Ashtabula materials Events News T-Bone Slim

Newspaper Symposium 2022

Author: Lotta Leiwo

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.

Newspaper article in Finnish
Mathew Houghton’s text in Amerikan Sanomat 1.1.1903 (National Library of Finland).

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:

Periodical article translated. Full text translated below in the blog text.
Raittiuslehti : Raittiuden Ystäväin Äänenkannattaja, 25.5.1899 (National Library of Finland’s digital collections).

Translated text:

“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!


Ashtabula materials

Self-help from 1911

AUTHOR: KIrsti Salmi-Niklander

Self-help booklets

Self-help guidebooks on various fields of life were popular in immigrant communities. The newspaper Amerikan Sanomat published, e.g.,  guide books for agriculture, for raising chicken and horses, a Finnish American cookbook, a general guidebook for Finnish immigrants and a guidebook for those who dreamed of the gold fields in Alaska. Three small booklets on intimate relations and sexuality were published in 1911. Two booklets gave advise how young women could attract men and “become a happy bride in four weeks.” One was a guidebook for “the art of kissing” (Suutelojen kirja. Tieteellisiä ja käytännöllisiä tutkimuksia “sen suullisesta menettelemisestä”.) The 8-page booklet is named as ”a translation”. A somewhat longer booklet with the same title had been published in Kotka in 1892.

“The Book of Kisses” discusses different forms of kisses and kissing in a “pseudo-scientific” tone and illustrated with some individual stories. “Erwin”, who cannot utter a word to his sweetheart, but solves the situation with a kiss; Liina, who steals a kiss from her sweetheart, but gets a reprimand from her mother, who has been chaperoning the young couple. Different kinds of kisses are discussed: kisses between women, between parents and children, kisses that express respect, hand kisses and flying kisses. Judas Iskariot’s kiss is one of the historical examples, as also the mock-historical story of the origin of the kiss, with references to the history of Greece and Rome during the Antiquity. Young men and women in immigrant communities might have needed more detailed guidelines, but “The Book of Kisses” gives a short introduction to the norms and practices of kissing in different cultures.

Text and drawing of two people kissing
Suutelojen kirja (The Book of Kisses), Amerikan Sanomat publishing, 1911 (National Library of Finland).
Ashtabula materials

Folk poetry and songs

AUTHOR: Kirsti Salmi-Niklander

Finnish American folk poetry and songs

Newspaper Amerikan Sanomat organized a writing competition for Finnish Americans, and published its results both in the newspapers and as a series of books 1899–1901: these include collections of short stories, three novels by pseudonym “Eekku” and an anthology of poems entitled “Finnish American folk poetry and songs” (Amerikan Suomalaisten Kansan runoja ja lauluja). This anthology gives an interesting overview on variety of the songs and poetry, which were popular in Finnish immigrant communities. Most of the songs and poems have the author’s name, pseudonym or initials and the place. Many songs resemble very much the folk songs, which were popular in Finland, and distributed orally or as broadsides. The first song in the anthology is “Suruni” (My sorrow), including the information that it could be sang with the melody of “The Last Rose of Summer”. The song is a lament on the death of a sweetheart:

“Lempi täyttää rinnan multa/suru sortaa sydämen/kuolo korjas kullan multa/ijäisehen unholaan”. (Love fills my soul/the sorrow breaks my heart/the death took away my sweetheart/to the eternal oblivion.)

The next poem in the collection (“Rukkas runo”) has been dictated in Iron Belt, Wisconsin, which indicates that this is an orally transmitted folk song. The title refers to the experience of being turned down in a romantic relationship. The poem tells about love and courtship in the immigrant community in a more humorous tone, giving a detailed account on the dances on Sunday nights at “Kojo-Antti’s hall”, accompanied by “savikukko”, a kind of ocarina. The poem depicts the rivalry between immigrant men: the miners are successful with the girls, whereas trammers, landers and loggers are hanging out in the corners chewing tobacco. The narrator of the song, one of this “mölö”-group makes an approach on one of the small group of charming girls – but the girl turns him down pointing out to five handsome miners: “Näethän tuolla perässä/tulee mainareita viisi/Joll’ et nyt ala pyörtämään/niin sinut perii hiisi.” (See behind you/ there are five miners coming / If you don’t turn away now/ the “hiisi” [evil spirit] will get you).

