Karl Hjalmar Sigfrid Nystrom (1887-?)

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The notes for this photo say, “Swan’s brother Carl (lived in Texas).” This would be my great-uncle, the brother of Sven (Swan) Eugene Nystrom, my grandfather. Annoyingly, my grandfather had two brothers named Karl: Karl Edvard Emanuel Nystrom, born 15 Sep 1892, and Karl Hjalmar Sigfrid Nystrom, born 20 Sep 1887.

We know through records that Swan and Karl’s grandparents, Lars and Johanna Wedholm, immigrated to the United States from Sweden in November of 1897. With them were their daughter, Edla Charlotta; Edla’s husband, Carl Fredrickson; Edla and Carl’s daughter, Marget; and 8 year-old grandson, August Nystrom. August must be Johan August Mauritz Nystrom, Swan’s brother, born 11 Sep 1889. Swan was just a newborn at the time so he probably had no memory of these people since it’s doubtful that he ever met up with any of them once he made his own way to America in 1914.

In other words, the mother of Swan, Karl, and August was Karolina Wedholm Nystrom. Karolina’s parents were Lars and Johanna. Karolina’s sister was Edla. August was traveling with his grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousin. All of them were heading to Edna, Texas to meet Gustaf Wedholm, brother of Karolina and Edla, son of Lars and Johanna, uncle to Swan, August, Karl and Marget. Lars had $130, about $3,600 in 2017 money. Edla and Carl had $30, not quite $850 in 2017 dollars.

So what does this have to do with Karl?

By the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, everyone was living and farming in Ganado, Texas – Lars, Johanna, Gustaf, Edla, Carl and Marget. With them were 10-year-old grandson, August, and a 12-year-old grandson named Fritz. Who was this Fritz? Swan had no brothers named Fritz.

There is a record of a Karl Hjalmar Sigrid Augustsson Nystrom born 20 Sep 1887 leaving Stockholm for America in July of 1897. The name and birthdate fit and Karl’s father was indeed August Nystrom so the Augustsson makes sense. Karl was nine when he left for America. Three years later a 12-year-old “Fritz” shows up in the census. Are Karl and Fritz the same? I think so.

This would mean that Karl left Sweden in July, four months before the rest of the family. Did the nine-year-old Karl travel alone to meet his uncle Gustaf in Texas?

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Ganado, Texas depot. Perhaps the Wedholms and Nystroms came through here. Caption says early 1900s. Retrieved 24 Jun 2017 from http://www.historictexas.net/image/jackson-county/depot-ganado-texas-early-1900s.

Why Texas, with a climate completely unlike Sweden? Well, we do know, thanks to Wikipedia, that Ganado was originally a cattle ranching community, until Scandinavian immigrants bought land and started farming in 1891. Gustaf departed Sweden in 1891. It might have been hot but at least there were other Swedes.

By the 1910 census, almost everyone is living in Manistee, Michigan with its more familiar climate and geography – Lars, Johanna, Gustaf, and Edla’s family. Everyone except grandsons August and Fritz/Karl. I have yet to find out what happened to the two of them but it appears Fritz/Karl must have remained in Texas at least for a while if my grandparents had a photo of him as a grown man, noting that he lived in Texas.

I put this out there, hoping that maybe someday someone comes across this, someone who knew what happened to Karl Nystrom.

Sven (Swan) Eugene Nystrom (1897-1974)

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My only memory of my grandfather is kind of humorous now that I think about it but at the time it was horrifying.

My mom and I went to visit him in some old, dark, seemingly empty building that smelled strongly of a combination of illness and disinfectant. To get to his room, we had to take an old-timey elevator with a metal accordion gate that closed manually. This alone was terrifying. When we got there, my grandfather was in bed. At some point during the visit, my grandfather lifted his hospital gown to adjust it. In my mind’s eye, it billows up and floats down slowly. It being a hospital gown, of course, my grandfather didn’t have anything on underneath. I was only six at the time and had never seen a naked man before.

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Swan Nystrom with his grandson, Brian.

