Finding details in father’s footsteps
Material recently forwarded on to me from a distant relative in southern Sweden who is very good with tracing genealogical records on his computer, coupled with data previously sent by the same party, indicate that although my father may have left the Old World at a young age, there were some parallels in his new life in America to what he had left behind in Sweden.
I doubt if many of those who settled in Erie from say, southern Italy, Sicily or Poland, could cite very little in their new places of residence or new ways-of-life that resembled what they left behind in the Old World.
First, let me say that Halsingborg, where my father lived until age 9, does resemble Erie, his new home, in a number of ways.
Both are coastal port cities, with Erie of course on the lake of the same name, while Halsingborg is located on the Oresund, which separates southern Sweden and Denmark. Halsingborg is farther north than Erie, but due to an arm of the Gulf Stream, which flows past northern Europe, their respective climates are probably similar.
Then Canada lies just to the north of Erie, while Denmark is located across the Oresund south of Halsingborg.
My father’s early memories of Halsingborg include being taken by his mother to swim off a beach on the Oresund. In Erie, he was fond of swimming in the lake at Presque Isle State Park and off Forest Park beach west of Erie, where we had a cottage.
My correspondent in southern Sweden, Sven Olefeldt, whose wife Margareta, is descended from a sister of my maternal grandmother, recently offered more details on the life of Jens Christian Brun Lund, the man who records indicate was my father’s father,
Christian Brun, (the name used on the records) was born in Aalborg, Denmark in 1838, but spent most of his life in nearby southern Sweden until his death there in 1914. He was a restaurateur and had a restaurant in Halsingborg called The Lund, which contained a dance hall and a bowling alley. The structure was destroyed in a fire in 1868 and he had to start over.
My father spent practically his entire working life with the Griswold Co., the noted Erie maker of cooking ware, where he was the controller for many years and was known as “COS” — Christian Otto Stanger.
Very coincidentally, we had a dance hall located just two doors from our home in southwest Erie. It was called “Gusty’s” and was located in a barn-like structure which stood at the rear of the Gustafson residence. Only a neighbor’s garden and a portion of our property stood between it and my father’s second story bedroom.
(Thankfully, “Gusty’s,” which was also a polling site, operated mostly just on weekends and under strict hour regulations.)
COS had a strong interest in cooking, but only for his type of fare.
He would buy oysters at a seafood shop near downtown Erie, and on Saturdays enjoy a lunch of raw oysters and oyster stew after working a half-day at Griswold.
He would buy whitefish, an oily freshwater fish, and grill them in a webbed apparatus over red-hot embers of our coal furnace fire. (This was before we heated our home with gas).
I recall him making pickled herring, (which is almost a staple in the Swedish diet) in our basement, after obtaining a keg of the fish imported from Sweden. These are from “Halland” he once told me. I thought he was referring to “Holland” until I ascertained that “Halland” is an area north of Halsingborg.
He was quite fond of grilling steaks, and constructed a large grill on the lot next to our cabin on the beach west of Erie using cement and rocks taken from the nearby lake shoreline. He had his own recipe for making the pancakes he called “crepes suzettes,” (a French delicacy).
COS was an ardent hunter for most of his life, and he apparently started on these treks afield after immigrating to help feed his mother, stepfather and two half-sisters. (Their Nagle Road home on the eastern edge of Lawrence Park was close to fields and woods.) “I got very tired of eating game,” I recall one of his half-sisters, (my Aunt Freda) saying.
Each fall when COS would take vacation half-days to hunt small game west of Erie, rabbit was often on our menu, along with the occasional grouse, squirrel, or woodcock. (The latter tasted like liver due to a diet of worms consumed through their long bills.)
I occasionally went hunting with my father, but just enjoyed the outings in the fresh fall air as I wasn’t a very good shot. I often had to clean the rabbits, however. As game went, they were easy to prepare for cooking.
Squirrels were very hard to prepare, however, as they were so tough to skin. I never did attempt to pluck any of the fowl.