The anthology includes many patriotic poems, which refer to the actual political events in Finland during the period of russification measures. Many Finnish young men had left Finland at the turn of the century to flee the illegal conscription to the Russian army. One of these is a short poem “Vielä nytkin” (Still now) by the pseudonym Eekku, whose two novels and short stories were published by Amerikan Sanomat: “Oi kaunis, kallis syntymämaani. Pääseekö enään kevät luonnonkaan/sun sydäntäsi lämmittämään” (Oh my beautiful and dear fatherland. Can even the spring/warm up your heart?) The poems give some more information of Eekku: he was from the parish of Maalahti in Ostrobothnia, and lived in Laurier, Michigan. Some poems are written with Kalevala metre, such as a poem celebrating the foundation of the Onnela temperance society (J S-N, Iron Mountain, Michigan). The poem depicts the sceneries and the results of the hard work of Finnish farmers: “Ken matkaillessaan näillä mailla/kujillamme kulkiessaan/on kaupunkiamme katsastellut/silmäellyt seutuamme/havainnut on halmeillamme/vainioillamme varmasti/kasken kovan kasvamasta/kohoomasta kolkon korven”.

Book in a person's hand
Booklet of “Finnish American folk poetry and songs”, Amerikan Sanomat publishing, 1901. Available at the National Library of Finland.


Ashtabula materials

Religious visions

AUTHOR: Kirsti Salmi-Niklander

Religious visions

The newspaper Amerikan Sanomat published also short booklets based on religious visions. Some of these were translated from Swedish, but a few were originally written and published in Finnish. One of these is the 8-page booklet “Terrible dream in which a wife from Oulainen tells how she and her children ended up in Hell” (Hirveä unennäkö, jossa eräs vaimo Oulaisista kertoo kuinka hän ja hänen lapsensa joutuivat helvettiin). Oulainen is a small community in north-western Finland. The narrator tells how she woke up three times from her nightmare but fell asleep again and the same dream continued. Her husband finally woke her up when she screamed in her dream, and she dictated to him her dream which was very clear in her mind.

The dream starts with strange events: the sun darkened (was eclipsed), and the moon had the colour of blood. Below the sun she could see the numbers which referred to the Doomsday Psalm. People were afraid and some interpreted these as omens of war, but the narrator expected the Doomsday. Soon a beautiful human being came down from the sky with a crown, and declared at the cemetery: “Rise up from the earth”. All dead people came up from the graves, and the human being divided them to his right and left side. The same division was made with the living, and most children were placed in the right side. The human being invited the people on his right side to “his kingdom”, but said to the others: “go away from me you cursed ones”. The narrator remained with the rest of the crowd, and the torment started. Among the cursed were many “proud holy people” who had been sure of their salvation – and also many people (including the narrator), who had already received God’s mercy but rejected “the straight and narrow”. The Devil is riding with a fiery wagon and tormenting the wretched souls. The wife does not see her husband or children – only one of the children was among the blessed souls.
This vision has been dictated on 2 January 1878 in Oulainen. The booklet printed in Ashtabula is undated, but it has probably been published in 1901 or later. The collection of Finnish American poems and songs (1901) is mentioned in the section, which advertises other books published or sold by Amerikan Sanomat. In Finland, the same booklet was printed and distributed as a broadside. One copy is preserved at Tampere City Library. It was published in Isak Julin printing shop in Tampere 1903.

Religious visions were a popular oral-literary genre in the 19th-century Finland, and also an international genre related with vernacular religion. The most famous fictional vision in Finnish literature is Simeoni’s dream in Aleksis Kivi’s novel Seven brothers (Seitsemän veljestä 1870). Simeoni dreams a fantastic journey with the Devil with visions of “Boot Leather Towers”.

Text: Two front pages of a booklet.
Front page of the “Hirweä Unennäkö” booklet published in Tampere (left, Tampereen kaupunginkirjasto) and Ashtabula (right, the National Library of Finland).
Ashtabula materials

Pohjantähti Newspaper PART 2

AUTHOR: Lotta Leiwo

The News in the Pohjantähti

The contents of the Pohjantähti consist of news, correspondence letters from Finns around North America and Finland, excerpts from other newspapers, editor’s (Aleksi Wirtamo and Ino Ekman) articles, stories and humor sections, announcements and advertisements. The news sections vary a lot and some of the news are conveyed via correspondence letters from regular people.

