Out There “Sketches” from Chicago by Henning Berger Stockholm 1901 tr. Carl O. Isaacson
Leif Eriksson statue in Humboldt Park, Chicago, drawn by Swedish American Architect, P. Johnson, ca. 1907. The line drawings in this book come from the collection of the Swedish American Museum, Chicago, and are used by permission. The statue still stands in the park, despite the fact that the surrounding neighborhood is lacking in any distinctive Scandinavian characteristics. Leif has, unfortunately, lost one of the wings on his helmet.
Out There 4
e walked down Clark Street - from the north toward the south slowly and leisurely. He had plenty of time and it amused him to walk with deliberate drowsy care in order to protest silently against the mad, over heated bustle which prevailed all around him. Some darting half at a run forward, others chewing on their last bite of breakfast, yet others struggling to put on their overcoat out on the street. The cable car
rushed on its way, unstoppable, filled beyond capacity and not stopping even at the street crossings. The stores were being opened in haste, shutters and curtains disappearing as if with a magic stroke and the floor’s dirt swept out into the street. On the left everything was cool and shady, but to the right, to the west, the sun had already begun to put large shiny, hot spots on the ugly buildings’ trusses - while the upper floors and the old windows glowed like cat’s eyes. The street was washed quickly and carelessly, a stinking oil ran into the gutters. It would be a warm day. He continued his wandering leisurely on the shady side of the street. In other words, he went, according to the American way of thinking, on the incorrect side of the street, and even that amused him. On the corner is a drug store, or rather, a shop where everything is for sale, though mostly patent medicines, condoms, clothes brushes, stamps, cigars and soft drinks. In the shop windows they were dusting the great glass jars, filled with a variety of colored waters, while a bizzarely painted wooden Indian, symbol of the tobacco shop, is already taken out and set on his pedestal beside the door. The calm man observes this and goes in. The stereo-typical greetings are exchanged and followed immediately with the, if possible, yet more stereo-typical expression, “Beautiful day, - eh?” A mumble
Out There 5
is given as the answer, but when a rather expensive cigar is chosen, the pharmacist finds himself compelled to ask the further question, “How are things -- how’s business?” The cigar is cut with great care, lit slowly and carefully, and the first puff drawn thoughtfully. Then the customer leaves with a short nod, without answering. “A Swede,” says the shopkeeper between his teeth, “but he’s supposed to be rich, the sloth. Damned foreigners!” And when his glance falls immediately on the boy in the window he adds angrily, “Don’t fall asleep in there! Get to work with your dusting you slacker!” Out on the street the sleepy public continues to storm by, headed south. Down there lies “the city,” the great stores, the markets, the banks, the offices, the printers - and yet farther away and more to the west, the factories. All these rushing human beings are hastily heading there; men, women and children. On the stroke of the clock all work begins - every minute is valuable and utilized in the land of the Almighty Dollar. But the mature Swede continues with his leisurely morning stroll. He smokes the fine cigar and goes undisturbed and self-consciously assured, a half smile around his mouth. His glance is cold but observant, a glance which has seen much and learned from what it has seen. While he walks he thinks about a variety of things. He thinks calmly and sensibly, without bitterness, without an overwhelming surge of joy. It hasn’t always been a favorable breeze - sometimes he’s been becalmed, sometimes the wind drove hard against him. But he has tacked his way forward. -- The metaphor pleases him and he thinks more in the same vein. -- He had, after many difficult sailings finally come out all right, exchanged the leaky tub for a fine steamship, one could say. He’d found good harbor and protected docks -- yes, this really wasn’t a bad metaphor. Only, in one small detail the metaphor failed nevertheless. For he had not, despite everything, a harbor that he could exactly call his own. At least one could say, not as he had once believed that he had or at least hoped that he would get. Sure anchorage, certainly, but no harbor, no, no harbor.
Out There 6
For just a brief moment a cloud came over the thinkerâ€™s face. The pull on his visage became severe, the lips whitened over the clenched teeth. He forgot to smoke and the cigar went out. No harbor. No city. No country. A beautiful spring morning when the sun shone and the wind lashed a blue and yellow flag he had waved farewell to a quickly disappearing rocky grey coast with a white lighthouse. His outlook was bright, his heart light, the boatâ€™s wake whirled like a furrow of melted gold and the bow was pointed against a silver mist, behind which new expanses and storytale adventures hid themselves. His breast swelled as the sea foam and salt air hit him in the face - away from the old, narrow, out into the alluring new! But the after deck was hidden in the smoke from the stacks, he remember that, like a long black funereal crape and it hid the horizon, where the newly left homeland lay. The thinker continued wandering mechanically down the street. He chewed his cigar and did not notice that he sometimes ran into passersby or that others greeted him. His thoughts were on board the Atlantic steamer with a youth, who twenty years ago trekked out here. Out, yes that it was. Out here he would become a man who meant something. Done with childâ€™s play. And then, when the goal was attained, home again to his own country; home, home. Ah! Out there was the cure, no where else. He had believed it then. And so he came out there, out here. What years, those first ones! Years when the back was bent in order to become straight, years when the character was remodeled, the glance sharpened, ideals washed away and the heart frozen to ice. Hard years, but not long, no horrifyingly quick. Only the road was long -- oh so long! -- there was no end. Yet it became broader and better the longer one went. And he had gone a very long way. In fact, he did not really wish to think in detail on that journey, just like the rest of humanity. There were, for example, things
Out There 7
which the guardians of the law, if they only knew . . . certainly they should . . . His face, which was on this occasion pale, colored slightly. He had now come to a cross street. A wagon halted his step. A policeman, who recognized him, gave a respectful salute and shouted at the coachman to drive on. He went on his way and thought and remembered. It was, or course, remarkable about those ideals. He remembered that he was once much interested, among other things, in art. He thought of becoming an artist himself -- ha! Saw colors and lines in everything, and went at night, after work in the factory, to the academyâ€™s free classes and drew in the antique style. And on Sundays he painted, yes, even belonged to an artistâ€™s club. He had good potential, they said. Yes, certainly, yes. That was in the first two years out there -- hm! -- out here. Then it was over. There were also other ideals. The perfect home, just the right size, a house wife with fair curly hair, small children, small hands . . . Such blue eyes she had, that poor Swedish girl, she was so joyful and oh she was proud of him. It lasted three years. Where was she now? She became so pale the last time he spoke with her, told her his plans, attempted to get her to see that which was so reasonable. That one must remember everything. Where was she now? The man had come almost down to the bridge, where the poorly built houses stand and where the fallen women live. He shrank for a sudden thought and was near to hurrying his step. The ideal which remained the toughest to conquer, was the love of the homeland. Humbug, truly, that also, like all the others, but tough it had been. When, after ten years, he had acquired a fortune, worked no longer in a factory but rather owned one himself, he began to seriously long for home. He discovered flaws in the country which had become his second home. He began to study critically the people and situations around him and it was altogether remarkable that so small a percent survived the test. And the whole time the feelings for his homeland, the pull of that country in the North -- yes, even the whole of the eastern quarter of the world --
The perfect home, just the right size, a house wife with fair curly hair, small children, small hands . . . Such blue eyes she had, that poor Swedish girl, she was so joyful and oh she was proud of him.
