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.
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”.
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.