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Sisu, Saunas and Ida Susanna

oldsauna

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.

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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.

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images

 

 

*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.

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Destination: Amerikka

 

by

Claire Lindell

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.

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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?

GGR-Gram-GGR-Jake-Vic Karhu

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.

GGR-GR Karhu 50thAn@ Laine Farm

In a photograph taken during a family gathering in 1919 Sanna and Johan

are surrounded by their children, grandchildren and great-grand children.

 

Sources:

  1. 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. 2. Finnish Institute of Migration
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