Original drawing, 1907, from the collection of the Swedish American Museum, Chicago.
Out There 8
grew and grew. In the most beautiful of colors he painted the only fantasy he had left, going home. Think -- the old friends, the old streets, school comrades, and memories of youth! That was his country, not this. Here he was a stranger, an opportunist, a mere boarder despite his riches. Home! He sold his discovery, patent and all, gave a glad farewell and went. The bitter disappointment which followed he ought scarcely to recollect. It was horrible. He found that he, the rich Swede, was in effect homeless. Was it the abandoned fatherland which took revenge -- was the fault, the change in him or in the old friends. He did not know, had never concerned himself, in fact, with clarifying matters. But he knew that he no longer had a country, a city, a harbor. He froze at home there, he almost longed to go back to America. And so, one beautiful spring morning, with smiling sun, and the wind playing with the blue and yellow flag, a broken man with melancholy eyes, left that foreign coast which he had once called his own, in order to turn to that home land which had never been his. Out there under the Star Spangled Banner’s ostentatious colors and the proud symbolic eagle he would live his days and grumble over his life’s lost beginnings. Until one day the emigrant’s grave shall be shoveled over and a whitening cross with an illegible number in the end mark his final resting place. Yes, that’s how it was. One could say fully so tragic that he did not understand it at the time. He came back, and since all illusions had committed suicide, he had grown in his wealth and position as a wholesaler. He had good fortune while he was calm and cool, money was not lacking. Only a home. The rich stranger, who calmly walked down Clark Street one morning and reflected, woke suddenly up and straightened himself. He had come across the bridge and was now in the middle of the Million city’s rushing life with its elevated train, skyscrapers and thousands of bread seekers. And all of the earth’s languages whistled in his ears - huh! He saw an elegant and well known whiskey bar and went in despite the early
Out There 9
hour. Inside it was dim and cool, the ground crystal glasses and the well polished silver glimmered weakly in the mirror behind the marble bar. The sensations of the liquor and the smell of the spices hit him hard. In a corner a little flame burned in a red lamp, carried by a bronze figure. From the walls many paintings -famous European masters in an American tavern -- smiling faces gazed from behind the gossamer veils with which the art works were covered. The waiter bowed artfully in his new starched white apron and asked what he wished. “Whisky,” the man answered short and commanding. “But,” he continued directly, “not my usual, a stronger one.” He stood at the bar and studied his whiskey. What is really going on with me today? he thought. It is the spring which has made me now sentimental and then harder than usual? And he remembered how, when he was young, he’d longed to get out every spring, wanted to get out and travel. It angered him to feel himself having his equilibrium crushed in some way that was beyond understanding. That one would continually be reminded of bygone days, see haunting ghosts! And he clouded over all the more. The waiter, who believed he could judge the state of his customers from the business world, supposed that the iron and steel market had gone sour and dared not say anything. Instead he began silently to dust off the sad glasses which were already dried, but at the same time studied the well known speculator on the sly. The man hastily straightened up. He had suddenly remembered money’s superiority to both scruples and fantasies - at least “out there.” He emptied his whiskey in one gulp and went whistling out to continue his walking tour. The street lay before him, bright, wide and even, and humanity is so busy. But he went still on the wrong side of the street, slowly, against the traffic. It amused him and helped him drive away difficult thoughts.
Out There 10
Samuel Wikertâ€™s Success
Samuel Wikert’s Success
hen Samuel Wikert left for America, following a tough sentence for defrauding creditors, he knew that his role in Sweden had played out. He also knew clearly that he certainly couldn’t expect to have days of sweet breads and light living
in the new country. But he was a fellow in what one usually calls “his best years,” and the punishment he had endured had not seemed to weaken him; quite the contrary it had given him energy and, one might say, the power of hate. Moreover, he had - shall we say - stifled that which remained of what we call a conscience. Samuel obscurely felt that it ought to be so, for it was nothing which would be of use to him in the land, which should be his future’s battlefield. He was, therefore, not aware of any of the discomfort or the vague feelings of homelessness which
Samuel Wikert’s Success 12
the emigrant most often experiences when the North Sea’s short angry waves toss the small Wilson line steamer, heaving it about in the hazy night. Grimsby’s horrible ugliness frightened him little nor did the monotonous railway trip which followed. On the train he was like a piece of living baggage, packed in and thrown across England, yet even that did not scare him. The dirty hotel in Liverpool, the lousy food on board didn’t bother him - it was better than a cell and jail food. And when he cramped up with sea sickness on his berth in the forward, third class compartment for unmarried men, he suffered less than the others; for he heard in the storm’s howling and the swell’s thundering clap against the ship’s hull a song of freedom and a whispered promise of coming success. And so it came to pass that the beautiful clear November day when Samuel Wikert stepped off the boat in New York his eye was as defiant, his heart as cold as any of the native born Americans who rushed by him, weaving their way up toward Broadway. The shabbily clad hotel agent and “farmer catcher” who took hold of his carpet bag got a sharp slap in the face, causing him to stagger backwards in surprise. “That one is not green, damn it!” he muttered. But nothing more was ever heard of Samuel Wikert in Sweden. Not even the old maid sister, who had given him the two thousand crowns travel money (money she had otherwise thought to use in order to enter an old age home), not even she ever received a line from her brother.
