Archival "digs" T-Bone Slim

Finding Slim!

A sketch drawing of a woman (Marija Dalbello) with glasses standing behind a desk, holding a piece of paper in her hand. She is wearing a name sign band. On the table is an Apple laptop, two glasses and a bottle. Above the drawing is the text "MANIFESTO! Marija Dalbello 17.7.22". There is also text below the drawing. Some of the text is unreadable.
Sketchbook drawing by Louisa Preston.
AUTHOR: Marija Dalbello

From my Archival “Digs”
PART I: Finding Slim!

Entering the collection of the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Columbia University documents the immigrant working class struggle from a century ago. Among the various pamphlets, prison manuscript newspapers, and correspondence, I found a small letter, written in careful semi-cursive, each letter separate, words distinct, and lines slightly apart and ventilated. The letter is signed by “T-bone Slim” (Fig. 1a and Fig. 1b).

This blog post gives the story of the letter and interprets its significance for this project.

Photo of a sheet of paper on a table with a handwritten letter signed by T-bone Slim
Fig. 1a: T-bone Slim letter to L. S. Chumley, February 13, 1922. Industrial Workers of the World collection, 1916-1922, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York. Click the image to see it in full size.
Two pictures side by side. On the left is a transcript of the letter and photo on the right is a close-up of T-bone Slim’s handwritten letter.
Fig. 1b: Transcription and excerpt from T-bone Slim letter to L.S. Chumley, February 13, 1922. Industrial Workers of the World collection, 1916-1922, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York. Click the image to see it in full size or view transcribed text in pdf format.

The letter is dated February 1922 and is addressed to “Felloworker” [sic] L.S. Chumley I.W.W. in New York City. He signs off, “T-bone Slim” and offers an afterthought: “P.S. Am pulling out.” Is Matti Valentin Huhta referencing that he is leaving Minneapolis or rejecting the proposal by Leland Stanford Chumley to write? The opening refers to the accidental receipt of “your comm.” [communication]. “I happened to be here — may the Lord forgive me!” [“here” is underlined in the original]. We can imagine the letter writer on what could be a freezing day of February 1922 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We can only fill in the gaps as to what would be the “accidental communication” reaching Huhta — a written note, a message, or a rumor — which prompted him to respond. The abrupt “Am pulling out” leaves an opening, it cries for interpretation. This epistolary moment connects two fellow-workers, one of them in New York City and the other in Minnesota. They are in different moments of their activist engagement. At that time, Chumley had a long history of organizing restaurant and food workers and about to open his own establishment in New York City. On the other hand, Huhta had started writing for the I.W.W. newspapers. The figures of Slim and Chumley converge in the historical situation of which this letter is a trace.

The letter from Slim to Chumley is an important document for our project because it dates from the period when Huhta was emerging as the columnist for the English-language labor movement press. In 1921, he had started gaining visibility as a professional writer. According to the project database listing of his known documents and published writing (Kone foundation ProjectT-Bone Slim and the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America”), he wrote 46 columns for the English-language I.W.W. newspapers that year. This is also the first known professional letter from the beginning of his career as a writer, labor-movement poet, and newspaper columnist. (Apart from this we do have Huhta’s personal correspondence.) He was then 40 years old. So far this is the first hand-written document he signed by a pseudonym that he was to use for some of his writing. The February 1922 letter is preserved among the materials of the early I.W.W. archives at Columbia University because of its connection to Chumley correspondence.

Significantly, the letter self-references writing. Slim refers to his “literary-blossoms” in the form of “booklet material” (not yet columns in Solidarity, Industrial Worker, and Truth). In a half-joking tone that later epitomized his style, its writer projects a unique and singular voice. He is concerned with expressivity and affects projecting his moods. The evocative pseudonym “T-bone Slim” brings out half pictorialist, half etymological moment conveyed by the juicy “T -bone steak” that humorously conveys outrage and a program of social justice.

The steak could be contrasted with the “slim” existence of a migrant worker, possibly a figure of a starving artist, the life that Huhta himself may have experienced. At the same time, the lightness and joviality of the name resonates with the existential moment in the lives of the “starving labor” and food precarity — the trope of “hunger” that often organized the discourse of labor. The name became emblematic, recorded in the caricature accompanying his editorials (Fig. 2).

