My Finnish Grandfather
The Blacksmith of Bridge Street
The young Finnish merchant marine, Johan Hjalmar Lindell along with his mates went in to Boston while the ship was anchored. While ashore they were all encouraged to drink and they had more than a few pints. The drunken sailors were brought back on board ship. When Johan and another mate realized that they had been “shanghaied”, they decided to swim ashore. They had previously planned to remain in the United States, the land of opportunity! They were successful. A decision neither ever regretted.
From all accounts Johan had a happy childhood. He was born in 1874 in Tampere, in southern Finland. During his early years he received love, affection and caring from both parents. A tragic turn of events changed his life forever. His mother died. He was devastated. His father was a handsome, energetic man who before long began to seek a new companion. The step-mother was not very understanding toward the young lad and he would often find the cupboards locked. Unable to satisfy his appetite, he decided he could not live this way and made a decision to run away! He was twelve years old.
From the stories told over the years, he made his way to St. Petersburg, Russia, as a slender fellow, with nimble fingers he worked in a woolen mill, his dexterity and size being an asset. This work, however, would not last. It was time to move on. His adventurous spirit took him to far-away places. During his travels, he learned to be a blacksmith, a trade that would serve him well later in life. He made his way to the open seas and for several years he was a merchant marine who sailed the Seven Seas.
In the early 1880s after being shanghaied in Boston, Johan made his way to Pennsylvania. Upon learning there was a large Finnish community in Ashtabula Harbour, Ohio on Lake Erie. He headed north. His early years were spent working on the iron ore boats on the Great Lakes.
In 1903 he married young Ida Susanna Karhu, born in the early spring of 1886 in Isokyro, Finland. She had immigrated in 1896 landing at Ellis Island with her mother, Sanna, brother Jacko and his sister, Lisa Whilemena and were living in Ashtabula where the father had already established a home for them.
Johan and Ida had eight healthy children and lost a son at birth. They raised their family while Johan, or John or Herman, as he was sometimes known, worked at his blacksmith shop on Bridge Street in the Harbour. He had four forges and shod the horses that hauled the brewery wagons. He built wagons used for hauling coal. He also served as a court interpreter, an inventor, and banker.
The family lived above the shop. About a mile outside of town they also had a small farm. For many years the Lindell family thrived.
Times were changing and with the Ohio Dry Campaign of 1918 and the Women Christian Temperance Union’s actions, business at the blacksmith shop slowly dwindled. There were fewer horses to be shod and before long the large brewery companies pulled up stakes. They left town without paying their bills. There were young children at home. Kaarlo his oldest son worked as a cook on the iron ore boats on the Great Lakes. He loaned money to his father. Grandfather was grateful for his son’s assistance and he made it up to him as the economy improved. Grandfather continued to work as an interpreter, along with all his other various ‘irons in the fire’. He was a resourceful man. He even tried his hand working on automobiles.
The 1940 United States Census report indicated it was the first time Johan had made the necessary inquiries about obtaining citizenship, although he had been in the United States for close to fifty years. At that time, perhaps it was a requirement that he work outside his business in order qualify to receive Social Security benefits. It was war time and he was in his mid-sixties. He began work in a munitions factory. While working there to secure his benefits he was struck by a young worker driving a tow motor (fork-lift). He was hospitalized and died several days later in 1944. He was seventy years old. He was to retire from his work in six weeks. Ida Susanna received the benefits Johan had worked so hard to obtain.
Twists and turns throughout his lifetime made Johan Hjalmar Lindell a strong, vibrant man who lived life it to the fullest. He lived long enough to see his son, Kaarlo go to University and became a successful engineer. His daughter, Helen a registered nurse. All his children, except Alpo, who was a merchant marine, raised their families and had children of their own. Some stayed in Ohio. Others headed for California. Kaarlo ( Karl) settled in Canada.
Johan is buried in Edgewood Cemetery in Ashtabula, Ohio. In December 1967 Ida Susanna died and is buried beside her first love.
Altonen, Karhu, Kuivinen, Lindell Family Reunion 1919
The older couple sitting in the center of the photo – Johan and Sanna Karhu, grandparents, grandmother Ida’s parents. They are surrounded by their family. Johan Hjalmar, Grandfather, Ida and their eight children are in the left side of the picture. Kaarlo is standing directly behind his grandfather, beside Ida who is holding baby brother Alpo
I never knew my Grandfather, but, certainly wish I had! What I do know is from stories my father, Karl told me over the years. In 2010 I attended an Altonen, Karhu, Kuivinen Lindell family reunion in Ashtabula and visited with cousins. This was my first visit to the area. It was a heartwarming experience to meet with relatives and see the sights my father had so often spoken of; the harbour, the lighthouse, Bridge Street where Grandfather’s blacksmith shop was and the famous Bridge Street bascule swing bridge that crosses the Ashtabula River not far from his shop.
During my grandfather’s time Ashtabula was a thriving port. Iron ore was being transported up and down the Great Lakes. The railroads were busy transporting goods. Today there is very little activity in the port. For many prosperity in the harbour is but a distant memory.