Events John Westmoreland News

New Interpretations: Night of the Arts 2022

Author: Kirsti Salmi-Niklander & LOTTA LEIWO

New Interpretations – Night of the Arts 2022

(Jos haluat lukea tekstin suomeksi, löydät sen täältä.)

On a hot summer evening on August 18 our project organized an event that was part of the Night of the Arts concept in Helsinki. Night of the Arts is part of three-week Helsinki Festival, a night when anyone can organize an art event in the city. The theme of our event was “New interpretations”.

Our project’s artistic John Westmoreland and his “found friends”; Luode band plus folk musician Emmi Kuittinen performed to a crowd of approximately 100 in Topelia courtyard, a beautiful garden in the University of Helsinki city centre campus. Most of the crowd enjoyed the gig at Thirsty Scholar’s terrace. Before their performance, our PI Kirsti Salmi-Niklander presented our project to the audience. You can watch the presentation on Unitube or read the transcript below. After the introduction you find two recorded videos of the musical performance.

People sitting on ground, band playing: keyboardist and guitarist.
People listening John Westmoreland perform at Topelia. © Lotta Leiwo 2022.
Female speaking to a microphone. Band set: keyboards, drum set. A van and Topelia building in the background.
Kirsti Salmi-Niklander presenting the project. Click the image to view the presentation video (mostly in English). © Lotta Leiwo 2022.

”Welcome to this music event presented by the research and artistic project T-Bone Slim and the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America funded by Kone Foundation. This project explores the transnational poetics and networks of the migrant left in North America through the unique character of T-Bone Slim. This was the pseudonym of Matti Valentininpoika Huhta (1882–1942), who was one of the most seminal figures in the US Labor movement. He was born in Ashtabula, Ohio, 1882. His parents and most of their siblings had emigrated from Kälviä, Central Ostrobothnia a few years earlier. He died in 1942 in New York by drowning to the East River. T-Bone Slim was a legendary hobo, songwriter, poet, and columnist in the periodicals of the IWW (the Industrial Workers of the World) movement. He wrote his texts in English, even though we now have discovered at least one text which he might have written in Finnish in a local newspaper in Ashtabula when he was about 20 years.

T-Bone Slim’s writings were forgotten for a long time. They were published in newspapers and periodicals of the IWW movement. In 1960s T-Bone Slim’s writings inspired the Chicago surrealist movement and the Civil Rights movement. But, he stayed out of the limelight and his identity remained as a mystery for most of his readers. Few years ago, John Westmoreland, the musician and artist in our project, discovered that T-Bone Slim actually was his great-granduncle Matt, who was kind of black sheep of the family. Our project has originated with John’s residence period funded by Kone Foundation last year.

In our artistic and research project we trace the life and networks of T-Bone Slim, and the social, cultural, and political movements in which he operated. Our project group is very international: Myself and our research assistant Lotta Leiwo work here in Topelia, and we have focused on T-Bone Slim’s family history and his early years, based on materials in National Library and Finnish Literature Society. We also made an exciting field trip to Kälviä in May. Saku Pinta is Finnish-Canadian researcher based in Thunder Bay and Winnipeg. Marija Dalbello is originally from Croatia, but now a professor of Information Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Saijaleena Rantanen from Arts University and has been working on IWW songs, and Samira Saramo from Migration Institute of Finland are also involved in the project. Owen Clayton from University of Lincoln in the UK has written so far, the only academic articles on T-Bone Slim’s literary works, and he is a collaborator in the project. Our project functions mostly virtually, and we have explored archival and library materials both in the US and in Finland. Next year we will finally meet face-to-face in Finland in our final seminar. There will be events both in Helsinki and in Kokkola and Kälviä in mid-August, so stay tuned! Our project has a website and a blog, Facebook page and a Twitter account where we publish the results of our research.

John Westmoreland has been working on new interpretations of T-Bone Slim’s songs, and his album “Resurrection” will be coming soon. Two songs have already been released on YouTube: music video “Harvest Land” and “Weary Years”. John has also made research on the background of these songs. He will introduce the texts of the songs he’s performing. Tonight, we will hear some of these new interpretations of T-Bone Slim’s songs. John will be accompanied by “Luode” band, Antero Kulju and Jussi Villgren, and folk musician Emmi Kuittinen.”

After Kirsti’s presentation, John Westmoreland & co. performed new interpretations of T-Bone Slim’s texts.

“Popular Wobbly”

If the video is not showing, you view it on YouTube here.

In “Street Beggars”, folk musician Emmi Kuittinen performs a lament inspired by T-Bone Slim. Emmi introduces the lament:

“The short lament piece in this song is created following Karelian lament style in my own language, Finnish. T-Bone Slim’s text “Street Beggars” inspired me to create this lament.”

Translated lament lyrics:

“Listen how the wretched vagrants,
Are forced to wander through miserable alleys,
Look at the poor fellow-travellers,
Who gather terrified glances.

Who could help those dejected citizens,
To get the most merciful lodgings,
Oh, where are the fairest nurseries to be found,
To all the good fellow travellers.

Oh, have we tried enough together,
That we may all live in integrity,
That not only the lucky ones,
To take all the happiness for themselves,
All the power, all the wealth,
And rule all alone.

O, merciful divine powers of ancestors,
Have mercy,
To the downtrodden inhabitants,
And to the wretched wanderers.”

If the video is not showing, you view it on YouTube here.

John Westmoreland Research Trips

Finding My Finnish Roots

Author: John Westmoreland

Finding My Finnish Roots and a Lost Chapter of Family History

My great great grandparents—Matti and Brita Johanna Huhta—left Kälviä Finland in 1879 to seek a new life in the United States. They settled in Ashtabula, Ohio along the coastline of Lake Erie where they raised a family of five children which included their eldest son, Matti V. Huhta (T-Bone Slim), and their youngest daughter, Sofie Huhta, my great grandmother. Neither T-Bone, Sofie, or any of the other Huhta children ever had the chance to set foot in their ancestral homeland.

In fact, it seems that none of the subsequent generations of Huhta descendants made it back to Finland until the summer of 2018 when I had an opportunity to make my first visit to the old country. That trip came about in a rather interesting way. At the time, I had been focusing on the release of my first album, Cast Firesending emails, making phone calls, and generally working on promotion of the record. Simultaneously I was also trying to unearth as much information as I could about my recently rediscovered Finnish American relative, the hobo songwriter, poet, and IWW columnist known as T-Bone Slim. At times it seemed I was neglecting my responsibilities to the album project and was instead devoting most of my energy to following the trail of scattered breadcrumbs which outlined the life of my great granduncle. By doing so I hoped that I would piece together a more complete picture and understanding of who he was, where he came from, and thereby pay homage to his forgotten legacy and uncover a lost chapter of my own family history.

Black and white photo of an elderly lady in dark dress standing on grass by trees
T-Bone’s mother Brita Johanna Huhta. Photo: Westmoreland Family archive.
Sepia coloured old photo, portrait of two men. One man is sitting and another is standing. Curtain mural background

T-Bone’s Father (sitting). The identity of the other man is unknown. Photo: Westmoreland Family archive.

