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Midsummer and 105th Swedish Day in Chicagoland

Good Templar Park in Geneva, Illinois has celebrated Midsummer on Father’s Day since the community bought the park 90 years ago in 1925.


Thousands were in attendance again this year — possibly the largest annual Swedish event in the state of Illinois — with room for 2,000 cars to park. The festival also summons many nostalgic reflections of midsummers past. Some of us have memories of celebrating midsummer in Scandinavia — along with Christmas and Easter, Midsummer is one of the major Swedish holidays.

My family used to celebrate midsummer with a majstång (maypole or midsummer pole) at the Klockars Farm in Lexby and sometimes in front of Klintegården, our ancestral farm near Göteborg. Marzipan cake, “kaffebröd” (coffee cake) and cookies were served with coffee and “sockerdricka” (a soda similar to 7-UP) or “Solo,” a soda with a touch of orange.

We did song-dances around the maypole. My father played the accordion. Daisies, bluebells, other flowers and greenery made the maypole festive. Once we took the train to a folkhögskola (a Nordic high school, originally for mostly rural populations and grown-ups) in Floda where many danced in Swedish folk costumes.

Then my parents and I went for a nine-month sojourn to visit America on the Drottningholm Ocean Liner in December of 1946. While traveling on the Drottningholm Swedish-America Line (SAL) we saw whales and were a bit worried about German mines in the Atlantic. We had company with many Jewish people from concentration camps in Germany. I still vividly remember that they had numbers tattooed on their arms. The ship blowing the horn and leaving “Betongskjulet” (a.k.a. the America shed, the relatively new SAL terminal) in Göteborg was very dramatic as many people were screaming and crying. Families fleeing Europe became separated, as America would not accept anyone with any ailments. Sweden welcomed all refugees — thousands of starving children from Finland, Holland and other countries. Some could only speak Swedish when they finally returned to their home countries and in some cases were sent to Swedish speaking schools there.

Many of the refugees on the ship stayed up during the night in the large social rooms as they were afraid to be locked up below deck. They had starved terribly in the German camps for years as slave laborers. There were orange peels everywhere since oranges were not available during the six years of WWII. Sweden could help its neighbors with food, and sheltered many refugees who arrived after the war.

We celebrated Christmas with my “faster” (paternal aunt) and family in Livingston, New Jersey. Then we continued on to visit my uncle Karl-Erik Christenson in Franklin Park, near Chicago. It was all a big adventure both for a young boy like me and for my parents. We brought gifts from many neighbors who had relatives in Chicago.

The second largest Swedish city in the world
The winter of 1946-1947 was very cold with lots of snow in Chicago, then the summer was very hot. Mom went in the bathtub often to cool off as hardly anyone had air conditioning. People were sleeping outside on their lawns. My mother repeatedly said: “If I get out of this hot place I’ll never come back.”

I remember going downtown from our rented home at 10725 S. Longwood Drive in Chicago. We went to the Chicago Theater, where they had a film, a live show and another film — and air conditioning! The famous Danish baritone opera singer Lauritz Melchior sang and a heavyset lady from American television entertained. When we got out, we could have fried eggs, so we went to the next movie house.

My uncle Karl-Erik brought us to several Swedish summer outings in 1947— including Swedish Day in Good Templar Park, the Viking Picnic in Gurnee and the Old Folk’s Day (De Gamlas Dag) in July at the Swedish Home in Evanston. One very distinct memory of Swedish Day was that children had pony rides, which fascinated me. The Viking Order owned a farm for retired members in Gurnee. They had a wood floor in their dance pavilion, which was easier on the feet than a cement floor. We enjoyed that floor for many years for old time dancing after we returned to stay permanently in Chicago in 1949.

In the two years back in Sweden I finished elementary school and was confirmed in the medieval gem of a church in Partille, near Göteborg. My father wanted to return to America for financial reasons.

Our return to Chicago in 1949
We did return to America, and after a few years we came back to Chicago where we joined the International Organization of Good Templars (IOGT) in 1957. I started the Swedish Newcomer Society of IOGT for young immigrants, helping them find work and a place to live. We entertained with Swedish circle dances and it soon became a folk dance group, lauding the IOGT principles at every performance.

For several summers we had a Midsummer fest with a maypole at the IOGT camp adjacent to Good Templar Park with its 57 Scandinavian summer cottages. We had sack jumping contests and other such games. One year, Stig Hallberg got the assignment to supply pies for a pie-eating contest. They were put on a table and contestants were getting ready, when we discovered the pies were not cooked. We all got a good laugh out of that.

Many young people would come for the weekend programs and dances and stay in unoccupied cottages. We had a mini store in the community house that would sell things like eggs, bacon and bread on the weekend. On Sunday morning my parents, Nisse and Gullan, would dish out breakfast from our cottage, and my father would often play accordion for dancing after the evening programs.

At one Saturday night program, my dad raffled off a box of two live chickens. It was a 25 cent raffle. The chickens were quiet in their box on the piano, and when Arne Andersson from Kungsbacka, Sweden won the box, two cackling chickens jumped out. He said: “What am I to do with them, I live in one room in Chicago?” A member who had a farm in Rockford got the chickens. The hen had even laid an egg while in the box.

Swedish Day
The very first Swedish Day in 1911 was celebrated in a park near Lake Michigan in Evanston – that's 105 years ago. Then it was in Ravinia Park, Glencoe for a rental of $5,000 for the day. Finally, it was at our own park, the 60-acre Good Templar Park in Geneva, Illinois, originally a farm that we bought in 1925 — 90 years ago.

For a number of years, the day before Swedish Day my father would drive the park's antique truck to bring the young Swedish immigrants down to our Fox River front to pick flowers for dressing of the maypole, which was always topped with the Swedish and American flags. As on his parent’s farm in Sweden, he used a “lie” or scythe every year to cut the grass for the seating in our unique amphitheater — once called the most aesthetic and beautiful in the State of Illinois — carved out of a hillside with a natural brook running between the stage and audience.

We always urge Swedish Day visitors to see our gem of a historic museum (on the east side of the restaurant), pick up a membership application and talk to members diligently working in various booths serving Swedish pancakes, fried herring, meatballs, sloppy joes, hamburgers and other food as well as “mazariner” and coffee at the Kaffestuga and fruktkräm with milk dessert.

As an extra attraction, see the Viking ship and reenactment area and take a cottage walk to see our picturesque camp and cottages. The Viking ship is the second largest artifact from the World’s Fair in Chicago of 1893. Also, from Norway is the wooden replica of a Stavekirke (Stave church) later rebuilt in Little Norway, Wisconsin. Sweden and Norway had a dual monarchy for 100 years until it dissolved peacefully in 1905.

Another artifact is a copy of the Chinese Palace in Chicago’s China Town, which also stands near Stockholm, a surprise birthday gift by the Swedish king to his queen about 300 years ago.

Join IOGT to support our beautiful park and our no alcohol or other drugs lifestyle. Help continue the Scandinavian traditions of brotherhood, temperance and peace here and around the world. All are most welcome to enjoy this special event in Good Templar Park.

With Midsummer greetings,
Per-Hugo Kristensson
Jupiter Lodge No. 3, IOGT Chicago

For more info, see: www.swedishday.net


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