Category Archives: Sweden

Artifact

I created this hoax to defend myself from potential bodily harm on a tour of Sweden, playing concertina.

I created this hoax to defend myself from potential bodily harm on a tour of Sweden, playing concertina.

In the early 1990s I fell into a certain “company” of Scandinavian musicians in Seattle. Bleak as that may sound, it was an enjoyable few years in which I learned many things about the requirements of playing a hambo or polska. Most of the musicians were fiddlers, and they were taught by my girlfriend of the time, who was an expert in her field. As I wanted to play along, I brought out my wooden flute, made by my old friend Casey Burns, and I found that I was able to keep up with many of the melodies. But eventually I braved bringing out my English concertina, my main instrument at the time. Learning the tunes on the concertina was no problem for me. I just had to learn how to blend in to the ensemble sound.

Eventually, Skandia Folkdance Society was invited to tour a number of folk festivals in Sweden. Consensus in the group was that whoever wanted to go on the trip should be taken along, even if they couldn’t afford the trip. I couldn’t. Working as a beginning teacher in those days I routinely finished the month with less than thirty dollars in my bank accounts. I am eternally grateful that the society helped me buy my ticket so I could go along that summer. But I worried a little about bringing a concertina to those places of rigid tradition in Scandinavian dance.

It didn’t help when a Swedish concertina enthusiast I met in Stockholm marveled at my boldness. “They’ll kill you,” he quietly predicted.

Luckily I had done my research. Or, rather, I had done some artificing. If ever I were challenged about the authenticity of playing a squeezebox for Swedish traditional dancing, I would flash the button shown above. You can plainly see that this Viking era dragon is playing a squeezebox, perhaps even a concertina! I worked for hours to perfect the drawing that I later made into the button.

I need not have worried. Not only did I survive unscathed, but the Swedish concertina enthusiasts had me over for spaghetti (or some other traditional Swedish meal) and we had a good time. One big fellow tore the sweatshirt off his back and gave it to me. It had a rendering of a tattered horse’s head (of the English Morris Dance variety) and the words Eken Morris Dancers. Eken was apparently an old name for Stockholm. I still wear that shirt on cool evenings and I still smile about that evening when a bunch of unrooted folk enthusiasts shared some time and tales together.

Later during the trip I happened to find a poster of a painting of a May Day celebration. The painting, by a famous Swedish artist, dated from around 1880. The procession was packed with dancers in their traditional drakt, hauling a huge May Day tree to the site of their dance. At the head of the procession was a young dancer providing the music. He was playing a concertina.

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The Swedish Loggers

A logging crew from Angermanland poses before the camera of an unknown but expert photographer.

A logging crew from Angermanland poses before the camera of an unknown but expert photographer.

They strike a pose in front of a cluster of tiny log huts, horses collared and chained to sleds for dragging logs out of the woods. One man slings an ax over his shoulder, another reclines on the ground, peering at the camera between the legs of his companions. Although they try to look heroic, there are those amongst them who can’t cover their smirks and laughter. Two teenagers prove their maturity by puffing on pipes. These are workers. The only shirt that boasts a collar out of the whole bunch belongs to a dandy with an upturned mustache and a watch on a heavy strap tucked into the breast pocket of his striped shirt. He also sports new suspenders.

It’s the man in front, with a fixed steely glare, who stands out. He clutches a rifle in the hand that doesn’t hold a braided leash. His open coat drapes over a six-button vest with a watch on a chain tucked into its pocket, reminiscent of Wild Bill Hickok. Continue reading

Crab Creek Ranch

Danielson boys got around on horseback.

Oscar Danielson found out that making ends meet on his Lower Crab Creek homestead wasn’t the easiest thing to do. From the beginning, Oscar kept meticulous notes about his finances, even before leaving Renton to build his farm. His ledger is filled with minutia, and in addition to mundane expenditures for a growing family, the way the entries are written record Oscar’s assimilation into his new country. In the beginning his notations are mostly in Swedish, but over the course of several years, Oscar adopts more and more English phrases for his entries. Perhaps he had to share the book with a banker who didn’t understand Swedish!

There are a number of local history books that do a great job of describing life on an Eastern Washington homestead. One of them, Laura Tice Lage’s Sagebrush Homesteads actually mentions Oscar and his homestead. Ms. Lage relates a family story, probably learned from my father. In this tale the pioneers have decided they are losing too many crops to a plague of jackrabbits. My grandfather has an experience that demonstrates another unexpected problem concerning rabbits. Out in the field one day, with a young Walter perched on the seat of the buckboard, Oscar spots a jackrabbit. Continue reading

Crab Creek Homestead

Elmquists and Danielsons near Seattle, ca. 1914 Oscar F. Danielson holds baby Walter, front right. Edla stands near him, wearing the dark skirt.

In an earlier post to this blog (Illegal Immigrants) I introduced my grandfather, Oscar Fritiof Danielson. In this entry, I will sketch out the history of his farm on Lower Crab Creek. But first, a little about his background.

Oscar was born in a small town called Slatthog in southern Sweden in April 1885. A number of his brothers seem to have left the area, and Oscar followed. His arrival in America is shrouded in mystery. I found what appears to be his name on the 1910 census, as a boarder in a lumber camp at Avondale in King County. He is listed as a lumber worker, 29 years old. Continue reading

Narcolepsy and the Haunted Concertina

Some may call it odd, but I prefer to think of my skill at playing the English Concertina as merely quirky. This is an unusual instrument, to be sure, but it certainly fulfills my need to be unique…most of the time. And who was to know that the instrument was so well suited to me?

The English Concertina has an ancient history and a noble, scientific modern descent. It was invented by Sir Charles Wheatstone, whose accomplishments in the field of electricity continue to influence electronics to this day. Have you ever heard of the Wheatstone Bridge? Not unless you are an electrician or a concertina player. I am the latter.

Let nobody disparage the influence of music in your life. For many, music is a sedentary or second-hand pursuit. For me, as well as for most musicians, it plays a crucial role in my state of being, and it has directed the course of my living.

When I returned from Ireland in 1982, I brought home my first English concertina. It was the product of one night’s lodging at the Youth Hostel in Glasgow. Continue reading