Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Maggie Landaas Comes to America

Mikkeline Oliva Landaas was born near Bergen, Norway 22 January 1872. She was the first child born to Peder Johan Mikkelsen Landaas and Karen or Kari Olsdatter Kalvetræ. Mikka as she was called in Norway attended school through the sixth grade and then had to leave and go to work to help support the large family. Her next younger sister, Petra, also left school after the sixth grade and went to work in the same knitting factory. The family lived in a small apartment, three rooms and a kitchen on the fourth floor at Munkebæksmuget 9, above the factory and consisted of mother, father and nine children. Peder who had done quite well as a carpenter, woodcarver, furniture maker, found himself without much work due to an economic depression in the late 1880s and early 1890s. While they had not been rich they had been comfortable but now they were extremely poor. With such a large family it was necessity that forced the two older girls into work instead of allowing them to continue the next two years of school as would normally be expected.

Many people left Norway during this time and came to America to start a better life. In 1892 when the opportunity presented itself, Mikka, was excited to take a chance and leave home. Her ticket was paid for by Hans and Karine Lepsøy and arrangements were made for her to travel with Mrs. Lepsøy and her children, Iver age 4, Martin, age 2, Christine, age 1, and her stepson Christopher age 12. Very little is known about the actual sea voyage other than the tickets on the Allan Line ship S/S State of Nebraska were purchased 5 May 1892 probably about a week before sailing arriving in New York 25 May 1892.

There are several somewhat conflicting or contradicting oral history reports about what happened next but by eliminating things that just logically couldn’t have happened it is hoped that the following account comes a little closer to what did happen. Hans Lepsøy and his wife Karine had come to America in 1884, first settling in Iowa and then moving west and ending up in Seattle. Karine went back to Norway for a visit and to bring her stepson to America. She was pregnant and traveling with two small boys. Her daughter, Christine, was born while she was staying with relatives in Os. The tickets for this family as well as Mikka would have included the train transportation across the US to Seattle. All they had to do was to find the train station and get aboard the correct train heading west. Probably because she was the employee, Mikka, was the one who was supposed to find the train station and get everybody safely aboard. This included making sure they had food or at least enough money on hand to purchase food for the trip across the country, 3 or 4 days. Not knowing the language Mikka started hunting for someone who could speak Norwegian and help her with her assigned task.

In those days people would walk back and forth by the ships and the immigration center advertising to help for small sums of money. They often carried signs and/or called out to attract customers. One man was walking along with a sign saying he spoke Norwegian and he was calling out “Snakke du norsk?” (Do you speak Norwegian?). Mikka gravitated over to him and asked for help. He told her how to get to the train depot and promised to get her some food or tickets or something, no one seems sure what, and she foolishly gave him all her money. She didn’t have any idea how much since it was converted to US money and she spoke very little if any English. He said he would return and she waited and waited and waited. Finally she had to leave and get the family to the train and he still had not come.

Mrs. Lepsøy must have been very upset for now they only had what little money she had left to get them through the next several days. They did have some food but it was not quite enough. When they arrived in Ballard (now part of Seattle) they had to walk up the hill to where Hans was waiting for them. There was no money to hire a porter to haul the trunk so as the servant she had to pull and drag it up the hill by herself. A steamer trunk filled with goods for a family of this size could have been quite heavy and Mikka was tiny so this was a huge chore although she more than likely just accepted it as part of her duties.

Mikka lived and worked for the Lepsøys keeping house and caring for the younger children for about a year. She gradually became Americanized and her name changed from Mikka to Maggie. They did pay her but she had to repay them for the lost money as well as her ticket and also for room and board making it impossible to send much money home to help the rest of her family leave Norway and come to America. One day a man came by to talk with her when she was out on errands for the family and he asked her how she was doing and where she came from in Norway. During a general conversation the story came out about the man in New York who had run off with the money. He said that he would contact the Norwegian Emigration/Immigration fund people and see if he could get the money returned. She didn’t think anything would come of it but after a few days or weeks this same man came back and gave her the money. It seems most likely that he paid her from his own pocket but whatever happened she now had sufficient means to buy herself out of what was almost indentured servitude and to find another job so she could send money back home.

As a footnote to the story previously posted about how she and Edd Lorig met, one account says that she went to work in the bakery and that is how she met the girl who was dating Edd and that it was Maggie who was hiding and all she could see were his shoes. And that does seem a more likely scenario than just happening to be there when Edd was hiding behind the door.

The next youngest sister, Petra, used the money Maggie sent home to buy her own ticket and she arrived in July 1893. Earlier when Maggie left home a third sister, Klara, had written a very sad little note about how mother and father had worked so hard for the family and were crying to see their daughter leave and how they would never see her again. But Maggie and Petra were not going to let that happen. The two girls both sent money home and little by little, one by one, the rest of the family came until by 1902 both parents and all nine children had been reunited.

Back row: Maggie, Sigrid, Cornelius, Adolph, Harald, Klara. Front row: Petra, Peder, Trygve, Karen, Nora

No comments:

Post a Comment