Chicago – Sweden’s second largest city…

I’m currently in Chicago, and intrigued to learn more about its Swedish connections.

During the 19th and 20th centuries there was a mass emigration of Swedes to the USA. About 1.3 million people, an enormous number, are estimated to have left Sweden due to starvation, poverty and oppression.

By 1890 the U.S. census reported a Swedish-American population of nearly 800,000. Most immigrants became pioneers, clearing and cultivating the prairie in the Midwest, but some forces pushed the new immigrants towards the cities, particularly Chicago. At one point there were more Swedish people in Chicago than in any Swedish city except Stockholm. Chicago was Sweden’s second largest city in terms of population!

In Chicago, there are some remnants of Swedish history left. There are a number of famous Swedes hiding in Chicago. Carl Linnaeus has two statues, one on the University of Chicago campus in Hyde Park and one in the Heritage Garden of the Chicago Botanic Garden. Another icon Emanuel Swedenborg has a bust on Lake Shore Drive.

To the north of Chicago, there’s a neighborhood called Andersonville. Andersonville’s roots as a community extend well back into the 19th century, when immigrant Swedish farmers started moving north into what was then a distant suburb of Chicago. Swedish immigrants continued to arrive in Andersonville through the beginning of the 20th century, settling in the newly built homes surrounding Clark Street. Before long, the entire commercial strip was dominated by Swedish businesses. Today, Andersonville is a popular place to live and has festivities such as the Midsommarfest – one of Chicago’s largest and most popular street festivals.

The Swedish American Museum was founded in Andersonville in 1976, by Kurt Mathiasson, to preserve and disseminate the history of the great contributions of early Swedish immigrants to Chicago. The Museum was opened to the public in a ceremony attended by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.

Andersonville remains one of the most concentrated areas of Swedish heritage in the United States, but its residents and businesses represent a wide array of cultures.

Today’s Swedes in Chicago are usually tourists visiting the Magnificent Mile and taking selfies in the mirrored bean statue. But it’s fascinating to remember that centuries before, a very different type of Swede trod these city streets.

Why is May 1st celebrated in Sweden?

In Sweden, and in many other countries, May 1st has been embraced as the International Workers’ Day. In 1938, May 1st became Sweden’s first non-religious public holiday and has been an important celebration of labourers and the working classes since then.

But why specifically May 1st?

The answer is found in a massacre in the USA. On 1 May 1886, laborers in Chicago went out on strike for an 8 hour working day. On 4 May 1886, Chicago police and the demonstrators clashed and 11 people died. The event is called the Haymarket massacre. Seven of the demonstrators were sentenced to death, despite lack of evidence. To commemorate the massacre, the socialist organization suggested that 1 May should become day of demonstrations every year.

Around Sweden, traffic is shut off, huge flag-waving demonstrations are held and people gather to hear speeches from their politicians and representatives – most commonly from the political left.

Contrary to the stereotype however, not everybody in Sweden supports left wing political groups. Many Swedes lean towards the centre or the right. For them, today is just a day off work – an opportunity to perhaps nurse hangovers from the festivities of the previous evening or to relax, watch Netflix, meet friends and enjoy the day.

Nowadays, there is always a racist shadow over May 1st celebrations. According to the Swedish law, even their right to demonstrate is protected. This year, the extreme right-wing Party ‘Nordiska motståndsrörelse’ will also be marching in the small towns of Ludvika, Fagersta and Kungälv. This inevitably means a counter-demonstration will occur and a potentially violent exchange of opinions will develop.

If you’re in Stockholm, head to Humlegården or Medborgarplatsen around 12.00 ish to catch the start of two demonstrations.