Thus, the conventions or the concept of “news” seem to be at test in every issue. In the image you can see a collection of different news sections in Pohjantähti. There is domestic news, foreign news, correspondence letters, local news, telegrams and a mixture of all these.

Text; News titles
The Pohjantähti newspaper news titles. Image compilation created from the newspaper microfilms (the National Library of Finland).

For us, the most interesting “news” are the correspondence letters that reflect the interests of regular American Finns. The letters inform about local work-related issues such as accidents and vacancies, weather related news and “love news”. Many of the letters are about local people and this makes it possible to draw a picture of key figures in Finnish communities and their networks, plus helps us understand the relationships between people.

As mentioned in an earlier post, the newspaper’s one purpose was to educate the Finnish immigrants. The educational aspect of the newspaper is apparent in several texts in Pohjantähti. Unknown writer on sample issue (Dec 1886) writes:

“We are in a foreign land, far from our old Mother, Finland, but let us try to preserve our language and our nationality in honor of our old Mother and our ancestors! Let us establish schools, build churches, and subscribe newspapers, for church, school and newspapers are the best sources of learning and civilization.” (Pohjantähti N:o 1, 3.1.1887, National Library of Finland).

Additionally, Pohjantähti gives advice both in writing for the newspaper and reading it but also educating its readers in world events, immigrant history and temperance issues trying to guide readers to civilized life in North America. Finnish people at the time were mostly literate, but the conventions of a newspaper and writing to a public audience was not familiar to most of the people. Thus, educating the readers was necessary. The editor in section “What a good newspaper should be like” explains why news sections mix various news types:

“(…) all things must be presented briefly, but at the same time in an amusing way. The news section has a great impact on the reader. One line in the news containing something noble and good about some good endeavor will delight the reader: but another line about cold-blooded murder, mephitic and other atrocities may arouse disgust and horror. But at the same time, the reader’s mind is back to normal when he comes across a new news item, for example a very warm love story. (…) All news are very amusing if they are presented as such.” (Pohjantähti N:o 2, 10.1.1887,  National Library of Finland).

Text: news excerpt from Pohjantähti
News from Finland: horse is running away from a train in Kälviä. Pohjantähti n:o 1, 3.1.1887 (Nationla Library of Finland). The text was also published  in Kokkolan Lehti, on 7.12.1886.

In addition to educating the readers in 1887, this text explained to us why peculiar love stories and small anecdotes (such as news about people eating sugar coated flowers in America or horse running away from a train in Kälviä, Finland) are presented in between numerous terrible news about railway disasters, family murders and train robberies.

Another newspaper called the Amerikan Sanomat (American Newspaper) published and edited by August Edwards, already mentioned in this blog, started to appear in Ashtabula in 1897. At the moment (in June 2022), we are going through the Amerikan Sanomat issues to find clues about T-Bone Slim and his relatives. Even though Aleksi Wirtamo didn’t publish a newspaper after Pohjantähti, he pops up in local news section occasionally.

It seems that in the turn of the century, the American Finnish newspaper format had settled and different news sections had found their place in the paper. And probably the vernacular audience had learned the newspaper conventions as well. Yet, there is still relatively extensive correspondence section where Finns across American Finnish communities and increasingly from Canada and Finland, too, sent their letters and local “news” for everyone to read. Additionally, all kinds of amusing texts (stories, anecdotes and funny news), comical pictures and jokes takes its place in the paper among the edifying and educational content. The Amerikan Sanomat also held a writing competition (at least) in 1901. The Amerikan Sanomat publishing company published the competition texts and other small stories and poems in small booklets. Next in our blog, we’ll discuss about few examples from this interesting material!

Ashtabula materials T-Bone Slim

Ashtabula research materials

AUTHOR: Lotta Leiwo

Research material corpus: Ashtabula

As we started our project in February 2022, PI Kirsti Salmi-Niklander and myself started to map T-Bone Slim’s early life and childhood in Ashtabula, Ohio in late 1800s. How to understand what life was back then? What kind of services they had and how they kept in contact with other Finns in North America? What kind of material is available from Ashtabula Finns?