One day, as I was writing emails attempting to book shows supporting the release of Cast Fire, I had a bit of a strange idea pop into my head. Why not reach out to some people in the Finnish music scene and see if there might be any opportunities for me to perform my own original music and new versions of T-Bone Slim’s songs in Finland? It seemed like a long shot, but I also felt a kind of mystical and synchronistic sense that the spirit of T-Bone Slim was somehow being resurrected in these times—as if something auspicious was in the air… So, I acted on the impulse, and through internet searches found the names and information of some Finnish booking agents to contact. I wrote up a few emails telling the agents who I was, giving a brief overview of T-Bone Slim, and asking if they might like to book me a summer tour in Finland. However, soon after I sent those messages, I began to question the soundness of my little email campaign. I started to wonder if I might be coming off as some entitled American expecting to find open doors in Finland just because his great grandmother’s older brother was an iconic hobo of Finnish descent. So I went to bed that evening feeling like a fool, sure that my emails would be completely ignored. But to my great surprise when I checked my inbox the next morning there was a response from an agent in Helsinki saying that my project sounded very interesting, and he would be happy to help! He mentioned that a book had recently been published about T-Bone Slim by author Ville Juhani-Sutinen, and that a well-known Finnish Hip Hop Artist, Paleface, had just formed Laulava Unioni a band that plays Finnish IWW songs including ones written by my great granduncle. The agent put me in contact with both Ville and Paleface and helped me to get shows lined up for the summer.

My first performance in Finland was with Paleface in Porvoo during late August 2018. At some point in the show Karri told the audience that “We have here the flesh and blood of T-Bone Slim!” And got the crowd to call out “Welcome home John!” It was a really heartwarming and meaningful experience for me; to come to a land and culture that is totally new and experience such an open-hearted reception. I went on to have a great run of shows in various cities and towns around Finland and finished the trip by filming a music video for one of my original songs The Sparrow with Finnish director and cinematographer Cristal Alakoski. I returned to the States that fall with a lot of enthusiasm and began planning a new recording project, a collection of songs written by T-Bone Slim.

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 and John in Tampere 2022. Photo: 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 playing by Antti Männynväli’s T-Bone Slim Tear Gas mural in Kangasala 2021. Photo: 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 creating T-Bone Slim graffiti while John plays Weary Years. Photo: Tommi Virtanen 2021.

I’ve come back to Finland every summer since, with the exception of 2020. On these trips I’ve had beautiful experiences performing my own renditions of T-Bone Slim’s songs at venues, festivals, and even busking on the streets of Helsinki. I’ve also met many wonderful musicians, artists, and researchers who have become friends and collaborators, and I’ve learned more than I ever hoped to know about the culture and circumstances in which my Finnish ancestors lived.

Man performing on a stage with a guitar. Plants and flowers, three persons playing and singing in the background.]
John performing at Valkeakoski Workers Music Festival 2022. Photo: Esa Kuloniemi 2022.

One of the highlights of my travels in Finland so far has been the opportunity to visit “torppa” sites in Kälviä where my Huhta great great grandparents lived before they immigrated to the U.S. A local historian in Kälviä, Jukka Hilli, guided myself and fellow T-Bone Slim researchers Kirsti Salmi-Niklander and Lotta Leiwo to the locations (blog entries about this trip in English here or in Finnish here). One of these torppas, Hietakangas, where T-Bone’s mother Brita Johanna lived as a child, was particularly memorable as there’s a giant spruce tree right in front of the remains of the cellar. It’s a tree which is undoubtedly old enough that it must have been there in the 1860’s when she was growing up.

Man standing before a giant spruce in a forest.
John with the spruce tree at Hietakangas. Photo: Lotta Leiwo 2022.
Selfie of two men standing outside. The other has beard and long hair and other a cap hat.
John (left) and Jukka Hilli. Photo: John Westmoreland 2022.

In August 2021, as the culmination of a four month artist residency at the Kone Foundation’s Lauttasaari Manor, university lecturer and title of docent Kirsti Salmi-Niklander and I hosted the first ever T-Bone Slim seminar which was held at the Finnish Literature Society. It brought together academics, musicians, artists, and writers to present the life and work of Matti V. Huhta to an international audience for the first time. The seminar also helped lay the groundwork for this project, ‘T-Bone Slim and the Transnational Poetics of the Migrant Left in North America’, which is being funded by the Kone Foundation. Our team has produced a wealth of new research. I’m excited to continue this collaboration and look forward to sharing new findings, music, and art which arises from our efforts.

John Westmoreland performs on the Night of the Arts on 18 August 2022 at Topelia courtyard, Helsinki with Luode band and folk musician Emmi Kuittinen. See more details on our events page or on Facebook.


Research Trips

Kenttätyömatka Kälviälle

Kirjoittaja: Lotta Leiwo

Kenttätyömatka Kälviälle

T-Bone Slimin vanhemmat ovat kotoisin Kälviältä, Keski-Pohjanmaalta. Tästä syystä Kirsti Salmi-Niklander, John Westmoreland ja Lotta Leiwo suuntasivat toukokuussa 2022 Kokkolaan ja Kälviälle kenttätyömatkalle. John on käynyt Kälviällä aiemminkin, mutta Kirstille ja Lotalle matka oli ensimmäinen. Matkan aikana vierailimme Kälviällä sekä lisäksi tapasimme Keski-Pohjanmaan Siirtolaisuushankkeen ydinporukan kanssa Kokkolassa ja keskustelimme hankkeidemme tutkimus- ja tapahtumayhteistyöstä. Hankkeemme loppuseminaari järjestetään Kälviällä ja Kokkolassa elokuussa 2023 (lue lisää täältä). T-Bone Slim Symposiumissa tarjoamme sekä tutkimus- että kulttuurisisältöä niin tutkijoille kuin laajemmallekin suomalaissiirtolaisuudesta ja T-Bone Slimistä kiinnostuneelle yleisölle.

Tässä tekstissä kerron keväisestä kenttätyömatkastamme ja esittelen hieman T-BoneSlimin sukuhistoriaa Pohjanmaalla keskittyen hänen äitinsä puoleiseen sukuun. Tämä teksti on suomennettu ja pieneltä osin muokattu sekä päivitetty käännös blogissamme 20.5.2022 julkaistusta englanninkielisestä tekstistä.

T-Bone Slimin vanhemmat ovat Brita (Priitta) Johanna Huhtaketo/ Fast(backa) ja Matti Matinpoika Leppihuhta/ Huhta/Arlund. 1800-luvun nimet saattavat aiheuttaa sekaannusta ja epäselvyyttä, koska ihmiset vaihtoivat sukunimeä asuinpaikan mukaan. Esimerkiksi T-Bone Slimin äidin sukunimet Huhtaketo ja Fast(backa) viittaavat hänen asuinpaikkoihinsa Kälviällä. Suomenkielisten nimien lisäksi nimistä oli usein myös ruotsinkielinen versio, jota käytettiin virallisissa yhteyksissä kuten tuomiokirjoissa. Tuohon aikaan tuomiokirjat kirjattiin pääasiassa ruotsiksi. Nimien perusteella tehtävää, siirtolaisiin liittyvää selvitystyötä hankaloittaa lisäksi se, että muuttaessaan maasta, monet suomalaiset käänsivät tai muuttivat nimensä paremmin uuteen, englanninkieliseen kotimaahan sopivaksi. Esimerkiksi T-Bone Slimin isä Matti muuttui Yhdysvalloissa Mattiksi tai Matthewksi. Näin ollen Suomen kirkonkirjoihin kirjatuilla suomen- tai ruotsinkielisillä nimillä ei välttämättä aina löydy suoria vastineita Yhdysvaltojen väestölaskentarekistereistä.