I now know that this was St. Catherine’s Continuing Care Center, run by the Sisters of Mercy on 9th and Forest in Omaha. It started out as maternity hospital in the Herman Kountze Mansion. It continued as a hospital from 1910 until 1964 when Bergan Mercy was opened, at which point St. Catherine’s started caring for patients needing long-term nursing. The mansion was torn down in 1950 when an addition was constructed but parts of the building date back to 1916, 1925 and 1945. No wonder it seemed old, dark and creepy. St. Catherine’s was sold to Grace College of the Bible shortly after my grandfather died there and they continue to occupy it to this day. (See “Patients Move to Mercy Care Center” pages 1 and 6 from the Omaha World Herald, July 8, 1977 for a history of St. Catherine’s.)

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Herman Kountze mansion, circa 1895 – the original St. Catherine’s. This doesn’t really have anything to do with my grandpa since it was torn down by the time he was there but I think old buildings and history are cool. From the collections of the Omaha Public Library.

I know almost nothing about my grandfather’s life and family in Sweden before he came to the United States in 1914 at the age of 17. Through records, I know that his parents were August Nystrom and Karolina Vedholm. They lived in Botkyrka parish outside Stockholm. He had numerous brothers and sisters, including three who all died just a few days apart in May of 1900: Artur, age 4; Thomas, age 6; and Gustaf, age 8. My grandfather was two years old at the time. For some reason I always imagine it was a skating accident and they fell through the ice and drowned. But because they didn’t all die at the same time, I’m guessing it was some sort of illness.

Two other brothers, Johan August Mauritz and Karl Hjalmar Sigfrid, came to the United States the year my grandfather was born, arriving with Karolina’s parents, Lars and Johanna, and Karolina’s sister, Edla, and Edla’s husband and baby daughter.

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Brothers of Swan Nystrom, names unknown but possibly Karl on the right. If so the brother on the left could be Johan.

When my 17-year-old grandfather arrived in the United States in 1914, his destination was Oakland, Nebraska. I don’t know why he chose Oakland or who he might have known there. Lars, Johanna and Edla initially settled in Edna, Texas and later moved north to Michigan and Chicago. Maybe they settled in Oakland for a while on their way north? Perhaps Swan was attracted to Oakland because his brothers, grandparents, or aunt were there?

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Notes say that this is Swan Nystrom, about age 17. This would have been around 1914 when he left Sweden for the United States.

By 1918 we know that he is working as a farmhand for C. M. Anderson in Oakland. We learn this from his WWI draft registration card. We also learn that he is short, of medium build, with blue eyes and dark hair. By the time I knew him he had a shock of white hair. I don’t remember his height or build but I seem to remember amazingly blue eyes.

Thanks to the Oakland, Nebraska Public Library, I’m able to search the Oakland Independent and Republican newspaper and piece together parts of my grandfather’s life from 1925 to 1941. By 1925 he was 28 years old and had been married to my grandmother for three years. At this point they had two sons, Gene and Verne. The family did a lot of visiting. Some of the  individuals they visited with were Carl Linden, Axel Carlson, Myrtle Saf, Bud Everetts, Henry Jacobson, John Johnson, John Saf and Charlie Samuelson. However, the one person they visited most frequently, by far, was C.M. Anderson, my grandfather’s boss. Is it his former boss by this point, or his he still working for C. M. Anderson?

At some point, to my surprise, my grandparents had a farm. I know this because in January of 1931, my grandfather placed an ad in the Oakland Independent and Republican saying that he had decided to quit farming and was selling everything at public auction.

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Page 4 of the Friday, January 9, 1931 Oakland and Independent and Republican.

A month later on page 1 of the newspaper was an amusing article. A Mrs. Gust W. Anderson was tricked into visiting my grandparents’ home in the country where 65 friends surprised her with a birthday party. She was given a gift of money, as was my grandmother who was moving away. “A quantity of food was brought and served and a good time reported.”

In July of 1933 he was paid $15.25 by the County to unload gravel. That’s about $287 in today’s money. Later in July he was approved by the County Board to do federal work. In August the County again paid him a miscellaneous $14.50

Daughter Shirley was born April 14, 1934. Soon after my grandma goes to University hospital in Omaha for mastoids surgery, returning in late May. She was gone a whole month. Who took care of baby Shirley?

The twins, Ronald and Donald, were born prematurely in 1936 and died a month later.

In 1937 my grandfather fell from a tree when a limb broke. His left foot was crushed and three toes were broken. The article didn’t say what he was doing in a tree.

