Friday, September 2, 2011

Didrik "Dick" Thompson Arrives 1903

Didrik “Dick” Thompson was born 3 October 1885 in Bergen, Norway the son of the painter, Didrik Andreas Thomssen and Sigrid Berentine Serene Andersdatter Dahle. He was both christened and confirmed in Maria Kirken shown on this postcard.

Maria Kirken (Mary Church) is the oldest building in Bergen and was built mainly of soapstone between 1130 and 1180. It seats 310 people. Fires damaged the church in 1198 and 1248. The church was expanded after the fire in 1198 and also after the fire in 1248 when the chancel was extended. It was renovated again in 1860-1874. It is a basilica with a long center section, high central nave and two lower aisles with rows of pillars connected by brickwork arches. The card shows the two west towers. There are four doors or portals with the southern door said to be the most beautiful. Much of its décor has been preserved including the altar cabinet that was probably made in Lübeck, Germany in the 1400s. Bergen was one of the Hanseatic cities and Mary Church was the parish church for the German merchants in Bergen between 1408 and 1766. It was at times referred to as the German Church. The church does have an old cemetery that is no longer in use with gravestones dating from the 1700s and 1800s.

Dick’s father’s family was from Rogaland to the south of Bergen and his mother’s from Sogn og Fjordane to the north. Didrik A. is said to have painted several murals in Bergen but we could not locate them the only remaining evidences of his work we have are a couple of pencil portraits. We do not know for certain how many children were born into the family only three children, Anna (born 1875), Didrik (1885), and Alfhild (1895) survived to adulthood. The surviving children were each ten years apart but there is a photograph of the mother with two small girls suggesting that there was at least one more girl in the family who may have died young. There is also at least one illegitimate half-sister who was born about the time that Sigrid died and there are rumored to be two half-brothers.

Grandpa Dick, as we called him, left Norway for America at age 18 in April of 1903 just a couple of years after the tragic accidental death of his mother in 1901. She had been cleaning windows in an upper story apartment and fell to her death. There was some controversy or dispute involving her death. Apparently some thought she might have been pushed or jumped rather than fell but the police inquiry that was held after the event determined that it was just a tragic accident. Since Dick didn’t get along very well with his father he left to start a new life in a new country.

From what we can determine he came directly to Seattle where his father’s sister, (Gjertine) Elizabeth Strandrud was living. At various times the Strandruds housed several immigrants until they could get on their feet, learn the language and get places of their own. His aunt encouraged him to go to school at Parkland in Tacoma and to save money to send back to Norway so that his sister Alfhild could also come to Seattle both of which he did. Alfhild also went to school at Parkland. One of the Strandrud cousins, Mabel, told a story about Dick asking her mother if he was good looking, her mother said, “Everyone is good looking, it’s how they behave that counts.” She would never tell him he was handsome. He had many admirers, however, it was not true love until he met Clara Lorig. He became a naturalized citizen on his birthday, October 3, 1911.

One little known fact about Dick is that he had a tattoo on his hand. I do not remember noticing it so it couldn’t have been too large.
He worked as an honor guard at the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition in 1909 then as a brakeman for the Northern Pacific Railway on the Portland to Seattle run for a while, in 1921 he joined the Seattle Police Department and was a well known traffic cop in downtown Seattle for many years. He retired from the SPD in 1955.

Dick’s career in the Police Department is well chronicled in his numerous scrapbooks. Pages and pages of news clippings in English and Norwegian reveal a most interesting man. He was at one time Number 1 on the Liberty-Star policeman popularity poll. He was written up in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” for having served as a traffic cop at the same location longer than anyone else—22 years at Times Square, 12 years at 4th and Pike. He was voted one of the 20 most courteous policemen in America. One snowy winter day found his picture on the front page of the Seattle Post Intelligencer. Pictures taken from 1924 to 1928 show him standing amid boxes and barrels of gifts brought to him by townsfolk. He was so adept at directing traffic and helping people that he was a “must see” attraction in downtown Seattle. Many famous visitors to the city would pose with him for picture taking. He was a large man, 5’ 11”, 185 lbs, with brown hair and eyes. It would be quite a sight to see him take off at a run to catch a thief—and he did so several times. Dr. Hal Smith, a plant pathologist and “Dahlia King” named one of his new dahlias the “Didrik Thompson Dahlia” in his honor. His picture was on the cover of the Northwest Police Journal for 8 years. He enjoyed music, played the piano some, and sang with the Norwegian Male Chorus in Seattle.

He was president of the Bergen Club and Trygve Landaas was secretary at that time. It was through Tryg that he met his future bride. He married Clara Lorig in 1917 and they had two daughters. Clara died at age 22 in 1919 due to complications delivering their second child and while still recovering from the Spanish Flu of 1918/1919. After her death the Lees adopted the youngest daughter and Dick kept the older daughter for a while but later she went to live with her Lorig grandparents until she was five years old at which time she went to Stanwood and lived in a foster home. Dick remarried in 1935 to Celia Skage whom he had known for a number of years. Celia had a son from a prior marriage and that son also lived at the foster home in Stanwood.

In 1951 Dick returned to Norway to visit his sister Anna, who had remained in there, retracing his journey by train across the United States and then taking a ship from New York to Bergen. He passed away 23 May 1968 at the age of 82.

Clara Lorig and Dick Thompson wedding photo, 1917

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