T-bone Slim's "logo": a cartoon image of a man with a horned head holding a t-bone steak. The man is wearing a tie and a suit jacket and vest
Fig. 2: “Matti Valentine Huhta” blog entry by John Westmoreland at:

Another actor in this epistolary moment and the recipient of the letter is Leland Stanford Chumley. His notes and correspondence relative to labor organizing is preserved in the same collection where I found the Slim letter from the time that marked a professional transition for both of them. Chumley was known as activist in the labor movement who raised awareness about the conditions of workers in the restaurant and other food industry in the 1910s and early 1920s (Rachleff 2005). Formerly organizer and “one-time stagecoach driver,” he opened a restaurant later known as Chumley’s in Greenwich Village in 1922, which remained a meeting place “for Wobs, other radicals and well-known writers and artists” (Rachleff 2005: 123; Saraniero 2020). Like many such museum-like sites in the palimpsest of New York City, Chumley’s remained a place of memory — erased by gentrification of neighborhoods, which locals fondly remember through their disappearance, when yet another New York “institution” of the “old school” gets turned into a boutique or residence. Chumley’s has not re-emerged from the New York covid lockdown in 2020. Ironically, the closing may call attention to an enduring precarity of the food industry and restaurant business.

A color photograph of a typical New York street with buildings built right next to each other. In the background is a terrace extending out onto the street. Traffic signs and small trees with no leaves alongside the sidewalk.
Fig. 3: Former Chumley’s location in Greenwich Village, 86 Bedford St., New York City. Photographed by Marija Dalbello.

The site of the historic venue remains – at the unmarked address at 86 Bedford Street in Greenwich Village (Fig. 3), with signs on two entrances: “not Chumley’s” and “Froggy’s” (with a number for deliveries). This researcher lives and passes this site on her neighborhood walks, now enhanced by the discovery of its connection to Slim.


This is the first in the series of blogs From my Archival “Digs” that focus on archival stories. I relate to documents in the mode of “drifting” (Dalbello 2019) in order to present their histories but also the aesthetic emotions and sensations that characterize archival disclosures.



Dalbello, Marija. (2019). “Archaeological Sensations in the Archives of Migration and the Ellis Island Sensorium,” Archaeology and Information Research, a special issue of Information Research 24 (2), Accessed November 20, 2022.

Preston, Louisa. (2022). Sketchbook drawing of Marija Dalbello presenting, “A Hauntological Manifesto for Book History,” at the panel Manifestos! co-organized with Beth Driscoll and Claire Squires, presented at annual meeting of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing, Amsterdam, July 2022.

Rachleff, Peter, editor. (2005). Starving Amidst Too Much and Other IWW Writings on the Food Industry. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr.

Saraniero, Nicole. (2020). “Greenwich Village Speakeasy Chumley’s Closes For Good,” Untapped New York, July 27, 2020, Accessed November 14, 2022.

Database News T-Bone Slim

T-Bone Slim Database – First Steps

Author: Lotta Leiwo

T-Bone Slim Database – First Steps

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
  • Matti Leppihuhta
  • Mathias Valentinpoika Huhta
  • Matt Houghton
  • Mathew Houhghton
  • Matt Ahrlund (or Ahlund)
  • Joe Hilger (or Hilgor)
  • Valentin(e) Huhta
  • Matt Valentin(e)

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!

John Westmoreland T-Bone Slim

Juuret Suomessa

Kirjoittaja: John Westmoreland

Juuret Suomessa – Kuinka löysin kadonneen kappaleen sukuhistoriaani

(Tämä teksti on käännös aiemmin julkaistusta englanninkielisestä tekstistä.)

Iso-iso-isovanhempani Matti ja Brita Johanna Huhta lähtivät Kälviältä Suomesta vuonna 1879 etsimään uutta elämää Yhdysvalloista. He asettuivat asumaan Ashtabulaan, Ohioon Erie-järven rannalle. Uudessa kotimaassaan he kasvattivat viisilapsisen perheen, johon kuuluivat vanhin poika Matti V. Huhta (T-Bone Slim) ja nuorin tytär Sofie Huhta, isomummoni. T-Bone, Sofie tai kukaan muukaan Huhdan lapsista ei koskaan astunut jalallaan esivanhempiensa kotimaahan, Suomeen.

