Bygdelag

Viknavaeringer: At Home in Norway and America

In previous blog entries we chronicled OUR NORWEGIAN SAGA—a trip taken in September 2018 that began in Bergen, continued to Kirkenes in the far north, and ended in Oslo. The focal point of the journey was a Hurtigruten cruise along Norway’s magnificent western and northern coasts. On this unforgettable cruise we visited many of the same sites that Joan’s immigrant great-grandparents, Casper and Gjertine Cornelius, had visited on their own memorable return to Norway in 1932, a trip they made after forging a full life of 45 years in America. (See Our Norwegian Saga: Arrivals and Departures)

A published account of Casper and Gjertine’s trip by John Rørvik entitled “Smaatræk fra Casper Cornelius’s Norges-Reise’’ (in Viknaværinger hjemme i Norge og i Amerika. Minneapolis, MN: Viknalaget, 1933, pp. 174-177) was written in Norwegian, and, thus hidden from those of us who know little of the language. The book in which this article appeared was published by the Viknalaget, a Norwegian-American bygdelag society formed in Minneapolis on February 8, 1924, comprised of members who had emigrated from Vikna, as well as their descendants. (Vikna was a former municipality in Trøndelag county that encompassed some 6,000 islands off the northwestern coast of Norway.) The Viknalaget’s first meeting, in fact, was held at Casper and Gjertine’s home at 2934 North Colfax Avenue in Minneapolis.

Casper’s childhood friend, John M. Johnson (Johan Michal Johannsen), accompanied them on the journey. (For more on John Johnson see our blog post: The John Johnson Cot)

Below, Greg has translated the Norwegian text of the article, opening the door to a greater understanding of the journey of remembrance that Casper and Gjertine took so many years ago.


See the article in the original Norwegian: Smaatræk fra Casper Cornelius’s Norges-Reise.


VIKNAVAERINGER [1]

At Home in Norway and America

HISTORICAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES

PUBLISHED BY VIKNALAGET, MINNEAPOLIS, MINN

EDITED BY JOHN RORVIK AND PAUL WOXENG –1933

The Casper Cornelius home, where the Viknalaget’s first meeting was held.

The Casper Cornelius home, where the Viknalaget’s first meeting was held.

Highlights of Casper Cornelius’s Trip to Norway

At the Viknalaget meeting on October 7, 1932, our former secretary, Casper Cornelius, who, along with his wife and childhood friend, John M. Johnsen, from Waldwin, Wis.,[*] had just returned from a trip to Norway, was greeted with a welcome never before seen in our laget. [2] Never have the Viknavaeringer of the twin cities come out in such strength. Everyone was excited to hear news from Norway and Vikna and from the old friends and loved ones over there. And old Casper was the man who could tell the tale.

On May 28 Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius, along with Mr. Johnsen, left New York on the Norwegian American Line steamship “Stavangerfjord,” and after a pleasant journey they arrived in Norway at the most delightful time of the year. They got to see our old homeland decked out in its most wonderful finery. We shall not take the time and space here to recount all the experiences Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius had on the voyage, but only touch upon the highlights, so to speak. In addition to greeting relatives and friends on Vikna, they visited many other places during the voyage, greeting those people whose relatives and friends they had come in contact with during their forty-six year stay in America. Upon arriving in Oslo, they were met by Professor O. B. Grimley, currently employed at the Norwegian American Line’s Oslo office. They spent a few days with Mr. and Mrs. Grimley in their cozy villa at Stabek on the outskirts of Oslo. During this time, they had the opportunity to visit many of the sights in the capital, accompanied by their hospitable host and his wife. During this time, they also had the opportunity to visit the builder Axel Bjørnstad in his office at the St. Olaf Hotel. Mr. Bjørnstad is a brother of Mrs. John Hendriksen of Minneapolis. He has the honor of having built the world’s northernmost church on Svalbard. They then traveled north to Trondheim. There they met many people well known to us. Among these were head teacher Karl Pettersen (who taught at Vikna more than 50 years ago) and teacher Julius Bolling with his wife and daughter. They also met Kaja Pettersen, a cousin of Miss Laura Eng in Minneapolis, as well as the tailor Ulsund (also a Viknavaeringer). Then they stopped and visited my (the author’s) two sisters, Miss Henny Johansen and Mrs. Marie Risvik; these two are residing in Trondheim, where they have a small sewing business. All of these friends and family, both in Oslo and Trondheim, sent greetings to the Viknalaget, as well as to their relatives and friends in this country.

