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

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!