Itse asiassa vaikuttaa siltä, ettei yksikään Huhdan myöhemmistä sukupolvista päässyt Suomeen ennen kesää 2018, jolloin minulla oli tilaisuus tehdä ensimmäinen vierailuni “vanhaan maahan”. Tuo matka toteutui varsin mielenkiintoisella tavalla. Tuohon aikaan työskentelin ensimmäisen albumini, Cast Fire, julkaisun parissa lähettämällä sähköposteja, soittamalla puheluita ja yleisesti ottaen edistämällä levyn myyntiä. Samoihin aikoihin yritin kaivaa esiin mahdollisimman paljon tietoa hiljattain uudelleen löytämästäni amerikansuomalaisesta sukulaisestani, kulkuri-lauluntekijästä, runoilijasta ja IWW-kolumnistista, joka tunnetaan nimellä T-Bone Slim. Toisinaan tuntui siltä, että laiminlöin velvollisuuteni albumiprojektissa ja sen sijaan käytin suurimman osan energiastani seuratakseni hajanaisia johtolankoja, jotka auttoivat hahmottamaan isoisosetäni elämää. Näin tekemällä toivoin, että saisin koottua kokonaisemman kuvan ja ymmärryksen siitä, kuka hän oli ja mistä hän oli kotoisin, ja siten kunnioittaisin hänen unohdettua perintöään ja kaivaisin esiin kadonneen kappaleen omasta sukuhistoriastani.

Black and white photo of an elderly lady in dark dress standing on grass by trees
T-Bone Slimin äiti Brita Johanna Huhta. Kuva: Westmorelandien perhearkisto.
Sepia coloured old photo, portrait of two men. One man is sitting and another is standing. Curtain mural background
T-Bone Slimin isä (istumassa). Toisen miehen henkilöllisyys ei ole tiedossa. Kuva: Westmorelandien perhearkisto.

Eräänä päivänä kirjoittaessani sähköposteja ja yrittäessäni varata keikkoja Cast Fire-levyn julkaisun tueksi, päähäni pälkähti hieman outo ajatus. Entäpä jos ottaisin yhteyttä suomalaisen musiikkiskenen ihmisiin ja kysyisin, olisiko minun mahdollista esittää omaa musiikkiani ja uusia tulkintoja T-Bone Slimin kappaleista Suomessa? Se tuntui kaukaa haetulta, mutta samaan aikaan tunsin, että T-Bone Slimin henki oli tuohon aikaan jollakin mystisellä ja synkronistisella tavalla heräämässä eloon – aistin ilmassa jotain lupaavaa… Näin ollen toimin heränneen mielijohteen mukaan ja internetin kautta löysin suomalaisten keikkavälittäjien nimiä ja yhteystietoja. Kirjoitin muutamia sähköpostiviestejä, joissa kerroin keikkavälittäjille, kuka olen, kuka T-Bone Slim oli ja kysyin, haluaisivatko he varata minulle kesäkiertueen Suomeen. Pian näiden viestien lähettämisen jälkeen aloin kuitenkin epäillä pikkuruisen sähköpostikampanjani järkevyyttä. Pohdin, vaikutanko etuoikeutetulta amerikkalaiselta, joka odottaa ovien avautuvan Suomessa vain siksi, että hänen isoäitinsä isoveli oli suomalaista syntyperää oleva ikoninen kulkuri. Niinpä menin sinä iltana nukkumaan tuntien itseni hieman hölmöksi, koska olin varma, että sähköpostini jäisivät huomiotta. Mutta suureksi yllätyksekseni, kun tarkistin sähköpostilaatikkoni seuraavana aamuna, siellä olikin vastaus helsinkiläiseltä keikkavälittäjältä, joka kertoi, että projektini kuulosti erittäin mielenkiintoiselta ja että hän auttaisi mielellään! Samalla hän mainitsi, että Ville Juhani Sutinen oli hiljattain julkaissut T-Bone Slimistä kirjan ja että tunnettu suomalainen Hip-Hop artisti Paleface oli juuri muodostanut Laulava Unioni-yhtyeen, joka esittää suomalaisia IWW-lauluja, mukaan lukien iso-isosetäni tekstejä. Keikkavälittäjä yhdisti minut sekä Villen että Palefacen kanssa ja auttoi minua saamaan keikkoja kesäksi.

Ensimmäinen esiintymiseni Suomessa oli Palefacen kanssa Porvoossa elokuun lopulla 2018. Jossain vaiheessa keikkaa Karri kertoi yleisölle, että “Meillä on täällä T-Bone Slimin lihaa ja verta!”. Ja sai yleisön huutamaan “Tervetuloa kotiin John!”. Se oli minulle todella sydäntä lämmittävä ja merkityksellinen kokemus; tulla täysin uuteen maahan ja kulttuuriin ja kokea näin avosydäminen vastaanotto. Jatkoin keikkailua eri kaupungeissa ympäri Suomen, ja matkan päätteeksi kuvasin musiikkivideon yhdelle omalle kappaleelleni nimeltään The Sparrow suomalaisen ohjaajan ja kuvaajan Cristal Alakosken kanssa. Palasin syksyllä Yhdysvaltoihin innostuneena ja aloin suunnitella uutta levytysprojektia, kokoelmaa T-Bone Slimin kirjoittamista kappaleista.

