by smmmarti guide
July 9, 2003
At the turn of the last century, Chicago housed the second largest population of Swedes; second only to Stockholm. Swedes were late arrivals on the mass immigration bandwagon, resettling in America more for economic reasons after the "starvation years" following drought and famine in their native land, than the search for religious and political freedom.
It is not surprising that people who wouldn’t take drought for an answer but instead undertook the arduous journey across the ocean, down the St. Lawrence to the Great Lakes, would become some of the most influential businessmen and developers in the Midwest.
The Andersonville neighborhood was long the epicenter of Swedish-American culture and activities. Today, the neighborhood as undergone many changes, but the Swedish American Museum Center continues to pay loving tribute to the heritage and people who made the community proud.
The center tells the stories of great men of Swedish decent, Wallenberg, who assisted many Jews out of Nazi Germany, and others who fought for American freedom, built railroads and major businesses. An impressive permanent exhibit called, "The Dream of America," chronicles the mass immigration using full-size mannequins with authentic details and expressions to tell a monumental story.
Extensive examples of native artifacts, from glasswork to farm implements, reveal the influences of Swedish culture that have made their way into the American mainstream. A special tribute is made to the women who were schooled in the Swedish-founded Nursing colleges and hospitals forming the backbone of Chicago’s emerging reputation for excellent medical facilities. (One glance at the primitive surgical tools from the mid-century had me falling to my knees in appreciation of the progress medical care has made over the last century.)
The lower level exhibition hall hosts rotating displays of Swedish arts and crafts. The Children’s Museum is a delightful center of imagination where children journey through Swedish history, visit an authentic log cabin, participate in pioneer farm activities and sail on a Viking ship.
The Center also presents special holiday programs, the most popular being Lucia, the festival of lights, and Midsommar Festival complete with maypole dancing in the street. Here you can "Cook with Ingvar," learn Scandanavian dances or folk painting, research your ancestors and even learn to speak Swedish! The Gift Shop sells Scandinavian specialties, books and stunning Orrefors and Kosta Boda glassware.
Regardless of your ancestry, pay a visit, and gain fascinating insight into the people who first settled Andersonville and so heavily influenced the building of Chicago. Their oft-overlooked contributions clearly deserve such merit and recognition.
From journal Chicago Summer Classics