Matkamme aikana vierailimme T-Bone Slimin äidin puolen sukuhistoriallisissa maisemissa Kälviän maaseudulla. Oppaanamme oli kotiseutuyhdistyksen aktiivi Jukka Hilli., joka on myös perinteentuntija. Hänellä on laaja tietämys paikallishistoriasta ja häneltä löytyikin tarina jokaiseen paikkaan sekä henkilöön liittyen!


Ensimmäinen paikka, jossa kävimme, oli Fastbacka. Fastbacka sijaitsee Kälviällä hieman Välikylän kylästä etelään. Paikalla ei ole enää mitään rakennusten rakenteita jäljellä ja alue on nykyään hiekkatien alla. Priitta Johannan perhe asui täällä vuoteen 1865 asti. Isä Antti Efraiminpoika Fastbacka (ruotsinkielisissä tuomiokirjoissa Anders Efraimsson Fastbacka) työskenteli tuolloin Klapurin talon renkinä. Klapuri rakennutti Hietakangasiin pienen metsäpirtin, “niittupirtin”, ja teki vuokrasopimuksen Fastbackan perheen kanssa. Heistä tuli torppareita eli vuokraviljelijöitä Erkki Jaakonpoika Klapurille (Eric Jakobsson Klapuri).

Person standing by a dirt road, forest.
John Westmoreland seisomassa hiekkatien varrella paikalla, jonka on arvioitu olevan Fastbackan mökin kohdalla. © Lotta Leiwo 2022.
Three people looking at paper documents outside in the forest.
Jukka Hilli (vas), Lotta Leiwo (kesk.) ja John Westmoreland (oik.) tutkivat Fastbackaan liittyviä dokumentteja. © Kirsti Salmi-Niklander 2022.


Fastbackan perhe muutti Hietakankaan torppaan vuonna 1865. Siten heidän sukunimensä muuttui Hietakankaaksi. Torpan vuokrasopimuksen aloitusmaksu oli 600 Suomen markkaa, mikä vastaa nykyrahassa noin 2710 euroa. Paikka sijaitsee melko lähellä Fastbackaa, vain noin 800 metriä linnuntietä pitkin. Perhe asui Hietakankaan torpassa viljelellen pieniä metsälaidunpeltoja ja tehden vuosittaisia päivätöitä Klapurin talolle 40 markan arvosta. Lisäksi heillä oli lupa hakata puita omaan käyttöön ja myytäväksi ympäröivästä metsästä:

Mehtää alisarasta saapi torppari viljellä asetuksen mukaan polttopuuks. Ylisarasta saapi (torppari) neljä syltää halkoja hakata vuodesa myytäväks. Ja lehtiä tehjä niin paljo kuin tarvihtee. Huoneitten tarpeiks hirsiä saapi ottaa Ylisarasta.” (Lainaus paikallishistoriallisesta aineisto, kopio hankkeen hallussa)

Tällä paikalla on jäljellä joitakin kiviä torppaan kuuluvien rakennuksen kellareista ja perustuksista.

Two people in forest
Jukka Hilli (vas.) ja John Westmoreland (oik) tarkastelevat riihen perustuksia Hietakankaalla. © Lotta Leiwo 2022.
Person in the forest, beard moss.
John Westmoreland ja vanha kivimuuri Hietakankaan mailla. © Lotta Leiwo 2022.

Hietakangas sijaitsee noin 15 kilometrin päässä Kälviän kirkolta (kuva on vuodelta 1897), joten on mahdollista, että perhe ei matkustanut Kälviän kylään kovinkaan usein.

Nykyään Hietakankaan maisemaa hallitsee komea vanha kuusi. Onkin todennäköistä, että T-Bone Slimin äiti kasvoi tämän vanhan kuusen kanssa, jota mekin pääsimme koskemaan matkallamme. Ilma tuntuu olevan täällä paikalla todella puhdasta, sillä puissa kasvaa paljon naavaa.

A person touching a tree trunk
John Westmoreland koskettamassa vanhaa Hietakankaan kuusta. © Lotta Leiwo 2022.


1860-luvun lopulla (tarkka vuosi ei ole tiedossa) perhe päätti siirtää pienen hirsirunkoisen mökkinsä Hietakankaasta Huhtaketoon omin luvin. Toisin sanoen Antti Efraiminpoika varasti Klapurin talolta kyseisen torpparakennuksen ja rikkoi vuonna 1865 tehdyn torpparisopimuksen. Tuohon aikaan alueen asukkailla oli käytössään vain metsäpolkuja ja kahden metrin levyinen kärrytie, mitä pitkin kuljettiin kylästä toiseen. Näin ollen salaa suoritettu muutto oli varmasti vaivalloinen, sillä linnuntietäkin Hietakankaalta Huhtaketoon on lähes viisi kilometriä.

A small stream.
Kälviäjoki virtaa Huhtakedon vieritse. Huhtaketo on kuvasta katsottuna oikealla. © Lotta Leiwo 2022.

Myös Huhtakedossa on jäljellä joitakin jäänteitä asuinrakennusten kellarirakenteista. Paikka sijaitsee pienellä mäellä Kälviäjoen varrella ja on nykyisin pienten peltojen ympäröimä. Kotiseutuyhdistys on pystyttänyt Huhtakedon rakennusten jäänteiden viereen kyltin, jossa kerrotaan, että Huhtaketon vuokratilan omisti Hillin talo ja että sitä asuttiin vuodesta 1777 alkaen. 1800-luvulla torpan vuokraamisessa oli pieniä taukoja, mutta kaikkiaan paikalla asui yhteensä neljä eri perhettä.

Metallic sign in a yard
Kotiseutuyhdistyksen kyltti Huhtakedon kellarin jäänteiden vieressä. Taustalla uudempi, 1900-luvulla rakennettu lato. © Lotta Leiwo 2022.

Huhtakedon torppaa ympäröivien peltojen luona on myös suuri siirtolohkare, jonka päällä Huhtaketon lasten kerrotaan leikkineen kotia. Huhtaketossa vieraillessamme saimme myös tietää, että oppaamme Jukka Hilliin isomummo toimi Huhtaketon perheen pikkupiikana.

Person standing on a big rock
John Westmoreland seisomassa leikkikivellä. © Lotta Leiwo 2022.

