Norwegians in “The City that Does Things”

Caroline C. Morris

Catalog Number: 2008.016.01

In April 1912, this postcard, featuring a raised red felt pennant, made the journey from La Crosse to Flekkefjord, Norway. For two cents, a resident from “The City that Does Things” could send greetings to a friend or loved one back in the Old Country. Midwesterners sent thousands such postcards in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Unlike most cards, however, this one found its way back to La Crosse.

Ties between the Upper Midwest and Norway were strong at the turn of the century, as tens of thousands of Norwegians moved to this part of the country, fleeing crop failures and poverty in Norway.

Local newspapers, civic groups, and churches kept the connection between the “old” and “new” worlds alive. The Ames (Iowa) Evening Times frequently ran news items about Scandinavian countries that read more like gossip columns than international news stories, including a 1914 account of a legal quarrel between a Norwegian steamer and an Italian ship that was working its way through courts in Flekkefjord. The newspaper’s decision to run the story – which had no discernible connection to life in Iowa – suggests that a contingent of Flekkefjord natives lived in the area.

The La Crosse Lodge of the Sons of Norway was particularly active in the early twentieth century, staging “Syttende Mai” celebrations in Myrick Park to commemorate Constitution Day. Perhaps no one fostered bonds between Norwegian immigrants better than the hundreds of Norwegian churches in the Upper Midwest. At about the time this postcard was sent, La Crosse boasted several: Norwegian Methodist, Bethel Norwegian Lutheran, and two Norwegian Lutherans (one in North La Crosse and one in South La Crosse).

Connections to Norwegian culture remain strong in this area, Westby celebrated Syttende Mai with a parade and concerts last weekend, and if you journey to the Rhubarb Festival in Lanesboro, MN, on June 4, you can sample plenty of Norwegian baked treats. God appetitt!

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on May 21, 2016.

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