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.
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”.
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”.
One of the Finnish books published in Ashtabula was a short light comedy “Kappale kapakkaelämää” (A piece of saloon life), written by K.A. Jurwa in 1889. Short comic drama pieces were popular in Finland at the end of the 19th century, they were performed in social evenings of temperance societies and labour movement associations. The small booklet includes a list of other short light comedies, which were available in the bookshop of the newspaper Amerikan Sanomat.
K.A. Jurwa lived in Ispheming, Michigan, and earned his living as a music teacher. He founded the Finnish Lutheran parish in Ispheming and served as a lay preacher. Later he moved to Tower, Minnesota, and in 1902 to Oregon. Jurwa submitted articles for the newspaper Pohjantähti (1886-1887). In the first issue of Pohjantähti he writes about the Americanization of the young generation, and promotes the Finnish schools: “Many [young people] don’t want to speak Finnish, if they can speak some broken English.”
‘A Piece of Saloon Life’ comedy
The short comic piece takes place at a saloon in a fictional immigrant community. Saloon keeper. Mr. Pöhnälä (“Drunken stupor”) is serving three Finnish men, who are frequent customers. One of the men is Esko, who starts calculating how much money he has carried to the saloon. The sum is remarkable: more than 1200 dollars. Esko’s wife has been nagging about the money, but Esko is convinced that he deserves to have some amusement after hard work. The wife stopped nagging after some good beatings, Esko boasts. Another Finnish man, Mikko arrives. He also has a nagging wife, Leena, at home, but Mikko is a more gentle character.
Suddenly, Mikko’s wife Leena enters the saloon with their two children (8-10 years). She orders Mr. Pöhnälä to fill her coffee pan with booze. Her husband is terrified, but Leena argues that booze must be healthy for her and the children, as Mikko has praised its good effects. “It is odd that you don’t accept the wives as your companions to a saloon, but in the home chores you find us very much needed.” Leena’s words wake up Mikko’s conscience, he begs her to forgive him all the misery that he has caused, and promises to start a new life and join the temperance movement. This is of course Leena’s goal. Another man, Hannu, joins them to start the sober life. Mr. Pöhnälä is outrageous, and when Esko demands him to serve booze on credit, Pöhnälä shoots him dead with his revolver.
K.A. Jurwa’s short comedy is quite rough and clumsy, but it reflects the rough life in immigrant communities. An interesting detail is that there are two children in the play, even though they don’t say anything – and these children are about the same age as T-Bone Slim was when this play was published.
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.
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).
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!
Pohjantähti was a weekly newspaper published in Ashtabula, Ohio from late 1886 to 1887. It came out every Monday evening and had five columns and eight pages. By reading the Pohjantähti we can track some of the networks Finnish immigrants had in the 1880s in North America. Additionally, the newspaper helps us understand the context of T-Bone Slim’s childhood. At the time T-Bone Slim turned five.
The founders of the paper were Finnish immigrants Aleksi Wirtamo, who was T-Bone Slim’s uncle, and Ino Ekman. Wirtamo left the paper during 1887 for yet unknown reason but remained an important and established person in the area. Also, the paper itself was short lived, even though its other founder Ino Ekman invested into new technology (cylinder press and boiler) in fall 1887. Apparently, the newspaper continued to be published for a while in Ishpeming, Michigan in 1888 but Ekman abandoned the paper the same year after its circulation declined.
Pohjantähti published two sample issues in late 1886 and was launched officially on 3.1.1887. One of the sample issues and first 17 issues of 1887 are available in the National Library of Finland as microfilmed copies.
The reasons to publish Pohjantähti newspaper were multifaceted. In the first four issues of Pohjantähti, Aleksi Wirtamo writes about the objectives of the publication in his editorial:
“the primary purpose is the preservation of the [Finnish] language and nationality, to keep an eye on and promote the spiritual and material well-being of the people of Wäinö [Finnish] who live here, to instruct the citizens in what is noble, good and civilized; to give a freer voice to all discussions in the social sphere; to give attention to the temperance movement of our time, namely to work for the development of this noble cause; to have the courage to express one’s thoughts on all social matters that are highly relevant to Finnish, not to get involved in religious controversies, as the position of the newspaper will be Evangelical Lutheran, as well as to be non-partisan in matters of religion.”
(Pohjantähti n:o 1, 3.1.1887, Kansalliskirjasto/ National Library of Finland).
Additionally, Aleksi Wirtamo’s affiliation of the temperance movement is apparent in the contents of the paper as one regular news section is “Raittiuden alalta” or “From temperance sector”. In the following blog post we’ll discuss more about the news sections of the Pohjantähti newspaper.
Networks of Texts and People
One very interesting aspect of texts published in Pohjantähti is the ‘Finnish folklore immigration’ (as we like to call it) they portray. For us, the digitized Finnish newspaper database in the National Library of Finland has been an alternative and comparative way of tracking the networks of not just people but texts as well. Several (folklore) stories and also correspondent’s poems were published in the Pohjantähti. Many of the longer stories were previously published in Finnish newspapers. One example of serials is Väinö Kataja’s “Jutelmia ja seikkailuja Pohjolasta, Känsä-Topias” (Stories and adventures from the North, Callus-Topias), a story about a sage/witch living in Northern Finland/ Sapmí (area where indigenous Sámi people live).
The story is told by first-person narrator who is one of the young boys who visit Känsä-Topias’ cottage and bully him by stoning the cottage and the sage and his wife Liisa. Later, the narrator meets Aamos, a very kind, new boy in the village. Aamos teaches the narrator kindness and they stop bullying Känsä-Topias. The story shifts to telling the story of these two befriended boys and their friendship and sops after three issues. The story was originally published in full length in the Oulun Lehti in six issues starting from November 11, 1886 issue. Click the Oulun Lehti link to read the story from digitized Oulun Lehti in Finnish (note: the story is not published consecutive issues). Apparently Väinö Kataja wrote at least one another story about Känsä- Topias: “Känsä-Topias tullinkawaltajana” (Callus-Topias as customs embezzler), published at least in Tornion Lehti in the 1910.
The other American Finnish newspaper in Ashtabula, Ohio Amerikan Sanomat issued a fruitful writing competition in 1901 and American Finns started to have their own, ‘self-sufficient’ supply of stories that were published in four booklets and one song and poem compilation in addition to publishing them in Amerikan Sanomat. We will discuss these in more detail later in this blog!
Digitized Finnish newspaper database has also been a fruitful way of tracking Aleksi Wirtamo’s life. Based on several texts published in 1894 (for example, Paimen Sanomia, 24.1.1894 and Kaiku, 7.3.1894). Wirtamo used also names Sergei Dunajeff, Aukusti Fredrickson and A. W. Keto, apparently using the latter when spending time in Illinois in 1894. For us, it is interesting to study both the texts and stories themselves and the networks of people and texts. This helps us understand the local, national and transnational publishing practices and possibilities in immigrant communities.
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.
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.
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.
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!