Vuonna 1869 Erik Jaakko Klapuri haastoi Antti Efraiminpoika Fastbackan/ Hietakankaan oikeuteen torpparakennusten luvattomasta siirtämisestä:

Talollisen Erik Jaakonpoika Klapurin vaatimuksesta haastetaan torppari Antti Efraiminpoika Hietakangas eli Huhtaketo Kälviän Välikylästä  Kokkolan ja Kälviän pitäjien lakimääräisille syyskäräjille , jotka alkavat 23. marraskuuta käräjätalossa Kokkolan kaupungissa vastaamaan mainitun Erkki Klapurin vaatimukseen, että hänen on heti luovutettava mainitun Erik Klapurin maalla oleva metsätorppa omistajan viljelykseen.” (Lainaus paikallishistoriallisesta aineisto, kopio hankkeen hallussa)

Klapuri vaati “korvausta tämän pois siirrtämästä torpan asuinrakennuksesta sekä muusta, mikä asiaan voi liittyä”. Käräjäoikeuden tuomari määräsi Hietakankaan torpan pakkohuutokauppaan toukokuussa 1872, ja torppa palautui Klapurien hallintaan Erik Klapurin tehdessä huuhtokaupassa korkeimman tarjouksen, 250 markkaa (nykyrahassa noin 1167 euroa). On vielä hieman epäselvää, mitä Huhtakedon perheelle tapahtui tämän jälkeen. Priitta Johannan veli Antti muutti Amerikkaan vuonna 1872 ja Priitta Johanna seurasi perässä vuonna 1879. Kaikkiaan kahdeksasta Huhtakedon lapsesta kuusi muutti Yhdysvaltoihin vuosina 1872–1890. Toistaiseksi on epäselvää myös se, tapasivatko T-Bone Slimin vanhemmat jo Suomessa vai vasta Yhdysvaltoihin muutettuaan.

Kokemuksellinen tieto tutkimuksen apuna

Kälviän matkamme aikana kuulimme monia mielenkiintoisia tarinoita T-Bone Slimin sukuhistoriasta ja lisäksi paikallistarinoita Isovihasta, verenseisauttajista, parantajista ja alueen tietäjistä. Lotta Leiwolle, joka on tutkinut Kälviän kansanperinteen aineistoa Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seuran arkistossa, oli erityisen kiinnostavaa kuulla tarinoita suullisesti kerrottuna. Kaiken lisäksi Jukka Hilli tarjosi meille mitä herkullisinta Köyrisen keekiä (paikallisen perinnereseptin mukaan leivottua hapankakkua) ja pääsimme myös tutustumaan Välikylän nuorisoseuran taloon. Tärkeintä meille tutkijoille (herkullisen kakun lisäksi!) oli saada käsinkosketeltava kokemus T-Bone Slimin sukuhistoriallisista paikoista: meidän oli mahdollista seistä samoilla mailla ja koskettaa samaa puuta kuin T-Bone Slimin vanhemmatkin. Vierailemalla näillä fyysisillä paikoilla ajallisesti kaukaisetkin tapahtumat ja henkilöt on mahdollista kontekstualisoida paremmin kuin pelkästään arkistoaineistoihin tutustumalla. Toisin sanoen kokemuksellinen tieto antaa paremman käsityksen paikoista kuin kuvat ja kirjoitetut tekstit. Taitavan ja tietävän oppaan kanssa paikat todella heräsivät eloon ja saimme kenttätyömatkaltamme enemmän kuin mitä osasimme odottaa!

Haluamme kiittää Keski-Pohjanmaan Siirtolaisuushankkeen Outi Järveä kenttätyömatkan järjestelyistä. Lisäksi haluamme kiittää Keski-Pohjanmaan Siirtolaisuushankkeen Kauppi Virkkalaa ja Hannu Pajunpäätä hedelmällisestä tapaamisesta sekä Keskipohjanmaa -sanomalehteä yhteistyöstä. Erityiskiitos Jukka Hillille kaikista tarinoista ja opastuksesta Kälviällä sekä paikallisen kansanperinteen pariin!

News Research Trips

Research Trip to Minnesota, Ohio, & Pennsylvania

AUTHOR: John Westmoreland

Research Trip to Minnesota, Ohio, & Pennsylvania

In late February and early March of this year, I left my home in North Carolina and headed northwest on an extensive T-Bone Slim research trip that would take me as far as the Twin Cities in Minnesota, then eastward to Ashtabula, Ohio and Erie, Pennsylvania, and ultimately southward back to the more temperate climate of Pittsboro, North Carolina. I should say that while I have not yet experienced a proper Finnish winter, I feel like the climate of Minneapolis during February has given me a bit of a taste of what that might be like…

The main goal of visiting the Twin Cities was to spend time at the Minnesota Historical Society’s Gale Family Library exploring their extensive newspaper archives from Duluth, Minnesota during the early to mid 20th century. T-Bone Slim is known to have spent quite a bit of time in Minnesota, especially Duluth, where he visited and spoke to classes of students at Work People’s College during the early 1930’s. There is even the possibility that he himself may have attended the school as a younger man, however more research needs to be done in order to confirm or refute this hypothesis.”Among the collections at the Gale Family Library are issues of the Duluth News Tribune—a mainstream regional English language periodical—as well as the more radical Industrialisti. The Industrialisti was a Finnish language IWW publication that had at times a readership consisting of 10,000 or more working class Finnish Americans.

I wanted to examine the Duluth News Tribune’s articles from 1912–1920 because of assertions by multiple sources that T-Bone Slim—before he started writing for the IWW—was a mainstream top reporter for a Duluth based paper. The story went that T-Bone was writing a column reporting on an IWW meeting but that the paper’s editor twisted and spun the story to make it portray the IWW in an unfavorable light, which prompted him to quit on the spot and join the union. To date no concrete evidence exists for this story, and I did not come across any articles written by Matti V. Huhta in the editions of the Duluth News Tribune that I was able to view. Nevertheless, T-Bone Slim is known to have had criticism of editors. He once wrote in the Industrial Worker, “I don’t believe there is any necessity for a news censor. Editors have been very careful not to let any news get into the papers.”

New Discoveries I

Fortunately, the Gale Family Library’s Industrialisti collection did result in a new discovery, one that reinforces an understanding that T-Bone Slim indeed had significant connections to the Finnish diaspora in America and to Finnish IWW members in particular. On October 17, 1942, the Industrialisti printed a news item reporting on his death, which included his given name, Matti Valentine Huhta, as well as information about his family background in Ashtabula, Ohio and Erie, Pennsylvania. The article was written by “Jallu,” a Finnish IWW correspondent in New York City, who obviously knew T-Bone Slim personally. Perhaps it will be possible to identify this “Jallu” through Finnish IWW membership records, something that researcher Saku Pinta is currently investigating.

Coming back to Ohio and Pennsylvania again was a wonderful experience. This was actually my third trip to Ashtabula and Erie. The first had been a family pilgrimage with my mom in 2018, when we visited family grave sites, the homes where our relatives had lived, and for the first time met our cousins Vanessa and Liza, who are direct descendants of T-Bone Slim. On this most recent trip I was very happy to have the opportunity to spend more time with my newfound cousins, and to even have Vanessa and Liza join me while conducting research at the local libraries. We were happily surprised to discover that since our last visit to the Blasco Memorial Library in Erie, Pennsylvania a digitization project had taken place which scanned all the historical newspapers from the late 19th century up to contemporary times and made them searchable through keywords in a library database. This fortunate development allowed us to easily search terms such as “Huhta” and see what hits came up.

