The Webster dictionary gives the following definitions of sauna: A Finnish steam bath is a room in which steam is provided by water thrown on hot stones. The sauna is a small room or hut heated to around 80 degrees Celsius. It is used for bathing as well as for mental and physical relaxation.
There was a time, in the not too distant past when there were more saunas in Finland than there were cars.
On a bright sunny morning in southern California, the week before Christmas 1967 at the age of eighty-one, Ida Susanna decided to enjoy what had long ago become a ritual. The sauna had been heated. It was ready. She and several family members were enjoying the heat, steam, warmth and comfort of the sauna when suddenly Ida began feeling uneasy and within a short time she succumbed on the spot, right then and there. Her last breath was in her beloved sauna, a Finnish tradition she had enjoyed throughout her life. Now, she had come full circle.
Ida Susanna Karhu drew her first breath and saw the light of day in a sauna on a cold morning in the dead of winter, March 12, 1886, in the rural village of Isokyro, on the banks of the River Kyro, in Western Finland, the Ostrobothnia Region, where St. Laurence Church built in 1304 still stands to this day, twenty minutes from Vaasa, Finland near the Gulf of Bothnia.
As a youngster, she played with friends and watched her younger brother and sister. She went to school and dreamed of a new life in a far-away country where her father was waiting for the family. Johan had left for America several months earlier. At that time the United States was actively recruiting immigrants. He was up to the challenge.
The time had finally come for the family to be reunited. In early spring of 1896 Ida, her mother, Sanna, 42, her brother Jakko and sister Lisa Whilemena, had taken all the necessary steps toward making their way to ‘Amerika’. The Finnish passport containing all four names was in order, having undergone rigorous scrutiny prior to being issued. Four tickets were purchased at the cost of FIM 138 per passenger. The date for departure had been set for May 16, 1896.
It must have been a harrowing thirteen-day voyage for Sanna, with the responsibility of three young children although Ida was able to help with the little ones. They made their way to Hango, Finland on to Hull, England, aboard the SS Urania, then by train to Liverpool, England. The travellers then boarded the SS Lucania, a Cunard Liner, destination New York City with two thousand eager passengers. Some were either homesick or seasick or both.
They passed the Statue of Liberty as they approached Ellis Island on May 29, 1896, where the lengthy registration process began before they could go down the ‘stairway to freedom’.
There were new horizons for the ten year Ida, and her family as they made their way to Ashtabula, Ohio. She went to school, was a diligent student who learned to read and write in English while maintaining her Finnish language and heritage.*
In 1903 at the age of sixteen, she married a fellow Finn, nine years her senior, had nine children. Johan (John) provided for the family for forty years until he was fatally struck in the spring of 1943 by a young fellow driving a forklift. After his passing Ida had several suitors. She remarried, however, her new husband, Herman Haapala died within the year.
Ida Susanna was a lady with sisu*, a Finnish word for perseverance, courage and determination. She married for the third time to a gentleman named Gust Gustafson and enjoyed several years living on a large farm in Cook, Minnesota. For almost ten years they travelled., One summer they visited her son in Canada, and wintered in Florida. However, he too passed away.
Getting on in years and not wanting to endure the harsh winters in the east, she made her way to southern California where she spent her remaining years close to several of her children and their families.
She lived life to the fullest throughout those many years in “Amerika” her adopted country and is buried beside her first love, her husband of forty years, Johan Hjalmar Lindell, in Edgewood Cemetery in Ashtabula, Ohio.
*Sisu is a Finnish term and when loosely translated into English signifies strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity. However, the word is widely considered to lack a proper translation into any other language. Sisu has been described as being integral to understanding Finnish culture. The literal meaning is equivalent in English to “having guts”, and the word derives from sisus, which means something inner or interior. However sisu is defined by a long-term element in it; it is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain an action against the odds. Deciding on a course of action and then sticking to that decision against repeated failures is sisu.
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.
Amidst the many tombstones in a shady corner of Edgewood Cemetery in Ashtabula, Ohio is a very simple thick slab of granite, about the size of one of those washboards our mothers and grandmothers used to hand wash items before washing machines were invented. Inscribed on this granite in very large letters, as simple as the stone itself is the word “AITI”. which means mother in Finnish. It is the resting place of my great grandmother1, Susanna Karhu (Klemola) who had immigrated to the United States in 1896.
Susanna was born in Waara, Finland in 1854. In their home country in 1876 at the age of twenty-two Sanna married Johan Karhu. Over time they raised a family of eight children.
In 1893 Johan seized the opportunity to immigrate to the United States. He left his family in Finland and made his way to Ashtabula, Ohio, a port city on Lake Erie, where he worked on the docks and lived in the area of Ashtabula Harbor. At that time the port was thriving with constant activity. Large flat boats and barges loaded with coal and iron ore were sailing up and down the Great Lakes. These were prosperous times. New immigrants were eager to earn a decent wage.
Once settled, Johan sent for his family. In 1896 Susanna ( Sanna), at the age of forty-two along with her three youngest children, Ida, Jaako, and Lisa set sail by way of Hanko, Finland.2. They boarded the S.S. Cunard ship ‘Lucania’ in Liverpool, England en route to America. Ellis Island was their port of destination in America arriving there on the 30th of May 1896, and continuing on to Ohio.
Very little is known about Sanna. We do know that her two oldest children chose to remain in Finland. It must have been heart wrenching to know that she would be leaving behind these children and two of her babies’ graves.
She was a housewife and at the time of her death August 18th 1929. She was 75 years old and among the oldest of the Finnish residents of Ashtabula Harbor having lived there over 30 years. Johan died in 1948. Where he is buried is still a mystery?
Sanna, Ida Susanna, Johan, Jaako and Lisa. Photograph taken several years
after arriving in the United States. Ida, my grandmother appears to be about fifteen or sixteen.
In a photograph taken during a family gathering in 1919 Sanna and Johan
are surrounded by their children, grandchildren and great-grand children.
- 1. “Ohio Deaths, 1908-1953,” database with images,FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:X8PB-TC9 : 8 December 2014), Sanna Karhu, 18 Aug 1929; citing Ashtabula, Ashtabula, Ohio, reference fn 50528; FHL microfilm 1,991,908.
- 2. Finnish Institute of Migration