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

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.

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.