Excerpt from Erie Times-News. Two dark images and text. First image: street view. Second image: 14 men in a group photo. seven are standing in back and seven sitting in front
Hanna Docks workers circa 1900, Matti Huhta is standing in the second row, fifth from the left. Erie Times-News (published as Erie Sunday Times), January 13, 1952, page 51. Erie County Public Library, Blasco Memorial Library.

We found quite a few interesting new research items including a photo of T-Bone Slim posing with the other workers of the Hanna Docks circa 1900, and a notice of a “Non-Support Charge” filed against him by his wife Rose on December 7, 1910. The non-support notification mentions that because the defendant had no money for bail, he was kept in jail until the scheduled court proceeding. Also of note is that the warrant of arrest was issued by an Alderman Klemm. Could this Alderman actually be the same George Klemm who is standing directly to T-Bone Slim’s left in the 1900 photo?

Text: "Non-Support Charge. M. Huhta was arrested this morning on a charge of non-support, preferred against him by his wife, Rose Huhta, the warrant being issued by Alderman Klemm before whom the information was made. The defendant was arraigned before the squire and n default of bail was committed to jail for a hearing December 8, at 3 p. m.
The non-support notification. Erie Times-News (published as Erie Sunday Times), December 7, 1910, page 2. Erie County Public Library, Blasco Memorial Library.
New Discoveries II

Another discovery from the Erie Blasco Library archives was an article from July 30, 1903, titled “Slashed With A Razor”. It recounts a rather gruesome knife injury inflicted upon a Finnish man, August Sulstrom (Sohlström), which occurred at the boarding house run by T-Bone Slim’s mother, Johanna Huhta, at 309 Cascade St. The event is reported to be veiled in mystery as Sulstrom claimed he didn’t know for sure who slashed his face from beneath the left eye through his cheek and down into his mouth cavity. The story goes that around midnight Sulstrom and another Finn, Emil Matson, had been drinking heavily and got into a quarrel, which resulted in Matson slashing Sulstrom with a knife. Both were arrested, and Sulstrom stitched up on the inside and outside of his mouth. Ultimately two other Finns residing at the Huhta boarding house—Victor Wielander and Tobias Hokkanen—were also brought in to give their account of the event. The paper states that Wielander told the authorities, “He saw Matson striking Sulstrom, but could not see whether Matson had a knife in his hand or not, but he heard Sulstrom call out to Matson not to strike him with a knife.” Ultimately the victim of the slashing, Sulstrom, told the judge in the matter that he felt he was partially to blame. Both Matson and Sulstrom were fined $5, with Matson incurring an additional $15 bill to pay for the medical costs of Sulstrom’s injury. The article concludes by stating, “Emil Matson, who was covered with blood when arrested last night on the charge of being drunk, and who was thought to have been connected with the affair, satisfied his honor that he knew nothing about the matter and was dismissed by settling the costs.”

Make of that what you will, but in any case, this strange and violent story certainly offers some insight into the kind of environment in which T-Bone Slim, his siblings and other Finnish American children of their generation came of age.

John Westmoreland

“Weary Years”: A Retrospective 101 Years Later

Author: John Westmoreland

“Weary Years”: A Retrospective 101 Years Later

On June 11th, 1921, exactly 101 years ago, a song appeared in the pages of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) periodical, the Industrial Worker, titled “Twenty Years”. It was credited to T-Bone Slim, and as of this writing, represents the earliest known publication of his work in the IWW’s flagship newspaper.

T-Bone Slim's text "Twenty Years"
T-Bone Slim’s text in Industrial Worker 11.6.1921.

Unlike the majority of T-Bone Slim’s songs-and indeed the vast majority of those found in the IWW’s infamous Little Red Songbook—it doesn’t appear to be based on any popular tune, or traditional melody from the past, as had been common practice among songwriters such as Joe Hill, the IWW martyr who penned classic labor anthems like “The Preacher and the Slave” and “There Is Power in a Union”.

The idea of using well established melodies—be they religious hymns, revolutionary or civil war era songs, or contemporary hits of the day—and rewriting the lyrics, with an infusion of irony, sarcasm, and revolutionary sentiment, allowed IWW songwriters to breathe new life and spirit into music that was already deeply ingrained into the consciousness of western industrialized society.These new lyrics often flipped the script on the original song’s meaning and implored the working class to rise up collectively against the shackles of the capitalist system and the “industrial overlords” ruling it.

One significant benefit of this songwriting practice was that rank-and-file IWW members, who might not have any formal music training, could pick up a copy of the Little Red Songbook and easily begin singing together as a group. The songs were published using their new titles and printed beneath would be the name of the original melody in parentheses.

However, in the case of T-Bone Slim’s “Twenty Years” (Or “Weary Years” as I’ve taken to calling it) there is no subheading pointing to a previously written melody. Instead, beneath the title, there is only a question to the reader, “Who knows this tune?”

“Weary Years” Today

Putting that question aside for the moment, let’s have a listen to the song. This recording and video marks its first known release—exactly 101 years to the day after the lyrics were published on June 11, 1921.

John Westmoreland’s music video “Weary Years”. If the video doesn’t show properly, click this link to view the video on YouTube.

I must say that it’s been a truly unique and deeply meaningful experience for me to have the opportunity to collaborate with my long forgotten great granduncle; composing and arranging music to accompany the words he wrote over a century ago… And I’m sincerely grateful to the musicians, sound engineers, videographers, and artists who contributed to this work in the US and Finland, and to fellow T-Bone Slim researcher, Dr. Owen Clayton, who brought this song to my attention in 2018. “Weary Years” is one of 9 songs comprising a new, full album of T-Bone Slim’s songs and poems, Resurrection.

Trial of Life to Trail of Life

So why did T-Bone Slim choose the title “Twenty Years”? What is he referring to? Well, it’s certainly up for debate, but perhaps one important clue lies in the first verse. Astute listeners and readers may notice a discrepancy between the original published phrase “Trial of life” and what I sang on the modern recording, “trail of life”. Admittedly, this was not a conscious decision on my part, but seeing as I’ve been on the “trail” of T-Bone Slim for quite a while, I hope Uncle Matt forgives me for the artistic indulgence. In any case, what “Trial” might he be referring to? T-Bone Slim researcher, Dr. Saku Pinta, has a good theory about this. It involves the massive show trial against IWW leaders during the first half of 1918…

Since its founding in 1905, the IWW’s numbers and influence had grown significantly over the years. As their organization and effectiveness increased, they also found themselves evermore in the cross hairs of government and corporate powers. This came to a head most brutally during the period of the first World War.

Because of their uncompromising antiwar stance and their successful efforts to organize in key war time industries such as copper mining and lumber, the IWW, or “Wobblies” were viewed as Enemy No.1 by the Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Justice Department, and the aptly named, War Department.

On September 5th, 1917, just months after the US entered into the worldwide conflagration, and Congress had passed the draconian Espionage Act, the Bureau of Investigation undertook an unprecedented operation. In the span of 24 hours, they raided every IWW office across the country, in what may well be the widest ranging search warrant ever executed in US history. Ultimately, the Justice Department would go on to successfully prosecute one hundred and one IWW leaders. After a months long trial, all of them were found guilty in less than one hour of jury deliberation, and fifteen received the maximum sentence, “Twenty Years” in prison…

The Espionage Act was brought into existence and first implemented as a means to brutally attack and cripple the IWW, but today it continues to be wielded against modern dissidents, whistle blowers, and publishers, in particular those who expose US war crimes.