Then their journey continued on to Vikna, the destination that mattered the most to them. What feelings must have stirred in their breasts when they saw those familiar places again? Mr. Cornelius did not speak much of it, but it must have seemed to him as if he had just woken up from a long slumber and found everything changed. People who were relatively young when he left Norway forty-six years ago were now almost all dead and gone. And of those who were his age, there were just a few remaining. However, the islands, islets, and seaweed-strewn beaches were still the same as they were before. The infinite sea, which encircled them like a wreath, rolled its massive foam-topped waves across the shore and sent foamy spray high as it broke onto the rocky coast of Ytter Vikna. At old Lysøviken the waves were probably not that loud now in the summertime. But he had probably heard enough of that familiar sound to stir his memories. It was at Lysøviken that his father closed his eyes for the last time about sixty or seventy years ago.

Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius used their time well on Vikna. They went from place to place talking to people and brought greetings from relatives and friends here in Minneapolis. We are very grateful to them for that.

“We had a great time on Vikna,” said Casper. “The people were very accommodating to us. The most striking virtues of the people there were hospitality and cleanliness.” (Hence, we can conclude that they had not become more acquainted with the catch that Fru Guru brought in of an evening, as described by the poet Petter Dass in “Nordland’s Trumpet.”)

After this short stay on Vikna, they traveled south again to embark on a trip to the North Cape on the “Stavangerfjord.”

It was during this trip that Mr. Cornelius had an interesting experience. He was able to tell an old story about Hestmunk Kallen, Lekkea Møia, and the Torghatten through the microphone of the ship’s radio station. [3] He had heard this tale when he was just a young boy, but despite the years he remembered it well. It was also during this tour that they had an experience that many of our Norwegian-born men and women have longed for over the years — the sight of the glorious midnight sun casting its golden gleam over land and sea. It seemed as if day was enshrouded in the peace of night. Hundreds of the ship’s passengers, people from all over the world, stood on the deck at the midnight hour, watching this enchanting sight as music echoed across the still sea. Imagine what a moment that was! We understand our friend Casper Cornelius very well when he says the memory of that night will never fade as long as he lives. During the Nordland trip they visited many locations, including Tromsø, where they visited the splendid museum there. They also went to Hammerfest, among other places.

After returning to Oslo on the “Stavangerfjord” they took the train north to Trondheim, where on this occasion they visited Johannes Horsfjord and his family in their home on Ladehammeren mountain. [4] Then they traveled on to Lekka, where they visited relatives and friends of Mrs. Cornelius. They attended a church service in the church where she was a member before she was married. They also visited Lars Beniamensen Kvalø. It was there at his farm that a little girl, Svanhild Hansen from Hortavær, was abducted by an eagle earlier that summer. After visiting everyone they knew on Lekka and in the surrounding area, they made a trip to Hortavær, where Mrs. Cornelius was born. Hortavær is a group of 365 islands, with a population of approximately 100. There is a chapel there built by an Englishman named Arnestad. Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius had a wonderful time among the fisher folk out there on Hortavær.

Finally they made a return trip to Vikna, where this time they visited Pastor A. Fikkan, Lensmann [5] A. Østnes, and Karl Severeide, as well as our old school teacher Jørginus Ofstad. They also gave their regards to Andreas Benjamensen, Hans Farnes, our friend Paul Woxeng, and many more, including my own mother and siblings in Rørvik.

Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius were well pleased with their journey to Norway. Indeed, happy are those who can make such a trip.

Casper Cornelius arrived in New York on September 22 after a pleasant return voyage across the ocean. At the Viknalaget meeting he offered greetings from Mr. and Mrs. Grimley, as well as from the Oslo Viknalaget. We are pleased to hear that they have a chapter there. We are also delighted that they have a Viknaværinger publication like we do. By the way, wonder if that Grimley fellow and his wife have anything to do with that! We know how interested they were in our magazine when they were living here in Minneapolis. (Mr. Grimley was our magazine’s first editor.)

We wish the Viknaværinger in Oslo good luck with their chapter. We hope that in the future Viknaværinger in Minneapolis and Oslo will become better acquainted.


[*] John M. Johnsen died on January 20, 1933, after an operation to treat a stomach condition.

JOHN RØRVIK


VIKNALAGET

The following excerpt provides some context for the publication in which the excerpt above appears. It is taken from Jacob Hodnefield’s Norwegian-American Bygdelags and their Publications, Norwegian-American Historical Association, 18: 163-222.

