Anny's Journal

On Oct. 10, 1909, Axel and Anny Lundgren, my great grandparents, began their 14-day journey from Sundsvall, Sweden to Duluth, Minn. Anny kept a journal of the trip that was translated in 1998 from Swedish to English.

Axel and Anny began by train, traveling through Sweden on their way to catch a ship to Grimsby, England, and eventually to America. I've gathered for this column some excerpts of Anny's now-100-year-old account. It begins with a bit of comedy.

Oct. 11
It got real crowded in the Gothenburg wagon [train car]. We were 32 people in the same group going to America. When we came to Storvik, a man who was a bit sour came in. It started to smell worse and worse. He had messed in his pants.

We had to run into the other wagon, where we had to stand. The wagon where the man was became empty. When soldiers came on, they ran into the empty wagon, but they soon ran out of there in different directions.

They crossed the Atlantic on the RMS Lusitania, an ocean liner that was famously sunk by German torpedoes six years later -- an act which led the United States into World War I. Axel and Anny's trip wasn't quite as bad, but it had its moments.

During the first days of ship travel, there were terrible storms and seasickness. During a nighttime storm off the coast of Ireland a fireman died of mysterious causes that Anny is only able to describe by writing, "They say he had a cramp." The next day, she wrote about the fireman's funeral.

Oct. 18
They swept him in a tarpaulin and carried the American flag. There were so many people, we couldn't see or hear the ceremony, other than that they blew in a horn and placed the body in a casket to put in the sea.

We had lunch at noon. It was mutton, green soup, pickles, egg omelet, pudding and oranges.

The transition from a funeral straight to a mutton lunch probably wasn't intended to be comical, but I get a kick out of it. This next excerpt has a similar thing going for it.

Oct. 19
Now begins the most terrible storm. But now in the afternoon it has become totally calm. It's now more beautiful than ever before. It's time for vaccinations now.

I don't really understand this part, but it's my favorite.

Oct. 21
Yesterday they gave a man delirium and a little was buried in the sea. A woman became insane.

The ship finally reached America at New York. Anny noted that "It went good. We didn't have to pay any taxes." The train to Duluth passed through Montreal, Canada. Things didn't go well there.

Oct. 23
We were not allowed inside any station. They want nothing to do with immigrants. When we arrived, a fine gentleman came and showed us to the worst joint there is.

We had to go down into a cellar, which had three big halls. In the first hall there were only Chinese people. In the second, it was Italians and more Chinese, who were as good as naked. It smelt so bad that we were almost poisoned by the air.

In the third hall, to which we were heading, there was commerce going on, but [few people] bought anything.

The Norwegian gentleman treated dinner. It was ham and eggs with coffee, which tasted terrible. The girls said it was root coffee. We left it, because it was horrible. We've never had such a day. We had no choice but to hold our noses.

And, of course, it had to end this way:

Oct. 25
The conductor says that we'll be in Duluth at 10 a.m. It's been snowing here.

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His e-mail address is mail @ paullundgren.com.