If T-Bone Slim were to write the song today, perhaps he would title it “One Hundred and Seventy Five Years”.

—“Who knows this tune?”

News Research Trips

Research Trip to Kälviä

Author: Lotta Leiwo

Research Trip to Kälviä

T-Bone Slim’s parents are from Kälviä, Central Ostrobothnia, Finland. Therefore, Kirsti Salmi-Niklander, John Westmoreland and Lotta Leiwo headed to Ostrobothnia this May for a research trip. John had visited Kälviä before, but for Kirsti and Lotta this was the first time. During the trip the group visited Kälviä and met with Central Ostrobothninan Immigration Project in Kokkola to discuss research and event collaboration. Our project’s final seminar will be held in Kälviä and Kokkola in late summer 2023 (stay tuned!) with research and cultural content. In this text I discuss our trip to Kälviä and present some of T-BoneSlim’s family history in Ostrobothnia focusing on his mother’s side.

T-Bone Slim’s parents are Priitta (Brita) Johanna Huhtaketo/ Fast(backa) and Matti Matinpoika Leppihuhta/ Huhta/Arlund. Names from the time might be confusing as people changed surnames based on their place of living. For example, T-Bone Slim’s mother’s surnames Huhtaketo and Fast(backa) refer to the locations she lived in Kälviä. After emigrating, some Finns translated or altered their surnames to accommodate to the new, English-speaking home country. For example, T-Bone Slim’s father Matti changed to Matt or Matthew.

During our trip we visited T-Bone Slim’s mother’s side family history sceneries in rural Kälviä. Our guide was Jukka Hilli, a local history society active. Mr. Hilli is a traditionist who has a vast knowledge of the local history, and he had a story for every place and person!


The first location we visited was Fastbacka. It is located south from Välikylä village in Kälviä. The place does not have any building structures remaining as it is now under a dirt road. Priitta Johanna’s family lived here until 1865. At the time, the father Antti Efraiminpoika Fastbacka (Anders Efraimsson Fastbacka in Swedish judgement books) worked as a farm hand for Klapuri house. Klapuri built a small forest meadow cottage, “niittupirtti”, in Hietakangas and made a tenant farm contract with Fastbacka family and they became “torppari”, or tenant farmers, for Erkki Jaakonpoika Klapuri (Eric Jakobsson Klapuri).

Person standing by a dirt road, forest.
John Westmoreland standing by the dirt road in an estimate location of Fastbacka. © Lotta Leiwo 2022.

Three people looking at paper documents outside in the forest.
Jukka Hilli (left), Lotta Leiwo (middle) and John Westmoreland (right) examining Fastbacka documents. © Kirsti Salmi-Niklander 2022.


The Fastbacka family moved to Hietakangas tenant farm in 1865. Thus, their surname changed to Hietakangas. The price for starting the tenant farm contract in Hietakangas “torppa” was 600 Finnish marks (FIM) equivalent of 2710€ (1867 USD). The place is located quite near Fastbacka, only some 800 m (0,5 mi.) via bee line. Family lived in Hietakangas torppa farming small forest meadow fields and working day labor for the Klapuri house for 40 FIM worth a year. Additionally, they had an agreement of chopping wood for their own use and for sale from the surrounding forest. In the premises, some traces of the basements of the tenant farm buildings are left.

Two people in forest
Jukka Hilli (left) and John Westmoreland (right) examining the remains of a barn building in Hietakangas. © Lotta Leiwo 2022.

Person in the forest, beard moss.
John Westmoreland by a stone fence in Hietakangas. © Lotta Leiwo 2022.

Hietakangas is located at a distance, roughly 15km (9,3 mi.) from the Kälviä church (image is from 1897), therefore it is probable that the family didn’t travel to the village often.

Today the Hietakangas landscape is dominated by a handsome old spruce. It is likely that T-Bone Slim’s mother grew up with this old tree that also we were able to touch on our trip. The air seems to be really clean here as lots of beard moss grows in the trees.

A person touching a tree trunk
John Westmoreland touching the old Hietakangas spruce. © Lotta Leiwo 2022.


The family decided to remove their small log cottage from Hietakangas to Huhtaketo with their own permission. In other words, Antti Efraiminpoika broke the tenant farm contract and stole the tenant farm building(s) from the Klapuri house. At the time, people had merely footpaths and a 2-meter-wide cart path in the region. Therefore, the secretly conducted move had to be a struggle as merely the bee line from Hietakangas to Huhtaketo is 4.7 km (3 mi.).

A small stream.
Kälviäjoki river by Huhtaketo. Huhtaketo is located right. © Lotta Leiwo 2022

Also, in Huhtaketo, some traces of the basements of the tenant farm buildings are left. The place is on a small hill by the river Kälviäjoki and is nowadays surrounded by small fields. On the remains of Huhtaketo buildings, local history society has set up a sign stating that the Huhtaketo tenant farm was owned by Hilli house, it was inhabited from 1777 with a small gap in the turn of the century and altogether four families lived there.

Metallic sign in a yard
Local history society sign on cellar remains in Huhtaketo. A newer, 20th century barn in the background. © Lotta Leiwo 2022

Person standing on a big rock
John Westmoreland standing on the “play stone”. © Lotta Leiwo

By the fields surrounding the Huhtaketo premises, there is also a large erratic boulder on which the Huhtaketo children are told to have been played house. While visiting Huhtaketo, we also learned that Jukka Hilli’s great grandmother worked as a little maid for Huhtaketo family.

In 1869, Erkki Jaakonpoika Klapuri sued Antti Efraiminpoika for relocating the tenant farm building(s). Klapuri demanded “a compensation for the removed building and anything else that might be involved”. District court judge ordered the Hietakangas tenant farm to a forced sale in May 1872, and the tenant farm was returned to Klapuri house. It is still a bit unclear what happened to Huhtaketo family after that. Priitta Johanna’s brother Antti was first from the family to emigrate to America in 1872 and Priitta Johanna followed in 1879. Altogether six of eight Huhtaketo children emigrated to US in 1872–1890.

Family History in The Newspapers

A short sidetrack from our research trip. Some of the later events in Huhtaketo family life in Finland can be traced from the newspapers. An interesting detail is their old churn that made it to the Pohjalainen newspaper on July 10, 1891. In short, the news piece states that the churn is 130 years old and tenant farm’s wife Briitta Maria (Priitta Johanna’s mother) has inherited the churn from her mother who inherited it from her mother. Both the churn pot and piston are made of spruce. Churn bottom has a marking “y[ear]. 1760”. This news peace indicates that the Priitta Johanna Huhtaketo’s parents, Antti Efraiminpoika and Briitta Maria, stayed as tenant farmers in Huhtaketo after 1872 events. This is supported by Kokkola newspaper on April 15, 1905 as (Briitta) Maria Huhtaketo announces an auction on four cows and movable property of Huhtaketo tenant farm. In 1911 widow Maria Huhtaketo is declared under guardianship in Suomalainen Wirallinen Lehti newspaper.. Maria Huhtaketo passed away the next year in May.

