NOTE: There is a genuine artifact here at the DAC: An old steamer trunk, that bears the marks of an immigrant life as rich as any lived round these parts. This week, HANNAH SMITH imagines its life for your pleasure. Enjoy!
I am tired, and my life has been full of adventure. Is Denmark my final resting place? It would be ironic since I am so close to the town of Sweden. My journey started in Sweden, the country, not the town. After that first long journey, we only rested in America for a short time. Alfred tried to like New York, he really did, but our timing was awful. The city that he thought was paved with gold, where any man could climb to the top, was plagued with The Great Depression. It was nearly impossible to find work, never mind a meal. So, with the last of his money, he bought a ticket to Halifax, Canada.
Maybe I’ve gotten a bit ahead of myself. These things happen in old age, you know? First of all, you should probably know that I am a trunk. The word trunk isn’t exactly glamorous, but I like to think that my presence is greater than my title. There was a time when I was shiny and new; when my black veneer was bold, and my brass fixtures gleamed. My 80 years have been kind to me, though. The newness has gone, and my features are certainly weathered. Still, I’m proud of every chip and scrape. They tell a story; a story that I’d like to share with you.
Alfred was my owner. His life ended before mine. We had a great life together, though, and I was happy to carry his possessions. We started out near Gothenburg, Sweden. Alfred’s family worked hard to pay his fare to America. Alfred worked in the shipping industry throughout his adolescence, and was always particularly fascinated by the ships leaving for New York. The rumors glamorized America, and more and more Swedes left their homeland to try their luck in the land of equal opportunity. After long years of working for very little salary, the family finally earned enough money to purchase his ticket across the ocean.
Our arrival in New York: Crowds of people at Ellis Island— some rejected entry due to illness. If only they knew how close quarters were on that boat. Once we passed customs, we were taken by surprise. The New York we saw was nothing like what we imagined. The time spent there was hard for Alfred. Through a friend, he managed to find a factory job in Hoboken, New Jersey. The conditions were menial, the pay was terrible. Two years of labor, and Alfred saved up enough money for a ticket to Canada.
He knew almost nothing about Canada, but he had heard that the shipping industry was booming in Halifax. Once again, I was loaded on a ship, and made the journey to a new home. Thankfully, Alfred had much better luck finding a job in Halifax. He worked in the sea salvage industry for a bit less than 20 years. Until the SS Foundation Franklin was decommissioned in 1948. At this point, Alfred had met a Norwegian woman, and the two had 3 children. Together, the family decided to make one final journey back to America. The depression was long over, and America’s economy had recovered, and his children had left to live in Portland, Maine years before. The ferry was fairly convenient, and Alfred had gone (without me!) to visit his children once before. He seemed to think that America had much improved since he last saw it.
One evening, he was pouring over a map of Maine, and found something that astonished both him and his wife; their countries names on the Maine map! Sweden, Norway, and Denmark were close together, and not too far from Portland. He packed me up for one final boat ride, and we returned to America. He found a beautiful farm in Denmark, and he and his wife raised cows for the rest of their lives. He became involved with the Odd Fellows Hall downtown, and after his death his children donated many of his belongings to their organization. I was used for storage, and served as a memory of a man who was truly appreciated by the townspeople. Now, the building has become the Denmark Arts Center, but here I rest, unused, but not forgotten.