Samuel Wikert - Mr. Sam Oajkurt - began working at Smith, Cohen and Company; a mystical firm, unknown on Wall Street, which preferred doing business with the cosmopolitan blend of humanity that daily arrived in New York. For two years Samuel studied - with small pecuniary compensation - the two principals. Smith, the inconsiderate, cold blooded Yankee, and Cohen, the slippery, unwearying, miserly Jew. He improved his English and learned his adopted country’s customs and viewpoints. He sold legendarily fruitful tracts of land at laughably low
Samuel Wikert’s Success 13
prices to emigrant farmers. He exchanged all of the world’s coinage according to previously unknown rates. He bought and sold steamship and railroad tickets in a way which made even Smith sometimes wonder when the police might come to arrest them. He rented apartments and homes to the new comers among his countrymen, with the rent in advance and the rooms already rented to others. All things considered, he made surprisingly quick advancement in all areas of a less seemly sort of business. Smart -- Smith said and chewed on his cigar. Tcha, Tcha -- said Cohen och wrung his hands. He’ll go far -- said Smith, and spit across the room. Tcha, Tcha -- said Cohen and bowed like a Chinaman. One day Wikert quit his job. He took a month’s pay in advance and on the following morning failed to find his way into the office. One should not think that he considered himself an exception. It was simply his was of showing that he had already learned to anticipate instead of than being anticipated. Later that same day he unashamedly visited a certain bar where he knew he would encounter Smith. You have always underpaid me, he coldly said to him, and you can be thankful that I didn’t take two month’s pay instead of one. No hard feelings, Mr. Smith! You don’t want the police to receive a secret accusation about a certain firm’s way of doing business? With a proper sense of admiration in his voice, the American begged Wikert to remain a friend and invited him to a take a glass of whiskey. Samuel Wikert went to Chicago. Mr. Cohen sent him the ticket. The west enticed him -- out there the fields of labor would be broader, easier, freer. In one of State Street’s sky scraping gigantic buildings, on the sixteenth floor, is a little office -- number 1650 is on the door’s frosted glass panel. Under the number: Sam’l Wikert & Co., Commercial Agents. Many have been the companions who were deluded into tempting fate with that name, but no matter how sharp they believed themselves to be or even were in fact, they all found themselves after a half year suddenly removed: plus , an expensive experience; minus,
Samuel Wikert’s Success 14
their capital. Wikert did no business with his countrymen -- he would be kidding himself -- his name was not Swedish, neither was his appearance, and it was dubious that he could even remember his mother tongue. What did Wikert do then? A ringing alarm clock hammers away like an obsession, and that ringing wakes Mr. Wikert every morning at precisely 7 am. Up out of the bed - oh, it’s ice cold and dark, push the button, like that, electric lights; turn the handle on the radiator, hear how the steam rushes in motion! Now push that button and the Negro servant in this elegant man’s hotel comes padding up on the carpet covered stairs -- here Jim, brush off my clothes, quick! Then into the bathroom -- hurry, down in the car and up again - quickly, quickly, what’s the value of Santa Fe’s stocks today! In the clothes, a clean collar, a tie, handkerchief, -- so! Now, in the elevator. Down. And so the dining room. Are there telegrams? Ah ha, none. Ah, the newspaper. Murder, murder, conflagration, murder, conflagration -- one can skip that, wait, there are the notices. Bah! nothing new! A bite of food, but quickly, don’t chew, just swallow. Great heavens! It’s almost eight. So, Mr. Wikert runs out and jumps, with practiced confidence upon a wildly rushing electric trolley. Down Clark Street at break-neck speed, the newspaper studied during the trip. Now the trolley swings into the tunnel, under the river, up again on the other side, the City, the city of business. The barbershop, one of the forty chairs is actually empty. Just hurry up -- while being shaved one of the colored boys shines shoes and a later edition, the 7:30 edition, of the morning paper is gulped down. Then, just a cocktail at Jones’ -- lots of Angostura bitters, please -- that poker game last night lasted a long time. Then a strong Havana. Then, in a dizzying speed down State Street, already swarming with thousands of hustling humans on the broad byways , there’s the building, into one of the twenty elevator cars and up in a giddy speed so that you get a funny feeling in your stomach. You’ve got to hurry. At nine-thirty he has to be at the Grain Exchange in order to ferret out what young Leiter thinks of doing today. The office. Robbins
In one of State Street’s sky scraping gigantic buildings, on the sixteenth floor, is a little office -- number 1650 is on the door’s frosted glass panel. Under the number: Sam’l Wikert & Co., Commercial Agents.
The Reliance Building, 32 N. State Street, Burham and Root, ca. 1895.
Samuel Wikert’s Success 15
has already opened all the letters and telegrams, the most important lay on his desk. He looks them over. “That idiot Palmer writes again and wants to know what has become of his invention that I was supposed to patent. Well, he’ll see it soon enough in the newspapers, in the meantime, tell him we don’t know what he’s talking about. Grosseman in Cincinnati write that he wants to sue me. Yeah, he can amuse himself with that, just advise our lawyer of the threat. Blink telegraphs that he now doesn’t like the conditions for the sale of his paper. Telegraph back that its too late, they’re already sold. We’re buying them ourselves. They are supposed to go up through some coup.” Whereupon Mr. Wikert goes down to the Exchange. For four hours he is pressed there in the midst of a crazy, screaming, wrestling, waving mass of buying and selling men in shirtsleeves. Two hundred telegraph keys clatter, typewriters click and telephones ring. Sometimes the gong sounds in that stupefying alarm and buzz, electric signals light and go out, enormous boards are filled with numbers according to some grain market’s fluctuations, hundreds of runners cross one another’s paths in their wild eagerness to arrive, papers are torn into bits and fall like snow over the speculators’ heads and wheat and corn from test sacks fall like hail all around. The galleries are packed with spectators who are hypnotized by what they believed they knew to take place looking down on the stormy clump of two thousand persons, who, among themselves, in several hours win and lose fortunes. When finally, at a quarter after one, the Exchange is closed, Wikert gets a short space to breathe. Back to the office first, but then out to luncheon. They gather, two or three of them and talk about how high wheat can possibly go tomorrow or how low this and that mine, railroad or this or that electric works stock can possibly sink. Or perhaps they speak about race tracks or prize fighters -- but always it’s about something that plays with speculative material, whether in their affairs or their gambling. This is, after all, business. And during the time a kind of breakfast is eaten, washed down with ice
Now the trolley swings into the tunnel, under the river, up again on the other side, the City, the city of business.
Samuel Wikert’s Success 16
water and coffee. It’s too much to follow Mr. Samuel Wikert’s daily doings in detail. Rather it is enough to say that behind everything he ventures into, whether he dictates a letter or attends a theater, the ever-near and driven-to-its-highest-potential urgent American look continues to cajole him to gather up riches. Dollars, dollars, dollars! And he has them; he is one of the European exceptions in Dollarsland. At what price he does not understand, despite the fact that he notices it in his horribly increasing nervousness. Certainly, he’d not start at the sound of a revolver or let a murdered human being hinder him if he was in a hurry - he step over the like - but he sees it in the sudden outbreaks over the most banal little things, feels it in the marsh like creeping feeling in himself, in the yellow flashes before his eyes . . . And in the night comes sleeplessness. He lies and is just about to fall asleep, then - horrors! -- his heart seems to jump, is it going to stop? He feels as if he is about to vomit and has to sit up, drink water, hah! -- sleep is gone. Samuel Wikert is rich, and if his countrymen in Chicago knew him they would elect him to honorary leadership in all of their societies. Because he has succeeded, and has done it himself. One day Mr. Wikert will die in his office chair at his desk. It is possible that no one will be in at precisely that moment, it isn’t unusual for it to happen just that way. He will make a spasmodic, desperate attempt to, one last time, reach the buzzer’s button and push it -- but unsuccessfully. The mouth will be drug into a crooked little smile, the eyes pop out of their sockets, the whole body sinks into itself. And the following day the President of “The Brokers Club” says: Gentlemen! It is my sad duty to inform you of our honored member Samuel Wikert’s death of a heart attack yesterday. He was forty years old and the funeral is tomorrow at Graceland Cemetery.
