Tag Archives: Vivian Barth

Fargo Trolls and Ragnarok Weekend

One of the many wood troll carvings at the Sons of Norway in Fargo, North Dakota.

One of the many wood troll carvings at the Sons of Norway in Fargo, North Dakota.

Since it has been reported by The Daily Mail that the Viking apocalypse — Ragnarok for those of us in the know — will happen this Saturday, February 22, I figured it doesn’t matter that the History Channel’s Vikings Season II premiers on February 27. I also figured that it would be appropriate to post three photos I took on Thorsdag evening at the Sons of Norway in downtown Fargo, North Dakota (pie day is every Thursday at lunch, too). Within the Sons of Norway is the Troll Bar which, in turn, is decorated with several wood Norsk troll carvings that run the perimeter of the tavern.

Trolls have increasingly interested me as of late. In genealogical e-mail conversations with Valerie Larson-Wolfe, a distant Swedish-American cousin of mine (who lives in Chico, California), she mentioned that our great-great-Swedish uncle August used to remark on how, as a young boy, he used to see trolls in and around his family’s farm near Ïvo in southern Sweden.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs a historian, I am interested in this not necessarily to prove or disprove the existence of trolls. Rather, I’m interested in it in from the standpoint of a social historian or folklorist: if people say they are seeing trolls, they are doing this for social reasons that might not be clear to outsiders. I’m interested in unpacking those reasons. If you’re in Iceland, though, you get the privilege of having your Supreme Court decide on whether or not to protect known elf sites (links on that here, here and here).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis, in turn, has gotten me thinking a bit more about sightings of small people in world history. On the northern Great Plains, it isn’t uncommon to hear stories from Mandan-Hidatsa or the Oceti Sakowin oyate of small people sightings. These sightings are amazingly important to particular cultures — much in the same way that the notions of a man walking on water or rising from the dead three days after the Roman Empire executed him are amazingly important to particular cultures too (yes, I just went there). Happy ragnarok weekend everyone. See you all on the other side (or on Monday).


Early Afternoon Recharge Naps

I just read a short blog entry by Tom Isern, a friend, colleague and adviser here at North Dakota State University. Speaking about rising early in the morning, he noted on his productive writing output before sunrise, and then he said that early afternoon napping will undermine his zeal for a heroically productive day. Napping, Tom added, “is not a bad thing, either.” This is correct.

A couple summers ago, before my late Grandma Barth passed away, we sat in the living room chatting one weekend afternoon. I told her I was going to go take a quick nap, and she fired back right away and said, “Good: everyone should take a nap in the afternoon.” My grandma lived to 96 years of age. And this is true about naps. If we treat ourselves decently, we’re likely going to treat those around us decently. Naps are decent things to expect of yourself and others.


Let the Scholars at Your Family and Local History: Swedish Family Photos and Academic Scholarship

Albertina (Mattson) Larson. She eventually took up a farmstead with Hans T. Larson in northeastern Wells County, North Dakota.

Albertina (Mattson) Larson. Originally from Willmar, MN, she took up a farmstead with Hans T. Larson in northeastern Wells County, North Dakota.

Approximately 20 years or more ago, I recall going to a Larson-Mattson family reunion somewhere in Minnesota. It was important to the Mattson side of the family because my dad’s, mother’s, mother (in Swedish, “min far-mor-mor“), Albertina (Mattson) Larson, was indeed a Mattson. I remember at that family reunion being asked who in the room had relations with the Swedish-Minnesota Civil War Col. Hans Mattson, and I was nudged by my late Grandma (Larson-Mattson) Barth to raise my hand.

Now fast-forward to a year or two ago, when I read H. Arnold Barton, A Folk Divided: Homeland Swedes and Swedish Americans, 1840-1940 (Southern Illinois University Press, 1994). Barton notes in his preface that ethnic groups engage in a kind of ethnogenesis. This means the groups develop a collective identity by gathering together and agreeing upon what they do not stand for, and what they do stand for (often times, we define ourselves by what we are not). While reading Barton’s book, though, I didn’t expect to come across Hans Mattson in the beginning of chapter 5. This was the individual I was told about over two decades at the family reunion in Minnesota. Perhaps Barton was in the crowd too. Who knows.