In 1938  the City Council approves Swan’s claim of $7.70 for labor, about the same buying power as $130 in 2017.

By 1939 my grandfather is working in Omaha, coming back on weekends to visit the family.

In September 1940, twins Robert and Roberta are born. Only Robert survives.

In October 1940, my grandmother has ladies over for coffee. Her son Lindy has just died so they were probably there to offer condolences. So here’s my grandma with eight kids, one of whom is a newborn, a child recently killed in a tragic accident, she had little money and is all alone because her husband is away during the week working in Omaha.

Shockingly, in April 1941 Swan is arrested for non-support. I guess by now he has stopped coming home for weekend visits.

In August of 1941 my grandma and three small children visit the Carl Bjornberg home in Lyons.

In December of 1941 the family moves to Omaha and everyone is together again.

In 1942 son Jack is born

C. M. Anderson, the friend and former boss, dies in 1946. Swan and son travel back to Oakland to attend the funeral.

In 1955 grandma and grandpa are back in Oakland again with sons Verne and Rick and Rick’s wife to call on the Vernie Peterson home.

By 1974 we come full circle and my grandfather dies. The Oakland obituary mentions that he had been a carpenter in Oakland years ago. And a little girl’s only memory of her grandfather is a billowing hospital gown.

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Shirley Jean Nystrom (1934 – 2002)

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My Aunt Shirley was what you would call a character. She smoked cigarillos, drank “sudsies” and wore clogs. When she laughed, which was pretty much constantly, her shoulders would heave up and down.

By all accounts she was a tomboy. Growing up we had a brass spittoon in our house that had belonged to my grandparents. In the side was a huge bulge from where some punk kid had thrown a cherry bomb. All my life I thought it was one of my uncles who had tried to blow up the spittoon. When my parents died and I was cleaning out their house, I gave the spittoon to my Uncle Robert, who set me straight. Aunt Shirley was the hooligan who had tossed the cherry bomb inside. Of course.

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Shirley, the cherry-bomb thrower.

In our family it was a rite of passage when you turned twelve to be put on a bus by your parents in Omaha to be shipped off to Minneapolis to spend a week with Aunt Shirley. Alone. I’ll let you think about that for a minute. They put you on a bus, possibly with siblings or other cousins, but otherwise alone, without any adult supervision.

I don’t know how or when this tradition started but it was made possible by the fact that Aunt Shirley worked from home selling insurance. If you were a girl, one of the things she did with you during that week was take you to an antique store to look at Depression glass. She would have you pick out your favorite pattern and then every birthday and Christmas for the rest of your life you would receive a piece of Depression glass from Aunt Shirley. I have an entire kitchen cabinet full of bubble glass, the pattern I picked out on that trip to the antique store. I have no idea what she did with the boys. What did they get for Christmas? I’ll have to ask my male cousins sometime.

Every Christmas Aunt Shirley would take the bus down to Omaha from Minneapolis. Always by bus. One time she was supposed to fly somewhere but she missed her flight and the plane ended up crashing. I want to say, “killing everyone on board” because that sounds more dramatic but I really don’t know. At any rate, she never flew again.

She liked to joke that the first thing my grandpa always said when she walked in the door was, “when are you leaving?” Aunt Shirley would spend days cleaning my grandparents’ house from top to bottom and then on Christmas Eve we would all gather in their tiny home, our eyes watering and coughing from all the adults’ cigarette smoke.

Aunt Shirley was the glue that held the family together. When she died we attempted to re-create Christmas Eve a couple of times without her by gathering in my Uncle Jack’s smokey living room, but it was never the same. We stopped trying.

Following are photos of a young Shirley. I’m tired of touching up old, moldy, scratchy photos so I’ll leave pictures of a more mature Shirley for another blog post.

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The back simply says, “Shirley” though it looks more like Betty to me.
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Violet, Betty and Shirley. The back says that the picture was taken in Oakland, Nebraska. I’d love to know who that creepy guy in the background is.
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Violet and Shirley. The backdrop seems to be the same one that all the boys were standing in front of at Lindy’s funeral. Looks about right — she would have been six when her brother Lindy died at the age of nine. She often mentioned to me what a nice name “Lindy” was and didn’t I think so too? I think she was hoping one of her many nieces or nephews would someday have a son and name him Lindy. If I’d had a boy instead of girls, I certainly would have considered it. I do think it’s a nice name, Aunt Shirley.
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Shirley in the lower left corner.