Without Work 17
ichigan Avenue was nearly empty. Chalk white flecks of sun and blue shadows changed about like gigantic chess board squares. The lake, which glittered between the trees on the beach, slept drowsily peaceful in the blazing midday sun. Beneath some uncoupled train cars two negro workers snored, and on the Millionaire’s-hotel’s-Marquis-shielding balcony directly across the way the engorged
guests attempted to catch a moment’s siesta after luncheon. A man staggered forward from Monroe street. He paused a moment at the edge of the shadow, which the Chicago Club’s palace begrudgingly sent the blinding, steaming asphalt boulevard. He hesitated to give himself over to the blinding sunshine. His clothes were torn and stained and ill fitting, as if they were not his or that he had shrunk from his original size. The dusty shoes lacked heels, the battered hat band and lining were filthy, the handkerchief greasy. On his arm he bore a basket, and in his hand a coarse cane.
Without Work 19
As he now stood in the blue shadows at the edge of the golden sunshine, he was a perfect picture of the helpless emigrant in that heartless, egotistical Land of Abundance. For one who might reflect on it he became a gripping illustration, with a perhaps un-intended and undeserved sense of the tragic about him, of the fate suffered out there, a sort of personification of the sacrifice demanded by social injustice. For that pale visage showed no sign of the ravages of unbridled passions and his gaze, though at this occasion steeled and hopeless, was that of a thinking and intelligent individual. Derailed! said the doubtful look, the bent back, the raggedy clothing. Derailed! said the beautiful profile, the fine hands, the greasy silk handkerchief. The man finally overcame his doubt and angled his way across the sun baked boulevard to the Art Museum. He stopped on the bottom step, in the shadow of the great bronze lion and leaned wearily against the candelabraâ€™s granite base. He had placed the basket in front of himself and opened the lock. In the basket lay a score of cheap small statues of Admiral Dewey, lying one on top of the other in disarray. These were in style fourteen days ago, and sold in masses, but now the collectors were looking for some newer knick-knack. The man stood as still as if he were part of the cast group above him. His face was empty and expressionless as if he had already given up all hope and now just mechanically occupied himself with unfathomable tasks, given him by an unknown power, but which had nothing to do with his bodily existence. Why was he standing there? It is possible that he asked that same question himself - Why was he standing there? In front of him lay the glowing, burning, empty avenue, frying in nearly sixty degrees of the sunâ€™s heat. A few weeks ago he had gone past the Art Museum and observed how a street vendor had done bright work with Dewey statues. People had gone up and down the broad stairs and the wagons stood in long lines at the edge of the sidewalk. But that was the last day of the DorĂŠ exhibition, and now -- the museum was closed for renovation and floor polishing and he
Without Work 20
hadn’t counted on that. Without work as he was and a stranger in that great city it had taken many days before he could gather enough to receive his little street vendor’s equipment as well as pay the required fee to the city for the right to offer his wares for sale. The right was officially acknowledged in the form of a small metal shield that had a number in the ten thousands, plus the word “Peddler” beneath, and he was compelled to wear it on his chest in order to escape being arrested. That made him nothing on the scale of the living, according to the way he arranged the scale. But the comparisons between then and now was always in his mind, and he had nothing to stop him from thinking. While he stood and waited for the customers who would never come, he remembered a pier in the Stockholm skerries, where a boat put in one warm July day. A green spit of land with waves splashing over stones and seaweed and white sand and mussel shells and waving reeds by the fishing shallows. A red cottage on the hill and hardwood forest and berry groves behind and out on the verandah a table set for dinner and laughter from the young men dressed for the sporting life . . . He tottered, it wasn’t long that he had fallen. He saw for a moment black spots which expanded and came together, dance before his eyes. The sun had come over the bronze lion’s mane and now struck him in the neck, burned his back. He move a step higher. Directly before him lay Monroe Street in the deepest shadows. The contrast between the stark sunshine around him and the street before in its cold, dark blue shadow coloration was so strong that it seemed un-natural. He saw the street in perspective all the way to the river and the bridge which stretched into the western part of the city. At the same distance at which the shimmering golden river of sunshine broke through Monroe Street’s shadows was where the cross streets cut through. Above the street the skyscrapers lifted their tops to the clouds and they too were out of the shadows. They glowed red, grey, yellow and white in the trem-
Without Work 21
bling luster. But down on the street in the cool dusky half day the street swarmed with bustling human beings in thin summer dresses and light straw hats. Their clean linen collars glinted white and they carried Japanese feathered fans with which they fanned themselves. Huge cargo wagons, pulled by at least four strong horses with blinders on, crossed the path of scores of electric trolleys and above everything one could hear the steaming of the El train’s clattering and whistling and thousands of people went up and down the steps to the stations. Everyone was in a hurry. Everyone had something to do -- they had work! He heard weak sounds of the hollow murmur, the ringing, the noise, the hammering from the working city’s artery. That city lay before him. In his ears there was the sound of a haunting whisper in that murmur: you can’t do it, can’t make it -- without work. With doubt in his eyes he stood there, helpless, nailed to the spot. The sun shone on his green hat, the filthy collar stuck to his red, sweaty neck. The blond mustache which had once been borne waxed and twirled , hung down now over his crooked chin, straggly and with bits of snuff in it. Why had he come here to a country where he lacked all the preparations necessary to fight his way through? Yes, why? That question was of course asked thousands of times, daily, and all that he wanted, they wanted, was to work. Hadn’t he followed the advertisements, hunted through the streets, run into the shops, begged in the offices for work? And had he not, when all pretensions had diminished to nothing, at six in the morning stood in line outside every type of factory among the work seekers, the ones he had formerly not wished to even brush up against on the sidewalks, and then ran hither and thither to become a waiter, a coachman, a dish washer, a meat packer, yes even a street sweeper with the Italians or an asphalt layer with the negroes. All in vain. Went, went, went but always came too late, would not do. Tried and tried, but never succeeded. Then he began to dimly understand that he had not grasped something which was extremely important for success in this life; but he did not know what that was.
Their clean linen collars glinted white and they carried Japanese feathered fans with which they fanned themselves.
Swedish Postcard, “Den nyckfulla” ca. 1900. Translator’s private collection.
