Day 192 - Worcester
“The first time I saw Worcester, Massachusets was in the spring of 1949,” wrote Ellis Folke, editor of the now non-existent American Swedish Monthly. “I had taken a bus from Boston and after being deposited at the depot, I found I had some trouble finding my way in this maze of streets that often passes for a city plan in New England’s industrial centers. So I walked up to an elderly man who was sitting on a park bench enjoying the warm April sun. I asked him for directions. He looked at me and said, in a pure Småland direct: ‘Dä ä inte så långt. Gå upp till hörnan där, to första gata’ to höger å sen ä det bara ett par kvarter.’”
Today there are few chances to encounter any Swedish-speaking people in Worcester, as indeed Folke remarked even in 1958 that the Swedish community was being assimilated “with a speed that is rather amazing”. In 1920 Worcester was said to have one of the largest Swedish populations in the world, topped only by Stockholm, Gothenburg, Chicago and Minneapolis. Many Swedish-Americans became the owners of wire concerns, machine companies, tool and manufacturing concerns as well as jewelry and book stores, markets dairies and bakeries. Swedes had their own churches, sports clubs, musical societies, charitable organizations and the midsummer festivals drew a crowd of upto 20 000.
For all the numerous Swensons, Johnsons and Carlsons in the phone book, Swedes as a group and their surviving organizations are no longer a factor to reckon with in Worcester. However a splendid exhibition in 1994 “Gå till Amerika” at the Worcester Historical Museum (30 Elm St., Worcester, MA 01609) was a reminder of the glorious history of the Swedes in Worcester. The history begins with 19 year-old musician and piano tuner Carl F Hanson who moved here with his young bride in 1868, possibly to avoid the not-so-pleased in-laws in Boston. Within 18 months he was running his own music store that eventually occupied several floors in a building on Mair Street. Hanson became a director of the Worcester chorus, established the city’s first night school program to teach English to Swedish immigrants and he also managed to compose “Frithiof and Ingeborg” a grand opera and other music that were performed in conjunction with “Gå till Amerika”.
Swedes were routinely hired and promoted in Worcester in preference to the other large immigrant group, the Irish, because of their reputation for sobriety and steady habits and their resistance to labor organizers. With the onset of a recession and a rising number of non-Swedish immigrants many Worcester Swedes eventually started feeling threatened and became active in the local Ku Klux Klan revival. Today Swedish pharmaceutical grant Astra is one of the important companies in Worcester and distinguished Swedes like Alice Carlson, former Grand Master of the Vasa Order and Swedish American of the Year 1987 champion the Swedish presence in the city and were active in the production of “Gå till Amerika” that depicts a history that Swedes can be proud of. Today the Nordic Heritage Trust collects and display artifacts from the time when Worcester was a Swedish stronghold.
The Worcester Art Museum (at 55 Salisbury Street) has two works by the celebrated Swedish sculptor Carl Milles. You can see his “Head of Nereid” as well as the “Man Riding Fish” that is a fountain made of pewter. There is also a black granit version of Milles’ war memorial “Eagle” at the Saint-Gobain Abraisives Building and inside in the executive dining room you can also see Milles’ “Sun Glitter” featuring a mermaid riding on a dolphin.
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