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More About Verne

The thing that I was hoping would happen with this blog, happened.

My cousin read my post about how I couldn’t find any military records for our uncle Verne. She was like, that’s weird because I have some stuff. And she sent me this.

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Section VI of War Department Circular Number 155, 1945 has to do with the retention of captured enemy war trophies. In this case, a saber. As I mentioned in my original post about Verne, he had participated in the capture of Los Negros Island, a Japanese base in the Admiralty Islands during World War II. After the Admiralties, the 5th Cavalry sailed to the Philippines for the Leyte invasion where they again battled Japanese forces. It’s not known where he obtained the saber but, regardless, I would wager it was Japanese. Just like the fur coat and engagement ring, we don’t know what happened to the saber, but we have some theories.

I never saw the saber but perhaps it looked something like this.

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Retrieved from http://seaox.com/nihonto/ebay_swords.html January 19, 2017.

The other thing we learn from this document is that Verne had achieved the rank of Staff Sergeant by the age of 21. I don’t know anything about military ranks so I had to look it up but it appears that a Staff Sergeant is usually placed in command of a squad of 9-10 soldiers. Maybe things were different during WWII but that seems like an awful lot of responsibility for a 21-year-old. It looks like Staff Sergeants are usually older.

If anyone has something to share, whether it’s about Staff Sergeants, Japanese swords, Verne, or something else, feel free to chime in. I love this exchange of information.

Ronald and Donald Nystrom (1936-1936)

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“Two-pound twin sons of Mr. and Mrs. Swan Nystrom of Oakland, Neb., born seven days ago, are given a 50-50 chance to survive at University hospital where they are in the incubator. Ronald and Miss Blanche Bickel are shown watching Donald get mid-morning nourishment helped by Nurse Murtle Grande.” Omaha World Herald, Saturday, March 7, 1936, page 29.

On Tuesday, February 18, 1936 my grandmother, Rose Carlson Nystrom, gave birth to premature twin boys, Ronald and Donald. Each weighed 2 pounds 12 ounces at birth. The Lincoln Star reported that they were born in the presence of a doctor, and Mrs. Marian Wetzel, acting Red Cross nurse.

Perhaps because she already had seven children, the oldest being 12, mother and sons were cared for at the home of a neighbor, Albert Swanson. Add to that, schools had been closed all week so the kids would have been constantly underfoot! The month of February had been extremely cold and snowy, with drifts up to 12 feet. Roads were closed and people were using teams of horses to get around. Some people had been stranded in farm houses for days and even weeks.

“As in the case of the famous Dionne quintuplets, an oxygen tent is used and they are fed by means of an eye dropper.” Oakland Independent & Republican, February 21, 1936 p. 1

An oxygen tent?

Despite the constant care of Mrs. Swanson and her daughter, the twins were only a combined weight of 5 1/2 pounds by the end of their first week so nurse Wetzel took the babies by train to Omaha on Wednesday, February 26th, eight days after they were born. Many roads were still closed because of the snow but the trains were running again, fortunately. The twins were wrapped in layers of cotton and blankets and carried in a basket.

Once at University Hospital, the twins were placed in a special room where only the doctor and nurses could enter. The temperature was kept to 85 degrees and, with the aid of electric lights, the babies’ temperature kept at 98 degrees. They were clothed in tiny suits lined with cotton. The twins were fed a concentrated formula every two hours, day and night, by a medicine dropper, and later, every three hours by tubes.

They were variously described as having a “fair” chance to survive,  a “50-50 chance,” “every chance to develop into sturdy babies,” and “doing nicely” by Omaha and Lincoln newspapers. Attendants were “hopeful of the twins’ chances” yet “not overly confident” that they would live. The evening edition of the Omaha World Herald on Saturday, February 29 was less optimistic, saying that the trip to Omaha had chilled them, they were not gaining weight, and that doctors were “doubtful” they could survive.

Though he and his brother had initially regained their birth weight after being taken to the hospital, on Friday, March 20th, a little over a month old, Donald died. Ronald, weighing only two and a half pounds, died three days later on Monday, March 23th. The Oakland Independent and Republican reported that the Rev. and Mrs. Carl O. Nelson took my grandmother and her neighbor, Mrs. Albert Swanson, to Omaha on Friday, March 20th but that one baby died before my grandmother reached the hospital.