Without Work 22
A small gathering of people on the corner of Madison Street now caught his attention. A horse had fallen, overcome by the heat. One man held the horse’s head to the earth while the man pulled up and got rid of the wagon. Gradually the people dispersed. The horse was dead, and the man let the cadaver lie in the middle of the boulevard. Right after that an older man suffered a heat stroke. He crumpled down on the street and two people dragged him up to the sidewalk and placed him in a sitting position against a wall. A red faced waiter in white jacket and apron came out from a tavern and laid a large piece of ice on his forehead. Then they carried him into the corner drug store while a policeman telephoned for an ambulance. The man with the Dewey statues saw all of this as in a panorama, without showing the least trace of interest. For a moment he thought that he was very thirsty, even hungry. He knew that on Monroe street, both sides, were, so to say, “larded” with cafes, restaurants, whiskey bars, beer halls, shops and taverns of various types and price ranges. He could see their grand signs all the way to the Columbia Theatre. On the first, to the left, he read under an enormous, foam glass of beer, “The largest glass of beer in the city; ice cold and only five cents. Remarkable warm and cold lunch free!” He had, in fact, ten cents in his pocket, but his intention had been to use that money for the trolley car, since he lived so far out in a suburb. But the great blue shield with its oak leaves and chrome yellow beer glass allured magnetically. A stream of humanity went in and out and the tavern doors to the great beer hall swung continuously back and forth. He decisively took his basket and went catty corner across the street to the corner. He held himself here for a moment -- how was he going to get home? -- but then he threw himself in, the basket swung as the door struck his back and he was in. In the center of the locale stood a circular, copper and brass trimmed bar. Six waiters continuously filled the large glasses with dark or light ale from a cask
Without Work 23
hidden in an imitation mahogany ice box. Around the bar stood -- or rather hung - a hundred men of all ages and social classes. Four fans in propeller form, driven by electricity, took care of moving the air and sent a cooling breeze through the room which dried the sweaty faces and made the coats flutter. In one corner stood a table properly laid out with food -- sandwiches, a large beef steak and vegetables. A negro attended and laid whatever was desired on small plates. One group of men, poorly clothed and with the seeking, uncertain, half frightened look of those out of work, gulped down their food with the haste of doubt as if on a bet. A young man whose clothing was yet clean, but with the un-mistakable signs of one beginning to become decadent; dirty underclothes, bad shoes and an unshaven chin, attempted to look indifferent. He ate carefully as if he were full and just wished to know the taste of a bite with his beer. He had apparently stood there a long time, for the negro pretended not to notice his yet outstretched plate. For him who came from the Art Museum’s stairs there were found, meanwhile, few if any worries about reputation. He placed his basket by the wall and, taking a plate, had filled it in the blink of an eye. Then he went to the bar and threw down his nickel. People came and went. Bricklayers, iron-workers, coachmen and policemen. Office workers, stock brokers, wholesalers and factory owners. Some interesting types -- artists, actors, jockeys, professional card players and vagabonds of uncertain origins. To put it quickly, all nations were represented as customers during the circle of a half hour. But no negroes. A man in a grey bicycling suit took up a Dewey statue and looked at it. He turned to the waiter behind the bar and asked why he wasn’t patriotic enough to decorate his miserable bar with the idolized Hero’s likeness. Maybe the owner was a Spaniard? Eh? The waiter let the question go, didn’t answer, but continued to busily pour beer.
Without Work 24
The American in the bicycling suit, who probably was an old and valued customer and apparently had had one too many, struck, with a terrifying oath, his fist against the bar so that the glasses hopped, and asked if the man had heard his question? Those who stood nearest giggled and looked at the waiter. That one, who did not want to cross a customer and furthermore well knew that in any argument the masses would take the customer’s part, laughed good naturedly and threw a dollar on the bar. “Give me five!” he said. The street vendor starred at the bicycle man. He saw him pluck five statues out of the basket and how the waiter decorated his glass cupboard with the small plaster statues. He watched as the inexhaustible patriot purchased five busts himself and then in just a few moments sold the rest to those in the bar. Finally, with a laugh he turned over four silver dollars to the astonished agent. When the agent left that locale he wondered about one thing. How could that half drunk American do in five minutes what he himself had failed to accomplish in half a day? Even if one granted that he knew the waiter, the English speaking crowd and all the rest, yet there still remained that boldness in the business. Immediately it was clear to the jobless emigrant that what he and thousands like him lacked was what Americans valued the most in a man. In American slang it was called cheek. That inconsiderate, just get it done boldness, which admits no hindrance, self-protective egoism, which respects no one else’s feelings; the new century’s political darling summed up in the single word Me! He also understood that he would never fully learn that beautiful assertion: The most important person is me. But to have four large, heavy dollars in the pocket was very beautiful -the weather was decidedly not so warm any longer. And his great flaw, his sanguine nature, took its rights. When everything came round perhaps America was not so crazy anyway, no? Who knew, tomorrow he could have a good place to work. And then there would always be a way.
Without Work 25
He looked at the sunlit, white Art Museum with its marble steps, flanked by the two remarkable bronze lions. He thought they lifted their tails at him. The three Greek gods in their niches over the Doric pillars nodded smilingly at him. It couldn’t be a commiserating absurdity, could it? Behind the museum the lake lay sunny and blue and glittering. But to the left was Madison Street. There lay yet the fallen horse with its swollen body and a myriad of flies over it. It seemed disagreeable. He threw away his empty basket and went into the nearest beer hall to get yet one more glass of beer. Tomorrow work would certainly be found! He wasn’t afraid to take on anything. A drunken fellow human being’s sudden whim to play do-gooder in his own Matador way was changed in his imagination into a characteristic for all Americans, they were so helpful. So he -- as many others -- forgot for a moment that he found himself in egoism’s country in an inconsiderate era.
the new century’s political darling summed up in the single word Me! He also understood that he would never fully learn that beautiful assertion: The most important person is me.
Original drawing, ca. 1907. From the collection of the Swedish American Museum Center, Chicago.
The art of Anders Zorn epitomized the “old country” for many late 19th and early 20th century Swedish Americans. Born and raised in Mora, Zorn captured peasant life at a moment when it was threatened with disappearance. In addition to his work as a painter of Swedish peasantry, Zorn was fascinated by the human form, producing numerous nude studies. He was also a successful portrait painter, giving the United States many great images of the leaders of the “Gilded Age.” Among his portraits are those of Berthe Honore Palmer and President Grover Cleveland.
