular wobbly” first published on their Facebook page on 6.9.2021. Translated to Finnish by Karri Miettinen, transcription by Ossi Peura.
The blog: what you can expect?
We will explore different networks, communities, and contexts which T-Bone Slim acted in, and which affected his life history and his writing. These networks and communities include his family history in Kälviä, Central Ostrobothnia; his childhood, youth and family life in Ashtabula Harbor, Ohio, and Erie, Pennsylvania; his studies in the Work People’s College in Duluth; his life as “a hobo”, literary networks and involvement in the IWW labor movement; his last years in New York.
These networks will provide also wider perspectives on the frictions, boundaries, and possibilities in immigrant communities. We will explore these issues in a series of blogs, based on new archival findings, and new interpretations of the old materials.
The blog posts will be short, popularized texts about our research introducing our materials, research trips, Westmoreland’s artistic work, and much more.
Welcome to follow us and T-Bone Slim on this journey!