The Oakland newspaper said that “interment was made in Omaha” but, sadly, they were mistaken.

According to my uncle, University Hospital asked my grandmother if they could keep the bodies for research. My grandmother, whose native language was Swedish, misunderstood and thought they were asking if she wanted the bodies for burial so she said yes. My grandmother never received the bodies.

Years ago my mom and aunt examined every tombstone in Potter’s Field but were unable to find a grave for the twins. No one knew what had happened to the twins until my cousin requested their death certificates. Listed on both documents under “Burial, Cremation, or Removal” is: “disposal by University Hospital.” Each body was disposed of the same day that death occurred.

Hilda’s Son?

I sent away for Hilda Carlson’s death certificate and bless the hearts of the folks at the Vital Records Department in Lincoln, Nebraska; not only did I not have the exact date of death, turns out I didn’t even have the year right. And yet, they still found Hilda’s death certificate.

First off, we find out that she was living at 3873 Dewey Ave. Miraculously, the building hasn’t been a victim of the ever-expanding Med Center campus and is still standing. It appears to be a UNMC rental property so I guess students live there. The building contains two, three-bedroom apartments with two baths and one half bath. It was built in 1930. What does a single woman need with all that space?

I can’t get a good look at the back of the apartment in Google Maps but I can see enough that I’m pretty sure the back porch is where the photo of her sitting on a stoop with flowers was taken. The windows have since been replaced but the placement and the brickwork around them is the same.

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3873 Dewey Ave. Omaha, Nebraska. Hilda’s last residence. Image taken from Google Maps.

The death certificate lists “usual occupation” as “housekeeper” and under “kind of business” someone has lined through the typewriting and penciled in “private family”. However, you can still make out the name of the family: L. B. Stinger. I tried searching for the Stingers with no luck but then I searched the Omaha City Directory for “3873 Dewey” and, voila, living there is Louis B. Steiniger, owner, with two occupants. And a phone. That, apparently, was important information back in 1953, the last city directory I was able to search by address before Hilda’s death in 1955.

So it looks like Hilda was a live-in maid.

An interesting side-note about Louis B. Steiniger: on his 1918 World War I draft registration card, his occupation is listed as manager at the Grip Bow Tie Company, 311 S. 13th St. Omaha (since torn down). In the 1930 Census he’s living in Chicago and working as a “treasurer” at a neck wear factory.

What’s interesting about all this is that there is a 1925 bow tie patent assigned to the Grip Bow Tie Company, with L.B. Steiniger et al as inventors.

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L. B. Steiniger, Hilda Carlson’s last employer, was listed as inventor of US patent 1526253 A, an improvement in bow ties.

William and Merl Reese, co-inventors on the patent, were father and son owners of the Grip Bow Tie Company. William was quite a colorful character before falling to his death in an elevator shaft at the factory in 1930, which by then had moved to 205 S. 10th St. (also torn down – do they ever NOT tear anything down in Omaha?). 

Getting back to Hilda, next on her death certificate we find out that she died of lobar pneumonia and that the interval between onset and death was two weeks. The body was removed to Chicago. If she’s buried there, I haven’t yet been able to find her grave.

Finally, the piece de resistance: listed as informant on the death certificate was Roy C. Carlson of 5416 Christiana, Chicago. My grandmother, Hilda’s sister, had said that no one knew that Hilda had a son until he showed up for her funeral and that he lived in Chicago.

I believe that Roy is Hilda’s son.

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From the death certificate of Hilda Ingrid Carlson.

So far I haven’t had much luck finding Roy but there are two tantalizing bits of information. In the 1930 U.S. Federal Census is a four-year-old boy named Roy Carlson boarding with Gerald and Rachel Stratton at 2812 Manderson St. in Omaha. It says Roy’s mother was born in Sweden and his father’s place of birth is first listed as “unknown” but then crossed out and replaced with “U.S.” Also living there are Rachel’s parents, Henry and Lena Wulf.

Who takes in a four-year-old boarder?