Bomanâ€™s Two Worlds
Boman’s Two Worlds 28
oman came into the little German cafe, where we usually met in
B the evenings, to talk, drink beer, eat pretzels and smoke long cut tobacco. He removed his tight, tattered overcoat and hung it up. Thereupon he warmed himself before the fire and petted the inn-keeper’s dog and stroked the fat, grey male cat’s back. His brown eyes glowed friendly in that round, clean shaven face and his ears bowed humbly under the old hat’s broad brim. The tight blue sweater strained a little around his stomach and the grey trousers had knee patches and they fell into wonderful pleats around the small legs, then, too short and somewhat fringed, ended above the street-dirty travel-year boots. Yet the whole of that little figure always bore the stamp of good natured satisfaction, which always seemed sympathetic. “Excuse me,” it seemed to say, “that I’m still here, but I can’t help it. Let me spend some time with you and I will attempt to as pleasant as possible. And whatever you say to me -- it won’t matter!” When Boman felt properly warmed he took off his hat and made a sort of greeting which could have been taken as intended for the whole cafe -- waiters and guests, friends and those he didn’t know. Thereupon he came to sat
Boman’s Two Worlds 29
down at our table. He sat there quiet and alert with a cordial smile and nodded and laughed at everything which was said. He paid for his food himself and never allowed himself to be treated. And after an hour he got up, took a friendly good night and disappeared again -- home, we assumed, but how and where that home was, that we did not know. Boman came into the cafe. Unlike usual, I sat alone that evening, the others having gone to hear Melba. Boman drank his pint in silence and thoughtfully smoked his short pipe. Suddenly he looked up and said: “Is it true that you’re thinking about leaving?” “Yes,” I answered, “in just a few days. I intend to go home and I will admit that it makes me very glad -- yes, in truth very, very . . . He seemed to ponder that answer as if weighing whether he should say something or else just nod in agreement. Finally, he smiled and those brown eyes looked true heartedly at me. “Herr B,” he said seriously, his voice quaking slightly, “I would like to say something, but I am afraid that I will have difficulty making myself understood. Have you -- hmm -- have you read Jókai? Have you read his book Timar, which creates two worlds in which he lived alternatively? I have also made two worlds for myself, not exactly like Timar, but in any case something “out there” one could say. I’m not quite sure myself why I’m telling you this now, but something came over me. You see, as you’ve certainly seen, I usually don’t allow many glimpses into me and mine and don’t pry into others’ secret affairs. But we have been meeting together here for what will shortly be a year’s time
Boman’s Two Worlds 30
and since you, in some sense, belong to one of my two worlds, I want to now, before we separate probably forever, let you see a little of both of Boman’s creations. Then you may draw whatever conclusions you like. Yes, well, I would like to begin at the beginning, and let you wake early one morning while it is yet dark. The kitchen is cold and the coffee is too hot, but that just means that you must hurry, the road down to the big shoe factory is long. Seven A.M., all the factory steam whistles blow as a sign that work is about to begin. That howling concert cuts through to the bone and lasts a full five minutes. Then the doors to each of the respective factories are closed and the day’s toils and burdens have commenced. The machines slam, rumble and whine, the tall smoke stacks belch out black smoke and hissing white steam. Tongues of fire shoot up out of sooty pipes, sparks fly and whirl about in the frosty morning air. Electric motors breathe, thumping, and moaning, the hammers sound from a thousand unseen hearths. At twelve the whistles sound again and the workshops’ noise ceases, the doors open and the works stream out. They have an hour’s lunch break. Then Boman goes down the wide wooden steps, past all the delivery wagons and further on in the dirty alley. There in a corner under a creaking street sign is a tavern and in that tavern he eats his dinner among chewing and drinking comrades. He’s done the same thing for ten years and is likely to do it for ten more. There he reads a well thumbed, crumpled newspaper and smokes his pipe in a corner until he is whistled back to work. Understand me now correctly. I certainly don’t complain about this way of living, which undoubted sounds to you tedious and slavish. As the first
Boman’s Two Worlds 31
packer in that big factory I have very good pay and since I’ve been there so long I have a certain freedom and am fully trusted, even to being a sort of factotum. And I assure you that the numbering of leather bales and marking foul smelling packages in the din from the machine which hammers the heels in place and the dust which fills the room isn’t at all burdensome. Because -- consider this carefully -- and here I’m coming in part to my other world, of which I’ll tell you directly -- during all this I can now consider, unhindered, anything at all and still take care of my work. It just goes mechanically, you understand. Well, at five o’clock the steam whistle shrieks its shrill tone for the last time, the machines stop, I wash up, go -- Boman is free. Now he goes directly to the street car since he wants to get away from that part of the city as quickly as possible, that place where the one of his two worlds is situated. It yet remains with him a little while, but the tram carries him in a quick trip through broad streets, filled with people, over the bridges and viaducts and through a tunnel under the river, past tree lined squares and embankments where the light glows weakly as the sun sets. Then he must leave the street car in the business district and make his way through the home bound mass of humanity. The great shop windows glow, shimmer and sparkle, the tall buildings disappear into the night clouds. The tramp, tramp of a half million tired feet and the hum, hum of thousands and creaking wheels. Pushing and cold looks from indifferent brothers -- the wind blows so cold through the great city’s boulevards and sweeps hooting around the great marble facades of the banking houses. The street lamps are lit, the transparency diminishes, the asphalt sidewalks grow thinner, the murmurs die away. A dark street -- here one
Boman’s Two Worlds 32
must be careful, behind the grain elevator’s corner a murderer can lie in wait and in the shadowy doorways thieves wait. Finally another streetcar and at the end Boman steps off at the diner where he eats his evening meal. Now let me tell you something. I could, should I wish to, eat every day down in the city in a restaurant with mirrors and carpets and white table clothes and bowing black waiters. I could also live in a fine hotel on the boulevard and go out in the evening dressed like a little prince. But you see, that doesn’t belong to my first world - nor to my second either. I’ve set both worlds in order and I live according to the consequences and I can assure you that my savings, because of this order, are not inconsequential. They will be used, perhaps, in order to get Boman a firm foot in his “other” world, if not, well, they will yet be useful for someone in that world. But wait a bit and you’ll hear. When I’ve eaten the tough beef with its under cooked vegetables and gulped down my half baked pie and ice water and the coffee that tastes like grounds, I step up to the cafe here. I know that you five Swedes will be sitting here. I have always, during these ten years, arranged things so that I would be with countrymen who only occasionally come out here. They have been doctors and engineers, electricians and artists, people who’ve traveled for amusement and people who’ve come here on business. But always those who were Swedes, you understand, who spoke Swedish, loved Sweden and longed to go back there again. The other hundred thousand I don’t know. Because, you see . . . Well, that’s my second world which I now need to describe. But how can I! Ah, it must be felt, caught with the heart, for it does not exist for common sight. Herr B., it exists in me, I carry it, one might say, on me and I can
Boman’s Two Worlds 33