Selfie of two men in a garage. Both men have beard, the other is bald, other has long hair. Graffiti of old Frankenstein looking man in the background
Paleface ja John Tampereella vuonna 2022. Kuva: Karri Miettinen 2022.
Graffiti mural on the end of a house. Text “T-Bone Slim Tear Gas” and image of a tear gas bottle with a text: “The most effective agent used by employers to persuade their employees that the interests of capital and labor are identical.” Man playing guitar in front of the graffiti mural.
John soittamassa kitaraa Antti Männynvälin tekemän T-Bone Slim/ Tear Gas-seinämaalayksen edessä. Kuva: Antti Männynväli 2021.
Graffiti “T-Bone Slim”. Two men: one standing, doing graffiti and other sitting and playing guitar. Water in front, road railing in the back. Text in the bottom: "Worries make the child sing."
Antti Männynväli tekemässä T-Bone Slim graffitia Johnin soittaessa Weary Years-kappaletta. Kuva: Tommi Virtanen 2021.

Tämän jälkeen olen palannut Suomeen joka kesä lukuun ottamatta vuotta 2020. Näiden matkojen aikana minulla on ollut hieno mahdollisuus esittää omia tulkintojani T-Bone Slimin kappaleista erilaisissa tapahtumissa, festivaaleilla ja jopa Helsingin kaduilla. Olen myös tavannut monia upeita muusikoita, taiteilijoita ja tutkijoita, joista on tullut ystäviä ja yhteistyökumppaneita. Lisäksi olen oppinut suomalaisten esivanhempieni kulttuurista ja elämän olosuhteista enemmän kuin koskaan toivoinkaan.

Man performing on a stage with a guitar. Plants and flowers, three persons playing and singing in the background.]
John esiintymässä Valkeakosken Työväenmusiikkitapahtumassa 2022. Kuva: Esa Kuloniemi 2022.

Yksi Suomenmatkojeni tähänastisista kohokohdista on ollut mahdollisuus vierailla Kälviällä torppapaikoilla, joissa Huhdan iso-iso-isovanhempani asuivat ennen kuin he muuttivat Yhdysvaltoihin. Kälviän paikallishistorian tuntija Jukka Hilli opasti minut ja muut T-Bone Slim -tutkijatoverini Kirsti Salmi-Niklanderin ja Lotta Leiwon näille paikoille (blogitekstit kevään 2022 kenttätyömatkasta luettavissa englanniksi täällä ja suomeksi täällä). Yksi näistä torpista, Hietakangas, jossa T-Bonen äiti Brita Johanna asui lapsena, oli erityisen mieleenpainuva. Siellä kasvaa aivan kellarin jäänteiden edessä jättiläiskuusi. Puu on epäilemättä niin vanha, että sen on täytynyt olla siellä jo 1860-luvulla, kun T-Bone Slimin äiti oli kasvuiässä.

Man standing before a giant spruce in a forest.
John Hietakankaan kuusen luona. Kuva: Lotta Leiwo 2022.
Selfie of two men standing outside. The other has beard and long hair and other wears a cap.
John (vas.) ja Jukka Hilli. Kuva: John Westmoreland 2022.

Elokuussa 2021, Koneen Säätiön Lauttasaaren kartanossa vietetyn neljän kuukauden taiteilijaresidenssijakson huipentumana, yliopistonlehtori ja dosentti Kirsti Salmi-Niklander ja minä järjestimme maailman ensimmäien T-Bone Slim -seminaarin, joka pidettiin Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seuran tiloissa. Seminaari kokosi yhteen tutkijoita, muusikoita, taiteilijoita ja kirjailijoita esittelemään ensimmäistä kertaa Matti V. Huhdan elämää ja kirjoituksia kansainväliselle yleisölle. Lisäksi seminaari loi pohjaa tälle Koneen säätiön rahoittamalle “T-Bone Slim and the Transnational Poetics of the Migrant Left in North America”-hankkeelle. Ryhmämme on tuottanut runsaasti uutta tietoa T-Bone Slimistä. Olen innoissani yhteistyön jatkamisesta ja odotan innolla, että voimme jakaa ponnistelujemme tuloksia, uutta tutkimusta, musiikkia ja taidetta, laajemmalle yleisölle.

John Westmoreland esiintyi Taitedein yönä 18.8.2022 Helsingin yliopiston Topelian sisäpihalla yhdessä Luode-yhtyeen ja kansanmuusikko Emmi Kuittisen kanssa. Lue lisää esiintymisestä blogistamme täältä.