Ten years later in the 1940 Census is a fourteen-year-old boarder named Roy Carlson living in the same general neighborhood. (This is also the same general neighborhood as Wirt Street where Signe later lived, see my post on 1802 Wirt). This time he’s lodging with a 63-year-old widow named Emma Tempany at 4529 Charles St. in Omaha. My guess is that these two Roy Carlsons are the same and very likely Hilda’s son. She arrived in the U.S. in 1920 at the age of 23 so it’s entirely possible she could have given birth to a son in 1926. If you are an unwed mother in 1926 and you don’t want your family to know, I can imagine sending the child to live with others, especially if you are a live-in maid. What family is going to want their servant’s out-of-wedlock baby living with them? Also bolstering this argument is the fact that Roy’s mother is listed as being from Sweden, which she was of course, and there seems to be some confusion about his father, understandable if the father isn’t in the picture.

An interesting side-note about Emma: her father-in-law was John Tempany, a veterinarian for the U.S. Army with the 7th Cavalry under Custer and for several decades with the famous all-black “Buffalo Soldiers” of the 9th Cavalry.

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There is a book about John Tempany, the father-in-law of Emma Tempany, who took in 14-year-old Roy Carlson.

If this is indeed Hilda’s son, Roy would have been about 29 when his mother died. Hopefully his family will see this blog post some day and reach out to us. We’d love to hear from them!

Vernon Gordon Nystrom (1924 – 1970)

Photo courtesy of Kelly Nystrom.

I have no recollection of my Uncle Verne (pronounced VER-nee) since I wasn’t quite two years old when he died but I DO remember all his military medals hanging in my grandma’s dining room. It’s odd, then, that I can’t find any military records for him. Granted, I haven’t looked all that hard, but still.

The one thing I DID find was this photo of him from the Omaha World Herald, dated March 19, 1944, that gives us a few clues.

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I don’t know when this photo was taken but four days after it was published, Pvt. Samuel P. Centretto was killed in action. Reports variously say he died on Manus Island or Los Negros Island. The two islands are next to each other in the Admiralty Islands, an archipelago in Papua New Guinea. Centretto was only 20 years old.

Unlike Verne, there ARE military records for Samuel Centretto. A headstone application for military veterans said he was part of the 5th Cavalry Regiment, a unit of the 1st Cavalry Division so I think it’s safe to say that Verne was as well. You can read more about the 5th Cavalry and the battles of Los Negros and Manus on Wikipedia. It’s quite fascinating. There are even whole books on the subject.

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Verne Nystrom, standing in front of 3721 S. 28th Street. From the photo album of Rose Carlson Nystrom.

I believe that my uncle said that Verne, his brother, was the head of the plumbers’ union in Omaha. He’d also been engaged to be married and had even purchased a ring and fur coat for this unknown woman. As my cousin said, “no one knows what happened to the ring, coat or the girl.”

Verne died of a heart attack at the young age of 45. Verne provided for his parents, Rose and Swan, so when he died, my grandmother had some sort of panic attack and an ambulance was called to the house. She wasn’t sure how they’d survive without Verne. On the anniversary of his death, she would often place messages like the following in the paper:

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Omaha World Herald January 19, 1974.
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Omaha World Herald January 19, 1976.

The following photos are of Verne as a child so they must have been taken in or around Oakland, Nebraska. What sort of strange camera is this that takes double exposures?

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Verne Nystrom, from the photo album of Rose Carlson Nystrom.
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Verne Nystrom, from the photo album of Rose Carlson Nystrom.
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The back says it’s Verne and Leonard Erickson.
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Verne’s car, June 1970.
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Another photo that must have been forever hanging in my grandmother’s house. Seems like I know it like the back of my hand. Taken the summer of 1969, before his death in January, 1970.

 

Hilda Karolina Illman Karlsson (1859 – 1953)

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Photo courtesy of Elisabeth Bjorklund.

My great-grandmother, Hilda Karolina Illman, was born to Johanna Eriksdotter and Anders Petter Illman. Her father was a game warden and her mother worked at Medevi spa. She married Karl August Karlsson and had ten children: Gustave, Tekla, Signe, Gertrude, Albin, Ture, Hilda, Guy, Rose, and Fritz.

I’ll let her tell her own story.