look into it whenever I wish, even while I’m at work down there in the big factory. But it is only in the evening and at night -- for I often dream of it -- when I visit there. When I’ve spent an hour in your and your friend’s company, I’ve prepared myself by listening to your talk about Sweden and then I go home. It doesn’t matter where I live now, but I have a little apartment with two rooms and a kitchen. The one room is like all other American rooms and I don’t need to describe it. The other, the inner most, will perhaps surprise you a bit. The old fashioned wallpaper with its checks and dots is from a land far away, likewise the sofa bed and the cuckoo clock. That sofa from far away came with the mattresses to pull over your mouth when the freight costs climbed to a hundred times its value. And all the paintings, photographs and portraits which hang on the walls in their simple frames -- they don’t have anything to do with this country. Neither do the books, a couple of hundred, nor the newspapers in their small formats and large type. The peasant weavings, no they also remind one too much of home to be at home here. And what is in the corner, do you think? A porcelain stove, sir, a porcelain stove, think of it! One can’t light a fire in it, that’s true, but it is built according to a well known design and the brass hinges are polished like mirrors. In his night shirt Boman sits in a rocker and reads the small newspapers and the books in their simple bindings by the glow of a common kerosene lamp with a porcelain base. And then, then he dreams about his other world, he dreams so vividly that he is there. The snow lies blue white in the early dusk over the quiet earth. The pine forest stands black against a broad yellow stripe in the west. The fire’s dying light falls over the rag rug’s pattern and a cat curls on grandmother’s lap who
Boman’s Two Worlds 34
pays court to the dusk in her high peasant chair. In the room the lamp is lit and the children crack nuts and read about “Saint Peter and Brother Lustig.” A smell of glögg, warming, and in the distance the tinkle of a bell -- -The bell’s tinkle gives way to memory rich bell tones that stream down from the old church tower behind a large beautiful royal fortress. In front of the fortress lies a wide stone bridge, under which flows a stream that gathers into a harbor told of in sagas and sung in the old songs. People come and go, happily and good naturedly greeting one another and tramping through the slush, crossways over a square with the statue of a knight, ending down in a dock, where boats lie waiting for spring. Old houses with old memories, modern palaces, docks, water and islands and feelingly drawn contours -Contours! A summer night’s light sun down hangs over an island in the skerries. Grey ballast rocks tumble in the water, big islands swim on the glinting surface, islets, rocky outcroppings, knotty pines, tall firs, serious spruces, The snow lies blue white in the early dusk over the quiet
whispering birches. Small red cottages in succulent meadows surrounded by earth. The pine forest stands black against a broad yel-
knee high fences. A well by a gate, where the cows sleep. What subdued, mild low stripe in the west. The fire’s dying light falls over the
light, how wonderful that fantastic half-light between the reeds -- --
rag rug’s pattern and a cat curls on grandmother’s lap who pays court to the dusk in her high peasant chair. In
Such are my two worlds. I don’t know if you have caught what I’ve the room the lamp is lit and the children crack nuts and
said. Perhaps it grates falsely or rings sentimental in your ears, perhaps you read about “Saint Peter and Brother Lustig.” A smell of
don’t understand me at all. You neither have to clutch my hand in pretend unglögg, warming, and in the distance the tinkle of a bell
derstanding nor say a sympathetic word. I believe in cause and effect in life. As
we make our bed, we have to lie in it. Believe me, it was out here that I created my two worlds, before I had -- none. Well, have a good trip. **
Axel Linus’ painting of a Swedish winter scene. Painted in Chicago ca. 1910. From the Swedish American Museum Center collection.
Bomanâ€˜s Two Worlds 35
I watched Boman get up and go to the cashier and pay. That little round figure calmly took his tight overcoat, and carefully buttoned it up. Then he petted the big dog, which wagged its tail in a friendly manner. He opened the door and disappeared into the dark night.
A Leave Taking
he trunk was taken down and ticketed, the bill paid and good-bye said to the little private hotel's other guests. He threw on his travel ulster, lit his bulldog pipe and set out, too nervous to wait any longer. Outside a fine drizzle fell and the boulevard lay grey and wet under the yellowing trees. Everywhere there was the dreary Sunday, with its quiet Quaker voices and suffocating bell chimes and illuminated, austere ghostly shapes.
The arching street lamps were not yet lit and fog hung over the city like a drape in the late fall afternoon's dusk. He turned up his pants cuffs and began his wandering into the street's alien mist. Three years of assiduous study and difficult practice in the Great Land and now it was over and he could turn, satisfied, towards home to enjoy the fruits of all that work he had laid down both here and back home in reaching this point in his career. He had never been satisfied out here and he longed for home the way a school boy longs for a lover. He longed to eat Swedish food, to speak Swedish and to walk down well known streets and press the hands of old friends. Now that he
Gus Higginâ€™s illustration of Swedish boarding house life in Chicago, from Kure Kalendar, 1901.
A Leave Taking 38
could leave this strange city for all time, it was with a sense of peace that he thought about its two million inhabitants. He did not sorrow to leave a single one of them. The farewell visits he had made were only conventional courtesies, scarcely more meaningful than the "thanks" one left with the desk clerk. He came to the river where the boulevard ended and the fog hung tightest. The bridge tender was barely visible in his tower, and the grain elevators disappeared in a wall of mist. Far out on the lake a steamboat whistled for a towboat and to the right a man hung red lanterns on a barge. He crossed the bridge and turned into a narrow street in the business district. Everything was deserted and empty of people, closed and holy day silent. Someplace far away a wagon rolled on and from a tavern with screwed tight closed windows he heard a weak clinking of glasses. He walked slower, at once caught by a feeling of depression. It was certainly remarkable to leave a city, a country, with no sense of loss, without a even a handshake, one might say. No one who went along to the train, no one who was sad to see him go. It was the way he wanted it -- but yet! Suddenly it hit him that when everything came round that perhaps no one at home waited for him there, no one longed for him. Perhaps he was absolutely alone -brr! The thought froze him to the bone. No! -- but even if it were so, so what? Then, yes then it was the same no matter where he was -- right? Absolutely, but that was no comfort. No, what kind of damned fantasy was this! He walked down the old street with its locked up shops and half uncleaned sidewalks. They reminded him in a way of a display of coffins, the barricades and boxes covered by the awnings. Everything felt like a funeral; the weather, the church bells ringing and -- he himself, he thought. Two hours before the train left, and there lay the depot before him. He got an idea and stood, a bit surprised by its originality. There was actually one person to whom he could say farewell in a grand gesture. One person
A Leave Taking 39
whom he should remember a while, perhaps speak of, even brag about. He had not thought to say adieu otherwise -- he'd never heard of it being done -- hm! -- to such persons. But why not? He had the time and the house was right there and furthermore the whole story would be a great tale back home. He turned off into a yet narrower cross street and rang the doorbell of a house with red draperies in the windows. For a moment he regretted his enterprise and the smile which the impulse had laid on his lips disappeared. He was near going when a livery clad negro opened the door and put his head out. There was no choice and he went quickly into the house. A tamborette in the hallway was filled with food, a flower basket hanging from the ceiling and the smell of a well known perfume now seemed to him to be nauseating. To the right a drapery, should he go? -- bah! and he stepped in and sat down on a sofa without first removing his ulster. It was dim in there, since the blinds were pulled, but he saw dimly the little porphyry fountain in the middle of the room and the French studies of models on the walls. What am I doing here, he thought, this is so stupid . . . But, he reflected immediately after, here in this house I've had many great moments. So many that, if I were to be honest I would have to admit that some of my life's best days -- or should I say nights -- have flown away here. When I think clearly about this business and see it impartially, then I have to go as far as to admit that for me this ambiguous place gave the only glimpse of joy during these many years of hard work. And further, this house was the only one which was open to the poor student in this strange, rich land. Here you got a welcome and weren't asked about your nationality or lineage or introductions and from here he could always go without feeling obligated. Well, it is in truth not too much if I also say a polite -The servant came in and turned on the electric light.