COS would spend the other week of his annual two-week vacation in the lakes north of Toronto, fishing for bass, northern pike and muskellunge.
In his younger days as a hunter, he would travel to a camp in Potter County that he owned along with seven others to hunt bear and deer. He boasted of having shot two black bears and a number of deer. His interest in hunting was reflected in his life membership in the National Rifle Association and the large number of medals he earned in shooting competitions.
Such events were held at a shooting range in Kearsarge, the site today of the Millcreek Mall, and he was an instructor there in riflery as America prepared to enter World War I.He was exempt from being drafted in that war as he had too many dependents. “I fought in the battle of pork and beans,” he would say, referring to his apparent struggle in Erie industry.
Unlike other immigrants, such as perhaps the Italians, COS never showed any interest in returning to his homeland for a visit, and he apparently never had any contact with relatives there, including his father, Christian Brun, who passed away when COS was 31.
His early life in Sweden had perhaps been too harsh, and his more successful and comfortable life in the U.S. was what mattered. He expressed his regard for his new homeland in the huge U.S. flag he draped down over the porch entrance to our home each July Fourth.
His mother, Agneta Svensdottir, probably had unhappy memories of Sweden as well, as two of the four children she had with Christian Brun died young, and another had to be sent to a foster home.
Unlike his father in Sweden, COS was a doting parent and did as much as he could for his offspring.
He had five children with his first wife, May Burke, and two (including this writer) with his second, Alma Olsen.
He helped his children financially throughout much of their lives, and I recall his making a wood and canvas kayak for me in the basement of our home. I was presented with the craft as a Christmas present when I was 10.
He even had the home to which he had planned to retire moved from atop a small hill in Fairview Twp. down to Route 98 so his second oldest son, Frank, could convert it into a restaurant.
The restaurant failed, however after the road. was closed for a full year.
The man my father’s mother, Agneta, did marry in her mid-30s was Rudolf Fritz Stange (the “r” at the end of the name was added at immigration) after her long liaison with Christian Brun was a stocky Dane from the island of Bornholm who was 13 years her junior. It is very possible that Agneta saw him as someone who could help her escape a trying life in Sweden in the hope of finding a better life in America.
But it remains a mystery how Agneta and Rudolf were able to afford the small home and five acres of land on which they settled on arrival in America. It is doubtful that the work Rudolf did find in Erie would have made this possible.
And my Aunt Freda, although only 3 years old at the time, was sure that they traveled to America as First-Class passengers, not in Steerage, as did most immigrants. Was a benefactor perhaps involved?
COS has been gone now for 50 years.
His last couple of years were sad ones, as a man who had walked 15 city blocks to work and back at least twice a day for over 40 years and could shoot grouse and woodcock on the wing, and land muskies in Canada, could no longer drive and could only take modest walks from his home. for exercise. Macular degeneration is a singularly cruel ailment.
He enjoyed reruns of “Gunsmoke” but couldn’t see the TV screen too well. “We saw this one,” my mother would remark. “It’s hell getting old, Bob,” he remarked to me more than once.
It’s possible that the years he spent poring over the books at Griswold contributed to the deterioration of his vision. Whatever the case, his heirs, including my wife and I, certainly benefited from his diligence. His estate, which first went to his wife, (my mother, Alma) until her death, was divided among six of his seven children (or their heirs if deceased).
May Burke had died in her late 30s, and a very promising son, William, died of pneumonia at age 16. A daughter, Marie, died from breast cancer at age 35. It was perhaps their deaths to which he was referring when he would cite one of his favorite sayings, “Laugh and the world laughs with you; weep and you weep alone.”
My wife and I paid off the fairly large mortgage on our home with a portion of our share of his estate and were able to cover much of the cost of our cabin on the Allegheny with the rest. I’m sure that COS would have approved of the use we made of the modest inheritance he left us.
Robert Stanger has lived seasonally for over 40 years along the Allegheny River and has the stories to tell about it.