In his piece of academic scholarship, though, Barton said Hans Mattson hailed from the southern province of Skåne in Sverige, and he came to the U.S. in 1851 as one of the first northern European Swedish settlers to Minnesota. He served with distinction in the Civil War, and eventually became Minnesota’s Secretary of State. He returned to Sweden in 1868-69 to recruit more settlers and develop a chain-migration from Sweden to Minnesota. It worked. He acted as the Northern Pacific Railroad’s chief emigrant agent from 1871-1876, and the list goes on as to his accomplishments by and for his ethnicity.

Albertina (Mattson) Larson, a Swedish-Minnesotan originally from Willmar, MN.

Albertina (Mattson) Larson, a Swedish-Minnesotan originally from Willmar, MN.

With all that said, here are a couple photos of Albertina (Mattson) Larson, my great grandmother. I never had a chance to meet her in person, as she passed away before I was born. As a girl, she grew up in Willmar, Minnesota. Eventually my great grandfather, Hans T. Larson, got up the nerve to ask her to marry him, and they took up a homestead in northeastern Wells County, North Dakota (just north of the borderline historic archaeological town of Bremen, ND).

I’m sharing photos of Albertina for a couple reasons. The first is to make them accessible to other family members (it’s the worst when people hoard documents and artifacts while simultaneously doing nothing with them). There are unknown benefits, too, as perhaps this blog post will reach other Mattson family members who are interested in the various branches of the family. I do plan on ultimately curating the originals with the State Historical Society of North Dakota (but I’ll wait until the grand expansion is complete). By curating them with the SHSND (or any top-tier public archive), the artifacts will be stored in a safe spot with all sorts of fire-prevention and non-acidic devices (stuff along those lines). They will also be accessible to other family members, at least during SHSND archival hours. And if Swedish-American scholars want to have a look, to analyze and scrutinize them, they will be there. Perhaps they will even incorporate them into some piece of future scholarship. Who knows. Access is key, though.


Vivian Marie (Larson) Barth

Pictured here is a photo of Vivian and David Barth, or who I know of as my Grandma and Grandpa Barth. Their three boys are sound asleep. This photo was taken not too long after the end of WWII.

Pictured here is a photo of Vivian and David Barth, or who I know of as my Grandma and Grandpa Barth. The three boys are sound asleep. This photo was taken not too long after the end of WWII.

This last Monday morning I received a call from my mom, and she informed me that my Grandmother, Vivian Marie (Larson) Barth, had passed away peacefully earlier in the morning. My grandma was 97 years old, and we got along real well. Without saying too much, I do know that I am grateful to have had such an extra ordinary grandmother, and also grateful to have lived within range of her and her influence. And although 97 is a long and full life (you really can’t ask for more), on the inside I still feel very sad, and kind of hollow about the region of the heart. But dying is a part of life. And for some reason I am reminded what Grandma Barth often said to us when she sensed we were distressed: “Everything will be okay.” This is true.

She was the reason we think of Swedes as stoic, and by no means was she void of emotion. She loved her family, her friends, her church, and her community. On occasion she would inject a sharp quip that would bring gravity to any lofty conversation. I once said to her, after reading in Engelhardt’s history of Fargo-Moorhead about J.A. Johnson, the first long-time Swedish mayor of Fargo, that he was mayor for 5 terms. Without missing a beat, Grandma Barth responded with, “Sounds like someone was in office for way too long.” This caused me to laugh out loud. While driving around with Grandma Barth, she once gave an indirect opinion of conspicuous consumption by simply saying, “You don’t need all that money to live and be happy.” Yes, we will miss you Grandma Barth, but your intellect and wisdom will continue echoing through the ages. You taught us well. A full obituary is linked here, and some reflections from Grandma Barth are linked to here and here.


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