Soon we discovered a large material corpus from National Library of Finland that consist altogether 86 publications from 1878 to 1941 published in Ashtabula. These include three newspapers, one periodical, history books, dictionaries and phrase books, poems, guidebooks (how to tend farm animals, how to kiss, how to get a husband and so on) small stories and poems written by self-taught writers, translated literature and spiritual texts. And these are just the publications stored in the archive. Most of the small publications include a list of booklets for sale in Amerikan Sanomat publishing company indicating very lively publishing production in Ashtabula. Only part of these are preserved.

Front covers of booklets. Includes text and drawings.
Inner cover from small publication Atlantin rannoilta (From the Shores of Atlantic Ocean) written by self-taught writer Eekku (1899) (red cover) and Amerikan suomalaisten kansan tarinoita ja lauluja (Stories and Songs of American Finnish Folk), a compilation of stories and poems from Amerikan Sanomat newspapers writing competition (1901) (green cover). The covers advertise translated literature (Tuhat ja yksi yötä or Tales from a Thousand and One Nights), guidebook to “penile life an marriage” (Siitinelo ja avioliitto) and novels and stories sold by American Sanomat publishing company. Available at the National Library of Finland.

Amerikan Sanomat publishing company

Most of the publications are published by Amerikan Sanomat publishing company. Amerikan Sanomat published variety of small publications and of course a newspaper called Amerikan Sanomat (The American Newspaper, published 1896–1913). The main character working in Amerikan Sanomat was August Edwards who besides having a lively publishing company, delt a variety of peculiar goods such as electric belts (yes, it seems they are the same kind we see in shopping channels still today), cipher alphabets to write secret letters between lovers, mechanical music instruments (roll organs) and special pocket watches that worked as a kind of calculator.

Pohjantähti and Aleksi Wirtamo

Another even more interesting character to us is Aleksi (Sergei Feodorovitz) Wirtamo who published Pohjantähti newspaper (The North Star) earlier in the 1880s. Pohjantähti was a short-lived paper Ino Ekman and Wirtamo started together in late 1886 and it appeared only for one or two years. Paper was eight pages (as later Amerikan Sanomat and many other relatively small newspapers in U.S.) and appeared once a week on Mondays. Aleksi Wirtamo is particularly interesting to us because he was married to T-Bone Slims aunt, Edla Wirtamo (maiden name Huhtaketo). Edla is T-Bone’s mothers Priitta Johanna Huhtaketo’s sister.

Cigar ad from Amerikan Sanomat newspaper
Aleksi Wirtamo’s cigar and headache powder advertisement in Amerikan Sanomat (21.12.1899). Available at the National Library of Finland.

Before Pohjantähti, Wirtamo worked as a journalist in another Finnish American newspapers Yhdysvaltain Sanomat (Tidnings of the United States, published 1885–1893) and Uusi Kotimaa (The New Homeland, “the oldest Finnish newspaper in the US” published 1881–1934). After Pohjantähti, that Wirtamo left during 1887, he worked at least as a goods distributor: he advertises cigars in Amerikan Sanomat at least in December 1899. The cigars were called “Suomi suree” (Finland mourns) cigars referring to first period of oppression: the period 1899-1905, when the Russian Empire sought to consolidate and unify the Russian Empire by implementing a policy of Russification of minority nationalities against the Grand Duchy of Finland. By smoking “Suomi suree” cigars Finns in North America could express solidarity to their fellow citizens back in Finland. In the same ad, Wirtamo advertises “headache powder”. At that time, Wirtamo lived in Conneaut Harbor, Ohio, close to Ohio-Pennsylvania border approximately halfway from Ashtabula to Erie.

Why these materials?

By reading material published in Ashtabula in the turn of the century we can understand the everyday life of Finns in Ashtabula from several news and even from the advertisements. At the time, social status and dynamic relationship between parents and children were in change at the time. Children became subjects of raising and actors in family and in society. This shift can be seen by reading the material: almost invisible children in 1880 publications became active agents in the turn of the century.

In the following weeks we are introducing some examples from our Ashtabula publications in more detail.