The following is a translation of an article that appeared in a Swedish newspaper on her 90th birthday. The translation was done by the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Medevi Memories of a 90-Year Old

Once about 80 years ago, a girl and her brother sat fishing on a large block of ice at night. They did not notice that the block had begun to move until it was almost morning and they were close to the Vastgota shore. They had a sled along on the ice floe and on that they loaded all their fishing gear and a large kettle in which they had burned some wood for light while fishing, and so they had to pull the sled all the way past Askersund to Rustninge in Vastra (west) Ny where they lived.

The girl in the story is Mrs. Hilda Karlsson, Motala, wife of the late (shovel sharpener) Karl August Karlsson, who today will be 90 years old. But she has neither forgotten the experience on the ice floe nor other things that happened during her childhood.

As she was born at Rustninge near Medevi, it was quite natural that she would have a lot to do with Medevi spa, especially as her mother worked there in the baths for 30 years. Hilda’s work consisted of getting water for the showers and mud for the mud baths. She had this job until she turned fifteen and started to do farm work.

There was a lot of genteel people at Medevi years ago — almost only nobility, says Mrs. Karlsson. A baron named Adelsward came there every summer. He had made arrangements so that he stayed in the same house every year. A countess named Morner from Stockholm also had her own house at Medevi. She liked it so well there that she wanted to be buried in Medevi, even though she lived in Stockholm. I still remember how they brought her (by carriage) from Motala and buried her in the “Medevi grave” that Odencrantz at Medevi estate had provided in Vastra Ny.

Well, Odencrantz, he surely kept a strange house. It was a large house, three stories high with a tower, and in that tower there was a guard on duty all night long. Every hour on the hour he called out the time. Night after night you could hear, “God save us from fire and thieves, twelve o’clock and all is well.” During the day he could rest. When Odencrantz died, the house was bewitched, there were so many ghosts that nobody could live there. Finally they had no choice but to tear it down.

A lot of important men from Medevi estate came over to us at Rustninge. Father was a game warden and the gentlemen wanted him to go out hunting with them. They came over riding on such beautiful horses. Once in a while they shot a rabbit. Most of what Dad shot he sold to the estate. He was paid 1.50 crowns (40 cents) for a rabbit and for a (wood cock) grouse he would get 4 crowns (80 cents). He shot many ducks, too, but for them he did not get many cents.

Many of the spa guests had their own horses and carriages and they were beautiful. I remember that. But then there was also the four-in-hand. The horses had to be the best, and the farmers had to supply them. The farmers who drove the team were all dressed up and had to wear a top hat.

I remember so well many of the guests who came back year after year. There was a Colonel Bergenstrale whom I used to talk to very often.

I can assure you though that the “upper crust” was not difficult to get along with. You felt so comfortable with them, just like I am talking to you now. There was no haughtiness. Oh no, the Medevi guests were so genteel that they did not have to prove how important they were.

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Hilda, center, on her 90th birthday. We believe the woman on the left is Tekla, her oldest daughter.

Founded in 1678, Medevi is the oldest spa in Scandinavia. For an interesting overview of Swedish spas in general and Medevi in particular, see Mansén, E. (1998). An Image of Paradise: Swedish Spas in the Eighteenth Century. Eighteenth-Century Studies, 31(4), 511-516. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/30053892.

Indeed, just as Hilda describes above with her Colonel Bergenstrale, the author says that,

“…it was claimed that social differences were obliterated at the spa, and consequently the strict rules of observing rank and paying homage to the rich and powerful were abolished…At the spa you could talk to almost anyone about almost anything. Social restrictions that were observed outside the spa were not supposed to apply to the same extent, and by chance or cunning, ordinary people, even women, could get a private interview with someone far above their social position.”

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The buildings at Medevi spa have been turned into a hotel, hostel, and restaurants. You can view this and other photos of Medevi as well as Motala at http://www.lakevettern.se/.
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Hilda Karolina Illman Karlsson

A cousin in Sweden, Johan Gille, says that in the birth records of Gus, Hilda’s oldest child, is an explanation that Hilda had received permission to emigrate to North America. The permission was dated 15 Aug 1882 but she didn’t make the trip.

Hilda’s son, Albin, said that, “Mother Karlsson could be very nice but also damn mean.” Her daughter, Rose, said she couldn’t say she was mean to her, but she was very strict.

Rose wrote to her mother in Sweden until her death at the age of 94. Rose would write about getting a television set, etc. and send her pictures of the house and yard. Hilda died thinking Rose came to America and became a wealthy woman. Ha!