Another interesting detail are Antti Efraiminpoika’s tobacco habits that got some column space from Pohjalainen (10.7.1891, in Finnish, look for Antti Huhtaketo, the churn is also mentioned in this paper on the same page) and Tammerfors Aftonblad (14.7.1891, in Swedish, look for Anders Huhtaketo) newspapers among three others (Uusi Suometar, Sanomia Turusta and Waasan Lehti). The newspapers state that “this old grandpa” places his (chewing) tobacco by a stove to dry up after chewing it and then uses it with his pipe. After smoking it he puts the rest of the tobacco back into his mouth to get out all the “tobacco power”.

These small newspaper pieces can be important clues in tracing T-Bone Slim’s personal and family history as well as networks of circulating newspaper texts. We will get back to these materials later in our blog.

Experiential Knowledge for The Research

During our trip to Kälviä, we heard many interesting stories about T-Bone Slim’s family history and additionally local legends about Great Wrath, blood stoppers, healers, and wise men of the region. Especially for Lotta Leiwo, who has studied the Kälviän folklore material in Finnish Literature Society’s archive, it was very interesting to hear these stories told orally. On top of everything else, Mr. Hilli offered us the most delicious Köyrisen keeki (sour cake baked with local traditional recipe) and we were also able to visit Välikylä Youth Society Hall.

What was most important for us as researchers (besides the delicious cake!) was to have the spatial and experiential experience of T-Bone Slim’s family history locations. Visiting the actual sites, even temporally distant events and people can be placed in a context better. This kind of experiential knowledge gives better understanding of the places than pictures and written texts. With such a skilled guide as Jukka Hilli, the places really became alive and we definitely got more than we came for!

We want to thank Keski-Pohjanmaan Siirtolaisuushanke (Central Ostrobothnian Immigration Project) and Outi Järvi for organizing the research trip to Kälviä for us. Additionally, we want to thank Kauppi Virkkala and Hannu Pajunpää from the immigration project for the fruitful collaboration kick-off meeting and Keskipohjanmaa newspaper for other collaboration. Special thanks to Jukka Hilli for all the stories and guidance to Kälviä and its folklore.

Three people by a field.
John Westmoreland (left), Jukka Hilli (middle) and Kirsti Salmi-Niklander (right) standing by the Huhtaketo fields. © Lotta Leiwo 2022.

Ashtabula materials

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.

Who Killed T-Bone Slim? PART 2

AUTHOR: Saku Pinta

Who Killed T-Bone Slim?

You can read the first part here.

The October 24, 1942 issue of the Industrial Worker made T-Bone Slim’s death widely known in an article entitled “T-Bone Slim, IWW Humorist, Passes Away.” The information published in the Industrial Worker was, however, apparently first uncovered by a certain Anna Mattson – presumably someone who knew Slim well enough to go on a fact-finding mission – and published nearly two weeks earlier, on October 12, in the Industrialisti.

As the Industrialisti article explains, T-Bone Slim was a well-known writer who worked as a deck scow captain in New York, but belonged to the “hobo army” of agricultural workers who criss-crossed the continent, working and travelling by freight train, with no fixed address. Many of the paper’s readers had wondered why Slim hadn’t published anything at all over the summer. Rumours began circulating that he had drowned. Anna Mattson – a member of the Finnish IWW-affiliated Tarmo Club on 2036 Fifth Avenue in Harlem (a location that Slim was known to frequent and had in the past used as a mailing address) – took it upon herself to find out.

In her investigation, Mattson contacted one of the officers of Slim’s other union, the Deck Scow Captain’s Local 933-4 of the International Longshoremen’s Association, who confirmed the drowning. With a membership of between 700 and 1000 workers, Local 933-4 had the same two paid officials from its formation in 1934 up around 1960, or a short time after the local disaffiliated from the ILA. These two union officials were Hugo Kaston (secretary-treasurer) and David Graham (delegate).

Did one of these union officials from Local 933-4 identify Slim’s body? They certainly would have been familiar with him. As Mattson found out, Slim’s last known address was 2 Stone Street in Lower Manhattan – the address of the ILA union hall. A sizeable minority of deck scow captains chose to stay on the living quarters aboard their scow on a more or less permanent basis, maintaining a shore address for mail.

Who identified the body was not a central concern. The Industrialisti article mourned the loss of T-Bone Slim as a valuable organizer and educator for the cause of industrial unionism, and concluded that his death “added to the number of casualties in industrial accidents on the alter of the capitalist system of exploitation and profit.”

This raises another question: was it a workplace accident that claimed the life of T-Bone Slim? It is a possibility. Other New York Wobblies – above all those who frequented the lively IWW Marine Transport Workers Industrial Union hall on 134 Broad Street – and many of those who knew him well similarly concluded that his death was an accident.

Cause of death: workplace hazards?

Work on the waterfront and maritime industries can be dangerous, even with the many occupational health and safety improvements that have been implemented over the years, so one can only imagine what working conditions were like in the 1940s. Working alone, as was typical for T-Bone Slim and other deck scow captains, is a significant hazard as is fatigue. Slim in fact complained about being overworked in the months leading up to his death.

In the September 20, 1941 issue of the Industrial Worker, Slim explained that the unusual three-month gap between his columns in the paper was due to the long hours he was working. He claimed that at one point he had worked a 62.5 hour shift without sleep, joking that he might “be the sole cause of all this unemployment we hear about.” As wartime production ramped up in the maritime industry, the imposition of long hours became much more common. In a March 13, 1942 article – less than a month from T-Bone Slim’s death – one Finnish shipyard worker and New York correspondent to the Industrialisti complained of the 7 day work weeks and 10 to 11 hour days.

Belonging to a radical union like the IWW was another well-known workplace hazard, especially in the mobster-controlled New York waterfront of the 1940s. In March 1942, the New York mafia began to act with impunity on the waterfront thanks to a deal they had struck with a seemingly unlikely ally: the United States federal government. “Operation Underworld”, the code name of the top secret organized crime deal, was designed to protect northeastern American ports from enemy sabotage and to ensure labour peace by violently crushing militant unions and leftist union organizers. As Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn have documented in their book Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press, “between 1942 and 1946 there were 26 unsolved murders of labor organizers and dockworkers, dumped in the water by the Mob, working in collusion with Navy Intelligence”. Similarly, political assassinations carried out by mafioso, like that of the Italian-American anarchist organizer Carlo Tresca – shot point blank in an unsolved murder a little more than a year after Slim died – were not unheard of during this period. For this patriotic service the crime boss Lucky Luciano, who controlled the waterfront and longshore unions from his prison cell, was freed after the war.

Was T-Bone Slim the victim of mobsters? This too is a possibility. Consider the following, almost surreal, occurrence.

So, who killed T-Bone Slim?

