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

Pohjantähti Newspaper PART 1

AUTHOR: Lotta Leiwo

Pohjantähti (The North Star) Newspaper

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.

Pohjantähti title and image
First official issue of Pohjantähti. The title image has a picture of farming crops with factory and railroad in the background. In the middle of the picture is a person holding U.S. flag and a text on a ribbon: ‘Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain’.

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

Text in Finnish: excerpt from Callus-Topias story.
Excerpt from Känsä-Topias Story fromn sample issue of Pohjantähti December 1886. Available at the National Library of Finland.

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.