Monday, February 10, 2014

"Swedish Diaspora": Travel story in Chicago Tribune

Excerpts from 1996 travel section article about Lindstrom, Minn.

June Sawyers. "Swedish Diaspora: Karl Oskar And Kristina's Minnesota Town Celebrates The Emigrant Experience." Chicago Tribune May 12, 1996

They look vulnerable yet strong, hesitant yet hopeful. The statue of the Swedish emigrants Karl Oskar and Kristina Nilsson at the foot of Lindstrom's main street represents the dual sides of the emigrant's dilemma. Karl Oskar faces forward, looking west to America, while wife Kristina looks east over her shoulder, back toward Sweden.

Karl Oskar and Kristina are the creations of the Swedish writer Vilhelm Moberg, author of the Swedish emigrant sagas "The Emigrants," "Unto a Good Land," "The Settlers" and "Last Letter Home." In the 1970s two of the books became the basis for the acclaimed motion pictures "The Emigrants" and "The New Land" starring Max Von Sydow and Liv Ullmann. It is their inspiring and sometimes tragic tale that has come to symbolize the Swedish emigrant experience. Karl Oskar and Kristina--the Swedish everyman and everywoman--represent the millions of faceless men and women who left Sweden to start over again in a strange land.

The Swedish presence is still strongly felt--and seen--in Lindstrom, a charming town near the Minnesota-Wisconsin border that was named for an early Swedish pioneer, Daniel Lindstrom. The awning of the city hall appears in the Swedish blue and yellow and even the fire hydrants are painted in the Swedish colors. The water tower is in the shape of a Swedish coffee pot. There's a Scandinavian doughnut shop, and the sign outside the Swedish Inn announces: "HAR SERVERAR VI RIKTIGT SVENSKT KAFFE!" ("We serve authentic Swedish coffee!") And, if you look in the right places, you just might see, as I did, another sign, impishly warning, "Caution Swedish Crossing."

Sally Barott, chair of the 1996 Chisago Lakes Area Swedish Immigration Jubilee Committee, estimates that the population of Lindstrom is half Swedish. Norwegians, Italians, Finns and Irish are also represented.

* * *

Spend any length of time in this part of the Midwest and you will detect a subtle yet distinctive Scandinavian lilt in the speech of the people, especially away from the urban centers (though not as pronounced perhaps as in the Coen Brothers' movie "Fargo," but certainly evident).

The Chisago Lakes area comprises Chisago City, Lindstrom and Center City. The first Swedes came to this part of east-central Minnesota in the early 1850s. The landscape of lakes, forests and valleys probably reminded many emigrants of their homeland. Swedish historian Lars Lungsmark has called Chisago County "perhaps the most Swedish colony in the United States and one dotted with the names of Swedish pioneers."

Vilhelm Moberg was a Swedish journalist and author with an interest in the scores of emigrants who left Sweden to settle in the new land across the ocean. In 1948 he came to the Chisago Lakes area to do research. He interviewed a number of old Swedes and Swedish-American families, lodging in Chisago City and biking back and forth to Lindstrom.

From the stories and information he collected, Moberg created the seminal characters of Karl Oskar and Kristina Nilsson from Smaland, Sweden.

* * *

Many of the pioneers that Moberg based his stories on are buried in the Chisago Lake cemetery in nearby Center City, their gravestone inscriptions carved in Swedish. The cemetery is located on the property of the Chisago Lakes Lutheran Church, itself a prominent landmark and the oldest Lutheran church in the area. It was the church the fictitious Karl Oskar helped to build.

But the most prominent landmark associated with Moberg is, of course, the Emigrants Statue.

The statue, a replica of the original in Karlshamn, Sweden, is the vision of Willard ("Smitty") Smith, a Lindstrom businessman, who in 1969 commissioned sculptor Roger David to design a copy of the statue of Karl Oskar and Kristina.

When Smith died in May 1975, he was buried as requested in the old Swedish Glader Cemetery on Glader Boulevard in Lindstrom--the same spot that author Moberg selected as the final resting place for Karl Oskar. Smith's plot was the first interment in the old cemetery since 1918.

The Karl Oskar and Kristina statue has become a pilgrimage site of sorts for many visiting Swedish and Swedish-American visitors. Every August (this year Aug. 16-18), Lindstrom celebrates Karl Oskar Days.

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