VIKNALAGET. In the summer of 1913 John W. Johnson of Baldwin, Wisconsin, wrote an article in Decorah-posten, appealing to immigrants from Vikna, Norway, to send a memorial gift to the old country, since May 17 of that year would be the centennial of the Norwegian constitution. A total of 2,834 kroner was collected at that time, but additions continued for a number of years. Out of this co-operation, a bygdelag came into being. The first meeting for organization purposes was held in Minneapolis February 8, 1924, at which 25 were present. A business meeting was held in Minneapolis March 7, 1924, at which a constitution was adopted. Officers elected were H. H. Ockwig, president; Adolf Larsen, vice-president; Casper Cornelius, secretary; John Caspersen, treasurer. Other founders were John M. Johnson, Alfred Berg, Jørgen Berg, Paul Woxeng, Arnold Jakobsen, Paul Sørø, and Edvard Hustad.

It was decided to hold meetings in Minneapolis the first Friday of each month, thus making the organization essentially a Minneapolis concern. There is generally a Christmas party and banquet and a summer picnic. Speeches, music, films, and so forth have featured the programs. The field of interest of the society was to be the immigrants from Vikna, Norway, their welfare in this country, the preservation of the Norwegian heritage through music, song, literature, art, and folklore, co-operation with the land of the fathers, and the growth and promotion of the bygdelag movement.

Three publications have been issued by Viknalaget. The first was Viknaværingens aarbok for 1927-1928 (Minneapolis, 1928). It has a foreword by John Rørvik and miscellaneous contents, including recollections of fishing enterprises, reminiscences of Christmas, items from Norway, and minor sketches. A second publication was Address Book of Viknaværinger in America (Minneapolis, 1929).

The third is Viknaværinger i Amerika, historiske og biografiske skildringer, by John Rørvik and Paul Woxeng (Minneapolis, 1933). There is a foreword by John Rørvik; emigrants from our district, by John Rørvik; the saga of Viknalaget; list of donors of the gift to the home district; nature, history, and community life at Vikna, by Paul Woxeng; the saga of emigration; [210] emigration to America, by John Rørvik; Norwegians in America; activities of the bygdelags; and miscellaneous sketches, verse, and greetings.

NOTES

[1] In Northern Norway the suffix  –vaeringer is added to place names to denote people from that place. Thus, Viknavaeringer = [those from Vikna].

[2] The viknalaget is a regional example of the Norwegian-American bygdelag, a society whose members come from the same community. For more on these quintessential Norwegian-American Associations see Jacob Hodnefield’s Norwegian-American Bygdelags and their Publications, Norwegian-American Historical Association, 18: 163-222.  (https://www.naha.stolaf.edu/pubs/nas/volume18/vol18_7m)

[3] Hestmunk is a reference to Hestmannen [the Horseman]. Kallen refers to the king Vågekallen and Lekkea Møia refers to Lekamøya, the Maiden of Leka, characters in a magical tale about how the granite mountain Torghatten (on the island of Torget in Brønnøy) came to have a hole all the way through it.

[4] The Ladehammeren is a small mountain near Trondheim on the Lade peninsula in Trøndelag County.

[5] In modern Norway a local police officer much like a county sheriff.

Our Norwegian Saga: A Rainy Day in Oslo

September 21, 2018

We had the benefit of good weather during most of our trip. Since the deluge in Bergen on the 14th, we had experienced only a little drizzle at Urke a day later. From Ålesund onwards we had unexpectedly clear skies. However, our luck didn’t hold. Or, perhaps, having left our ship, we were no longer under Njord’s protection. In any case, it was going to be a very wet day in Oslo today. Fortunately, knowing the forecast, we postponed our planned visit to the “Museum Island” at Bygdøy and opted to make this our “shopping day.”

Justin wanted to visit a men’s clothing store called Dressman. Joan and Andrea wanted to complete their list of gifts, a mix of “sorry you weren’t with us travel consolation gifts,” a Shreve Family tradition, and presents to save for Christmas.  We had started on this list in Bergen; but it is harder than one would think to buy items that are suited to the recipient and might be valued as a token of love, affection and, sometimes humor. It often takes the whole trip to complete the list if one puts any real thought into it at all. Greg has often tried to quash this tradition but has, so far, been overruled.

We wandered the streets, looking into store windows, entering whatever shop took our fancy. We ended up, at one point, in front of the University of Oslo buildings on Karl Johans gate where there was a small outdoor exhibition going on, a science education fair of sorts called forskningsdagen (research days) in Norwegian. From there we wandered up the street, across the Frederiks gate to the Slottsparken to view the Royal Palace at the end of a broad promenade. Casper, who with Gjertine had visited Oslo several times during the three-month 1932 trip to Norway, mentioned seeing all these same sites. In fact, they also visited a fair, the Norges Varemesse (Norwegian trade fair), while visiting the city.

