Hilda Karolina Illman Karlsson (1859 – 1953)

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.

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.”

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/.
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!

Hilda Karolina Illman Karlsson

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