A Leave Taking 40
"Do you want something to drink?" "No." "Madame will be here directly." He was again alone and sat pondering the three years. Of course -- it had been a lot of work, and how will it be back home. Good while his student days were over. Will Lizzie never come! A porter's bells clattered on their spindle, a rustle of skirts and a young woman ran laughing into the room. She was a Creole type and her dull yellow dress set off the upswept mass of her blue black hair. She waved her long stemmed flower at the man on the sofa and asked in her softest Florida dialect: "What's this? Sitting on my best sofa in your wet ulster, serious and morose, my little man, what has happened?" He pulled her down to him on the sofa and began "Lizzie, listen. It's not shame that has brought me here. I'm about to travel, travel far away -- home in other words. I've been polite enough to come here to say adieu to you since, you see, little one, I'll never come back. Will you believe me, Lizzie, when I tell you that if I were rich, I mean so rich
She laughed aloud and her white teeth shone. "Bravo! you ugly beautiful evil kind stupid boy. And now you travel to Norway, no, wait, Sweden, yes its Sweden," she repeated several times, "so now you shall have something to remember me by
that I had the power to tell others how to think, I would take you with. But, truth to be told, I haven't become that rich. Let us not be ridiculous, sweet girl, but I truly want to thank you --" Drawing by P. Johnson, Swedish American architect. 1907. From the collection of the Swedish American Museum Center He broke off, suddenly embarrassed by his words. He feared that the of Chicago. whole would have a sentimental tinge and so continued, laughing: "Oh, I know well enough what you're going to say, that I don't have anything to thank you for, that you haven't given me anything, and so forth. But you certainly have, and more than you might believe. Think, Lizzie, that when I leave this place there isn't a single person I leave behind whom I'll miss except possibly
A Leave Taking 41
you. Do you understand? The best of all of this is that we two part as two good comrades -- adieu and thanks! Look, that's the style. At least I think so. Do you know, I wish that the whole of life were such, but no -- oh what am I talking about?" During this tirade he had thought: "What is going on with me? -- Why am I saying all this? At the same time it occurred to him that he now spoke more properly than ever. He also got the thought that the girl probably didn't understand him, perhaps even laughed at him inwardly and he stopped himself from talking. She had listened, half perplexed, with a smile on her lips, but furrows on her brow. She stepped up and began to pace back and forth with short coquettish, nearly dancing steps. She laughed quietly and asked: "And you have purposely come here to say adieu, is that so?" He could not stop himself from smiling and answered properly: "I won't lie to you, I came in here because -- because I had time to kill." She laughed aloud and her white teeth shone. "Bravo! you ugly beautiful evil kind stupid boy. And now you travel to Norway, no, wait, Sweden, yes its Sweden," she repeated several times, "so now you shall have something to remember me by. Do you see this necklace? These are not pearls, the are dried white berries from Cuba. But look, it is an amulet and helps protect against all evil, don't laugh or I'll be hurt. Let me take loose the thread and you will receive one berry, only one. This you may lay on your work table back in Sweden and when you look at it you will remember me. Yes?" Smiling, she held out the little white berry. All at once he felt himself childishly weak. The uttering of this na誰ve kindness, which found expression in the simple gesture by which the girl gave him the simple little amulet, gripped him. Accustomed to the least sense of fellow feeling, this was something new. Isn't this what I've always thought, he thought, the truly
A Leave Taking 42
good humans, the compassionate, one finds them only among such as these. He became himself in the next minute and stood up. The girl jumped up, threw her arms around his neck and with that half veiled glance, he knew so well, looked him in the eyes and said: "Leave tomorrow! Stay here" Say what you will, he thought, that would certainly be a farewell. He said out loud. "Little one, that's impossible. Thank you and good night." When she saw that he had made up is mind, she retook her seat and began to laugh a new. "It's so humorous that you have no one else to bid adieu but me -- Think of that. And leaving the country. No. Do you know . . . She laughed until tears came to her eyes. He felt a small sense of shame, but at the same time a certain malicious pleasure in her words. Just the one he needed to say farewell to, he thought. He pushed her to the side and left. The sound of her melodic voice followed after him out into the rain: Good night -- good bye!
"Leave tomorrow! Stay here"
original drawing, 1907, P. Johnson. from the collection of the Swedish American Museum Center, Chicago.
Swedish American â€œVariety Typesâ€? - actors from the Turn of the 19th Century Swedish American Theatre in Chicago, drawn by Gus Higgins for the Swedish American Newspaper Kuriren, from their 1901 Kalender.
About the Author Henning Berger was born in Stockholm in 1872. His parents were of modest circumstances, the father being a custodian (vaktmästare) in the house of a prominent nobleman. In his chldhood, he had many opportunities to observe and come into contact with people of wealth and aristocratic taste.. At the age of 17 emigrated to US. From October 1889 to April of 1890 he lived in New York. In November 1892 emigrated to Chicago with fiancé, Anna Lindquist. They were married in Chicago in 1895, and had a daughter there.
Anna worked as seamstress, and Berger as an agent for the White Star Line in the Loop. Later, Berger remembered the time as one of ‘colossal strikes, street riots, robberies, murders . . . worse than usual, and that is saying a good deal in that city.’ Finally, he became disillusioned with his new country and with his countrymen, both old and new. The Bergers returned to Stockholm in 1899 and Berger began his work as a novelist. Swedish literary historians Bernt Olsson and Ingemar Algulin say of his work, “His descriptions from Stockholm and American cities are lively and impressionistic, and he belonged to his generation’s important prose artists.“ In addition to the stories of Out There, Berger also produced two other works with Chicago settings, the novel Ysail, a story of Chicago and Bendel and Co. (later retitled 86 North Clark Street). About the Translator Carl Isaacson is Assistant Professor of Communication at Sterling College, Sterling, KS. He is author of a study of American-Swedish as a literary device, ”They Didn’t Forget Their Swedish,” to be published in the fall of 2002 as part of the work Ethnolinguistic Chicago. In addition to teaching communication, Isaacson has been a Lutheran Pastor, serving throughout the United States, and Educator-Curator of the Swedish American Museum Center, Chicago. He is working on a study of the uses of rhetoric to define the Swedish-American identity, paying careful attention to humor and art as sources national identity.