Philosophies, Speeches, Thoughts, Ideas

by Ole A. Olmanson

Memories of 4th of July During the Last 70 Years

On the 4th of July, 1865, my father, Bernt Olmanson, was just getting his discharge from the army in the Civil War. He was listening to General Sherman giving his farewell address to the boys of his regiment. From that time on father always took in the 4th of July celebrations in our community. After we boys were big enough, he always made it a point to be there in time for the 4th of July orations.

I still remember most of these occasions and especially the orators and part of their eloquent orations. Way back in the time when I was a kid those orators were just as bubbling over with patriotism. “Give me liberty or give me death,” was Patrick Henry’s slogan. Today we have the liberty, but the main issue is to preserve it.

In the year 1888 the people of the Norseland Church made up a 4th of July picnic at the Hans Christian place. The men chipped together and we had free lemonade for the older people and peanuts and candy for the children. We did not know anything about ice cream then. Rev. Thomas Johnson was the speaker of the day. He spoke of the freedom and liberty that our country had and still preserved it. He also spoke of the Christian freedom and liberty that we enjoy. Klokkar Nelson also spoke. He mentioned some of the advantages we have in this country, especially in transportation by railroads. He stressed that it would be difficult to get along without them in that time of horse age.

On another occasion a young eloquent man, farmer and pioneer, by the name of Ostrum spoke. He said in part, “Why do we celebrate the 4th of July? Why do people in every community gather together to listen to partiotic speeches and patriotic songs? Why do we shoot firecrackers and make all the noise we can? It is because on that day the American Eagle first burst from its cage and screamed for liberty, and screamed until it got it. Because on that day the Star Spangled Banner, the American flag, was first unfurled to the breeze never to be lowered as long as one patriot lives.” The young man was the son of old Grandpa Ostrom. He also spoke of our progress and our inventions. The latest at the time was the reaper or self binder as they called them, and the sewing machine.

County Treasurer John Webster spoke on one occasion in the Tollefson grove where we met a number of times. John Tollefson told about the hardships and wants in the older days. Swen Swenson, father of Senator Oscar A. Swenson and Grandpa of many generations out in New Sweden, also gave us a picture of former days. He said that when clothes washing day came, some parties had to go to bed while their clothes were washed and dried. It took longer to dry the clothes in those days as they did not have clothes dryers.

Old Grandpa Ostrom was a favorite speaker on many occasions. This was the time of the bicycle age. All the grown up boys were riding bicycles. There were no autos and people believed that airplanes were an impossibility unless they could find some material lighter than air to build them of. But Ostrom predicted with great assurance, pointing to the bicycles put away on the ground, “You will in time see that many air ships put away here as people come to the picnic.” His prediction came to pass.

One time we had a Methodist minister from St. Peter. He was Canadian born. He did not know about the Scandinavians until he got to St. Peter. The first woman that he married was a Scandinavian, but he did not know it until long afterwards. (It was not his own wife. He performed the marriage in the capacity of a minister.) He said, “Close up the lemonade stand and I shall treat the crowd.”

Henry Benson was another forceful speaker. He made some stirring patriotic talks during World War I and II. An old farmer, Andrew Thorson, was another favorite orator. He spoke in Swedish. “What was our object for coming to this country? The reason was this. Way back there at home, we were sitting on a little sod. It was so tight there at home. But this country!—there was a stretch of 3,000 miles to the Pacific Ocean that was uninhabited, a naked wilderness. The Lord could not have decorated a day more gloriously then this. Just look at the leaves on the trees, the lilies of the valley. Even King Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of those.”

Selmer Swenson, one of our native boys and at one time minister to Denmark and other countries, said once in concluding, “I am a Norwegian, and I am proud of it. But I am prouder still that I am an American. I was born an American, I have lived an American, and I shall die an American.”

Governor John A. Johnson used to come out and umpire the ball game for the school boys and then give us a 4th of July oration. He was tops! He happened to be out the very day we got the news of the sinking of the battleship Maine. The boys got so excited that they bought all the fireworks on hand and fired them all at once. Johnson said that he felt very proud when he got the invitation to come out here to speak. “But now when I get up to face you, I feel so little. I feel something like the fish that the boy caught. There was a negro fishing from the river bank and he caught a big fish. As he was going further up the stream, he hung his big fish on a branch of a tree leaning over the water. While he was gone, along comes a little boy that had caught a tiny fish. The boy saw that big fish hanging there. So he took it down and hung up his little fish instead. After a while the negro came back and saw that the little fish was hanging there. He said, ‘This is the place and this is the fish, but how it has shrunk.’ So it is with me now, I have shrunk!”

Senator Knute Nelson was a forceful speaker. He was a politician and they always have something to warn us against, real or imaginary. Now they are afraid that the other fellow may lean toward the Communists. Before it was the Bolshevik. In Knute’s time it was Socialism. He concluded his talk by saying, “Some people are born of poor parents, born with poor and defective limbs and weak minds, and still they become successful and become rich. Others are so constituted that they may be born of rich parents, they may be surrounded by hills of diamonds and mountains of gold—and still they can become as poor as the shirtless hobo. You can divide the wealth equally between the people today and in a short time a few will have it all.”

“We live in a glorious and fast extending country. At first our country consisted of 13 colonies composed of a narrow strip along the Atlantic Sea board. We gradually extended westward clear to the Pacific Ocean. But our country is fast expanding. Today our country is bounded on the north by Canada, on the south by Mexico, on the east by the Atlantic Ocean, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean. But our country is fast expanding and the time is coming when the United States of America will be bounded on the north by the North Pole, on the south by the South Pole, on the east by the rising of the sun and on the west by the setting thereof.”

That sounded to me like Hitler’s idea. But I do not think he meant it that way. Our country never looked for conquest.

At the Synod Meeting about 20 Years Ago

The motion before the Synod Meeting was, “We propose to have our next Synod Meeting during the 4th of July.” In that way we would give the people a chance to visit the Synod Meeting during those holidays. As far as I could learn, most of the ministers were for the motion.

When it came up of discussion four ministers asked for the floor. An old farmer, a delegate from southern Minnesota, called for the floor. As he had not spoken before, he got the first chance to speak.

“Member, delegates of the Synod Convention. I am afraid that most of those that are free from their jobs those days are headed in a different direction and we would gain little by it. And as far as the rest of us are concerned, it would make it more difficult to travel on the roads. So the gain is slight. We observe the 4th of July because on that day the American Eagle first burst its cage and screamed for liberty, and screamed until it got it. On that day the American flag was first unfurled to the breeze, never to be lowered as long as one patriot lives. We are blamed for many things, but let no one blame us for being unpatriotic. Thank you for listening.” (The motion failed.)

The southeran Minnesota farmer that spoke was none other than myself.

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