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Hilda Karolina Illman Karlsson

1802 Wirt Street

A question from my cousin prompted me to look at Signe Bolin’s obituary from 1955 which in turn prompted me to look up her address because I’m always curious about people’s dwellings and Omaha architecture.

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Omaha World Herald, Saturday, January 1, 1955, page 16.

Imagine my surprise when a search of 1802 Wirt St. on Google Maps showed this:

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1802 Wirt Street. Photo from North Omaha History: Forgotten, Neglected and Denied Nebraska History by Adam Fletcher Sasse.

What would Signe be doing living in a house like this? At first I thought that maybe Google Maps dropped me off at the wrong location but an internet search of 1802 Wirt Street turns up numerous photos of this house. Turns out it’s the George F. Shepard House. Shepard was a stonemason who used his skill to personalize the house with marble and stone etchings, including his name carved into the front steps. It was designated an Omaha landmark in 1981. You can read about this and other lovely homes on Wirt street on Adam Fletcher Sasse’s blog, North Omaha History.

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George F. Shepard from Find A Grave.

Since Shepard died in 1930 I thought that maybe the house had been turned into apartments by the time Signe was living there in 1954. However, a 2004 Omaha World Herald article called “Sense of Family Keeps Neighborhood United” says that a family named Mercer has owned the home since 1956. The late Charles Mercer bought the 20-room house for his family with wages from his Cudahy packing plant job.

Lucille Mercer and her eight siblings grew up in the grand Queen Anne-style house with its richly carved oak woodwork, butler’s pantry, maid’s quarters, double staircase, sliding oak parlor doors and secret safe that enthralled the Mercer children (until they discovered it was empty).

Little has changed over time. The inlaid wood floor, the marble fireplace and the mirrors shine.

‘We’re trying to keep it up,’ said Lucille Mercer.

Sounds like it’s in mint condition and always has been. (By the way, for you sports fans, the article quotes Johnny Rodgers, former Husker wingback and 1972 Heisman Trophy winner, who also lives on the street.)

I can’t find Signe in the 1954 Omaha City Directory on Ancestry.com to see where she was living but the whole thing is a mess; half of it appears to be missing — there are no names after “Rivard” and there are no addresses whatsoever. The 1953 Omaha City Directory is a little more revealing since it appears to be intact. I still can’t find Signe but a search of 1802 Wirt Street shows that George Shepard’s widow, Georgia, is the owner and is living there with two other people. Perhaps Signe was a boarder?

My only other guess is that maybe Signe’s obituary was wrong. There are other typos in it — her name and her daughter’s name are spelled wrong for one thing — so possibly they got the address wrong too.

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Another view of 1802 Wirt Street from Wikipedia.
1802 Wirt St. as it appeared in 1907, from the North Omaha History blog.

Hilda or Signe?

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From the photo album of Rose Carlson Nystrom.

Initially when I was going through my grandma’s photo album, I had no idea who this woman was and was sadly resigned to the fact that I would never find out. No name on the back and no name written underneath it in the album. Coming back to it later, though, I noticed the family resemblance. It looks a lot like my grandmother, Rose Carlson Nystrom. And having seen a photo of Hilda, her sister, when she was older, I can see how it might be her — long face, upswept hair. I can equally imagine it being her sister, Signe, for the same reasons. I’m quite sure now that it’s one of Rose’s sisters, but which one? The date on the back says the film was processed the week of July 2, 1955. Signe died in 1954 and Hilda in 1955 so maybe it’s safe to say it’s Hilda.

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From the photo album of Rose Carlson Nystrom.

However, Hilda was single. So who is this little boy and younger woman in the second photo obviously taken on the same day? Friends of Hilda? Relatives of Rose? Maybe it’s Signe and the date on the back just means that the film wasn’t developed right away. Are these Signe’s relatives? Did they drive Signe to visit Rose? Does anyone recognize these people? Where are the photos taken? Ideas anyone?

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Date stamp on the back of the photos.

Perhaps equally intriguing is how infrequently the siblings met. My uncle didn’t even know he had an aunt (Hilda) living close by in Omaha. When my grandmother visited her brother, Albin, in Magnet, Nebraska in the 1970s, they hadn’t seen each other in 25 years. I think that’s why these two photos interest me so much — evidence that the siblings finally met again, or at least corresponded.