The Royal Palace in Oslo, 2018

After that, we tried to find a café for a coffee and a bit to eat but, given the steady rain and frequent gusts of wind, everyone else seemed to have the same idea. We had to search, a bit damp and hungry for a café with some seats. Finally, traipsing down Rosenkrantz gate, we found the Kaffistova, a roomy café with plenty of seating. We had, quite by chance, wandered into an old Oslo fixture. The Kaffistova was built in 1901, and the back wall was covered in a variety of photographs depicting its earlier days. Greg had Norwegian apple cake, Justin and Andrea some sort of lemon cake, and Joan, of course, something chocolate—a decadent tort. Paired with café mochas, we soon replenished body and spirit. The Kaffistova is in a block with the Hotell Bondeheimen, built in 1913, and the Heimenes Husflid, a shop where you can buy authentic Norwegian handicrafts.

The name bondeheimen triggered a memory in Joan—her great-grandparents Casper and Gjertine had stayed in a hotel Casper called a bondeheimen in Trondheim in 1932. It seemed unlikely that there were hotel chains operating back then—but as it turns out there was a relationship. The Kaffistova and the Hotell Bondeheimen in Oslo and the hotel her great-grandparents had stayed at in Trondheim were facilities initially constructed and maintained by the bondeungdomslag movement, often translated as the “Peasant Youth Association.” The movement was a response to the rapid urbanization of Norway in the late nineteenth century. Bondeungdomslag affiliates established hostels, special cafés, organized social activities, and played an important role in the preservation of traditional culture under pressure from a rapidly modernizing society. There would have been bondeungdomslag hostels and coffee shops in many cities, although Oslo’s bondeheim and kaffistova appear to have been the first. Trondheim’s bondeungdomslag organization acquired a property called Gildevangen in 1911 and began to operate a hotel on part of it in 1928—the hotel still operates today. This is, without a doubt, where Casper and Gjertine stayed.

Once we understood the history behind the bondeungdomslag movement, some other puzzling entries in Casper’s journal became clear. During their three months in Norway, Casper and Gjertine attended what Grandpa Martin had translated as “Young People’s meetings.” Clearly the original Norwegian must have referred to meetings of the bondeungdomslag.

This organization served as the template for the Norwegian American bygdelag societies formed in the United States by Norwegian immigrants to create immigrant community networks, preserve ties to the past, and maintain cultural and linguistic connections to Norway. In 1924 Casper himself was instrumental in helping form the first bygdelag (Viknalaget) for natives and descendants of Vikna; he served as its first vice-president and later in other official capacities. It would make sense that he would have wanted to connect to those involved in the bondeungdomslag movement while in Norway.

We finished our city excursion by dropping into the nearby Husfliden shop. Husfliden-butikker are retail stores owned by an association of Norwegian artisans to sell a wide variety of handicrafts, including textiles, knitwear, carvings, jewelry and, in some places, the Norwegian ethnic costume called a bunad. Joan and Greg have found these stores endlessly fascinating, not the least reason being that the craft items are of greater quality and authenticity than the inventory of most souvenir shops—although the prices reflect that higher tier of craftsmanship.

We have a special interest in bunader, because of family photographs showing a member of Joan’s family—Great-Aunt Olga—wearing one. Norwegian bunader are an exotic complicated subject—due in part to the great regional variation in pattern, color, motif, jewelry style, and accessories.  Our visit to the Husfliden store, with its stunning display of brooches, earrings, and even bridal crowns, as well as embroidered, highly decorated bodices, skirts, caps, and purses reminded us of how beautiful a complete bunad ensemble is.

Great Aunt Olga Monseth (L) and friend. Minneapolis ca. 1915

When we left it was still raining, and the streets and sidewalks were littered with standing water. The walk to the subway and then from the subway to our apartment was at least partially a game of “dodge the puddle.” Still, we made it, got dry, and finished off the day with take-out from the nearby “Golden Dragon” restaurant.

It was not lost on us that we had moved in the space of an afternoon from the premises of a historical Norwegian kaffistova to a nondescript contemporary Chinese eatery. We had in one day both acknowledged Oslo’s past and embraced its present. Such shifts, such juxtapositions of new and old, of traditional and modern, perhaps these are, in great part, the very essence of a city like Oslo.