Illinois's Swedish Heritage
|Rockford's Erlander House Museum
Rockford, Illinois has the third largest concentration of
Swedish people per capita in the United States. Erlander Museum
in Rockford preserves Rockford's Swedish roots. It's named for
John Erlander and his daughter Mary. The Englander family is
typical of many Swedish immigrants to Rockford. John emigrated
from Sweden to Chicago, Illinois and then Rockford. He worked as
a tailor and later opened a furniture store in partnership with
other Swedish men.
Mary was John's youngest daughter. She moved into Rockford's
first brick single-family home, now the Erlanger Museum, as a
toddler and lived in it most of her life. Karen Hammarbert, The
Swedish Historical Society representative explained why the home
is so unique,
"There were no brick homes in Sweden so John Erlanger decided to
build a brick home to show that Swedish people can come here to
American and become successful."
Erlander House Museum
In 1951, she sold it to Swedish
Historical Society of Rockford. Mary was a skilled painter and
the museum parlor still contains the borders she painted. Many
of her watercolors are also displayed.
The home has much of the family
furnishing still preserved so you can see how a middle-class
Swedish family lived. The wood stove in the parlor is a marvel.
It almost makes you want to forgo central heating in favor of
this beauty. Almost. The museum is much more than a
tribute to one family however. It contains such varied items as
a bust of a bust of Per Henrik Ling, the inventor of the Swedish
massage, Swedish folk art, a collection of Swedish dolls, the
Sock Monkey exhibit and so much more.
The doll collection
features 46 Charlotte Weibull dolls dressed in native
folk costumes from all of the Swedish provinces. There is also
an exhibit about The Pleasant Company, creators of the American
Girl Dolls, and its series of books on Kirsten, a Swedish
immigrant girl who settles with her family in Minnesota.
|The Swedish Doll collection
||Some of the folk art
The Sock Monkey has become such a part of
American culture we sometimes forget their Swedish origins. The
display at the Erlander Museum recreates the story. The Sock
Monkeys began in Rockford with John Nelson, a Swedish immigrant.
Nelson patented his sock-knitting machine in 1869, and began
manufacturing work socks in Rockford. To show his socks were
actually made by his machines, he devised a red heel trade mark.
According to Karen Hammarbert, "Around the 1930s, someone just
got creative. 'Oh lets attach a tail.' and the Sock Monkey was
Midway Village holds an annual event, The Sock Monkey Madness
Festival, commemorating this iconic toy. The Sock Monkey
Festival was awarded a national 2009 Leadership in History Award
of Merit from the American Association for State and Local
History for excellence in educational programming
|A spinning wheel at the Erlander
Another spot that commemorates Rockford's
Swedish heritage is the newly opened Roland and Gladys Olson
Swedish Heritage Park on the 83 acre farm donated by the Olsons
in their will. The 28-acre, first phase contains a
playground, a Swedish-influenced pavilion, and green spaces
suitable for playing
the Swedish lawn games
Kubb, bocce ball or other lawn sports. The park also includes a
five-acre dog park.
About the art: In honor of Mary Erlander, I decided to
do something different with my photos. I turned them into faux
pencil drawings. Hope you like them.
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