The May 18, 1942 issue of Industrialisti reported that the body of a Finnish deck scow captain had been pulled from the Hudson River on May 4, eleven days before Slim’s body was discovered. The body was that of George Blad (alias of Yrjö Lehti), an active member of the Tarmo Club in Harlem who had gone missing sometime between the evening of April 17th and the morning of the 18th. Blad who, despite being slightly younger (42) at the time of his death than Slim (62), was in many ways his doppelganger. Both had “hoboed” around the continent working various jobs. Both worked as deck scow captains on the New York waterfront. Both belonged to the IWW and, presumably, to the same ILA local. They may have even known each other. Both had Finnish ancestry, Blad having been born in Finland, Slim having been born to Finnish immigrant parents. And astonishingly, Blad too was a poet, but he wrote in his native tongue for the Finnish-language IWW press.

The death of two IWW poets on the New York waterfront, whose bodies were recovered within eleven days of each other. Strange indeed. Evidently nobody had made this unusual connection at the time, again, due to the 5 month gap between T-Bone Slim’s death and his death becoming widely known, so it did not raise any suspicions.

So who killed T-Bone Slim? Perhaps the only thing that we will ever know for certain is that he and others, like George Blad, did not die of natural causes. They were either victims of direct violence – sanctioned by the powerful – or had succumbed to some form of the indirect, “slow violence”  so brutally common to working-class life in the twentieth century: unsafe and unsanitary working conditions, starvation wages (or the impacts of what today might be called the social determinants of health), minds and bodies ground down over years of hard work and uncertainty.

Who Killed T-Bone Slim? PART 1

AUTHOR: Saku Pinta

Who Killed T-Bone Slim?

“To say the least, blackout is a promise, a prophecy, foreboding eternal darkness.” These chilling, and perhaps even cryptic words, penned by T-Bone Slim (born Matti Valentininpoika Huhta) appeared in his semi-regular column, published April 4, 1942 in the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or “Wobblies”) union.

The grim “eternal darkness” that Slim evoked turned out to be all too prophetic, as they would be among his last known words to appear in print. The Finnish-language IWW newspaper the Industrialisti reprinted the column that they appeared in six days later, and then he fell silent. A little over one month later – on the early evening of May 15, 1942 – the lifeless body of T-Bone Slim was recovered from the East River near Pier 9 in New York City.

While the exact date of his death is unknown, the autopsy report produced by the Office of the Medical Examiner – describing an unidentified white male “found floating in water, undetermined circumstances” – estimated that the body had been in the water for about four days. This suggests that Slim passed away on or around May 11th – exactly eighty years ago today.

It is unknown how the medical examiner determined the length of time that the body was in the water. It is not even known who identified the body. Like so many aspects of T-Bone Slim’s enigmatic life it seems that once one mystery is unravelled, another puzzle soon emerges to take its place.

The final spring of Slim’s life, in the city that never sleeps, is no exception. An examination of the most recent discoveries of his final weeks and days is a reminder that “beyond the walls of intelligence, life is defined.” We may never get the answers that we are looking for, but that shouldn’t stop us from looking.

Slim’s last column provides a starting point. Is there deeper meaning behind this “eternal darkness”? Did T-Bone Slim foresee his own death?

Last column in the Industrialisti

To place this passage into context, the “blackouts” T-Bone Slim discussed refer to the blackout and dim-out drills that began in New York in December 1941.These drills began soon after the bombing of Pearl Harbor that same month – along with the entry of the United States into the Second World War – as precautions against German U-boat attacks and possible bombing raids.

In his final column Slim mentions the danger that U-boats posed to sailors on the North Atlantic and the fact that the last three ships to be sunk by torpedoes were north of Norfolk, Virginia. Over the span of around eight months in 1942, German U-boats sank some 500 American ships – killing over 5000 sailors – along the U.S. Atlantic coast in a disastrous, and lesser-known today, series of attacks.

“When New York City is bombed, say May 10-20, you may be sure I will not run.” Slim continued, “I’d be an awful donkey, were I to skedadle, good as my insteps are. No, I would give them the bronx cheer and stand my ground.”

Slim maintains a fatalistic yet defiant tone here. Not only will he not run, but he will stand his ground. However, there is something unsettling about the fact that dates when he expected New York to be bombed are within the date range of when his death and when his body was found. The fact that Slim’s father – with whom he shared a first name and an occupation as a maritime worker – had drowned after plunging into the waters of Erie Bay from Hanna Dock in Erie, Pennsylvania in August 1901, in an apparent suicide, certainly adds a tragic, macabre dimension to Huhta family lore.

Yet the dark tone of Slim’s writing would not have seemed out of the ordinary at the time. It only seems strange with the benefit of hindsight, because the death of T-Bone Slim only became known to the Wobblies and others five months after his body was found in the East River.

Read “Who Killed T-Bone Slim? PART II” here.


Welcome to our blog!

Author: PI Kirsti Salmi-Niklander

The project: what you can expect?

In this research blog we will present our research materials and interpretations, and reports on archival tours and fieldwork. Our project explores the transnational poetics and networks of the migrant left in North America through the unique character of “T-Bone Slim”. Matti Valentininpoika Huhta (1882–1942), better known under his pseudonym “T-Bone Slim”. He was a legendary hobo, songwriter, poet, and columnist in the periodicals of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World). T-Bone Slim’s writings went on to inspire the Chicago surrealist movement and the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. However, he stayed out of the limelight and his identity remained as a mystery for most of his readers.

The idea for this project originated during John Westmoreland’s Kone Foundation residence period in May – September 2021. An important event was the symposium “T-Bone Slim (Matt Valentin Huhta 1882–1942) – a poet, a radical and a hobo”, streamed at Finnish Literature Society on 30 August 2021. The symposium brought together researchers, artists and activists from Finland, the U.S. and Great Britain, and was the first academic seminar on T-Bone Slim. John Westmoreland continues his artistic work on the new interpretations of T-Bone Slim’s songs in the project, in collaboration with Paleface and Laulava Unioni.

Laulava Unioni’s version of T-Bone Slim’s ”Popular wobbly” first published on their Facebook page on 6.9.2021. Translated to Finnish by Karri Miettinen, transcription by Ossi Peura. 

The blog: what you can expect?

Pile of booklet bindings
Example of our material: Booklets and translated literature published in Ashtabula, T-Bone Slim’s childhood town in Ohio, in the turn of the century. Most of these old booklets are bind as odd volumes. Available at the National Library of Finland. Photo: Lotta Leiwo, 2022.

We will explore different networks, communities, and contexts which T-Bone Slim acted in, and which affected his life history and his writing. These networks and communities include his family history in Kälviä, Central Ostrobothnia; his childhood, youth and family life in Ashtabula Harbor, Ohio, and Erie, Pennsylvania; his studies in the Work People’s College in Duluth; his life as “a hobo”, literary networks and involvement in the IWW labor movement; his last years in New York.

Example of our material: T-Bone Slim’s manuscript. T-Bone Slim approx. 1934–1942. Click the image to view it in full size. Available at Modern Manuscript Digital Collection, Newberry Library.

These networks will provide also wider perspectives on the frictions, boundaries, and possibilities in immigrant communities. We will explore these issues in a series of blogs, based on new archival findings, and new interpretations of the old materials.

The blog posts will be short, popularized texts about our research introducing our materials, research trips, Westmoreland’s artistic work, and much more.

Welcome to follow us and T-Bone Slim on this journey!