San Francisco’s Midwinter Fair of 1894 was the brainchild of San Francisco Chronicle publisher, Michael H. DeYoung, who attended Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. He convinced many of the countries’ representatives to extend their investment by moving their exhibits to San Francisco at the end of Chicago’s fair. He hoped to stimulate the city—then in a deep financial depression—and to demonstrate all the products of California and its counties.
As with every international fair, he recruited ethnic communities of the city and Bay Area to increase attendance at the fair by inviting their countrymen to attend on a day honoring their people. The fair was held in the city’s grand central park being reclaimed from sand dunes, in Golden Gate Park’s “Concert Valley,” the amphitheater between today’s DeYoung Fine Arts Museum and the California Academy of Sciences. The only remnant of that fair is the Japanese Tea Garden.
Swedes were invited to celebrate their day on Monday, May 14. While there were many Scandinavian clubs, there was no one to coordinate them. So the Swedes formed a committee representing all their clubs for this purpose, chaired by Dr. Frederick Westerberg. The assigned date was not of their choosing; however, it was close enough to Sweden’s traditional Midsummer on June 24 that they chose this as the theme for that day. They paraded through the city from Van Ness and Golden Gate avenues to the fairground with many contingents marching or on horses, with flags waving and banners taut, with costumed regiments and several floats. Their exhibits extolled the history and contributions of their fatherland, with delicious foods and ingenious products. Two well attended programs at the Festival Hall included familiar songs and folk dances, poems and speeches, mostly in Swedish from prominent local Swedes. In the evening an orchestra accompanied their dancing well into the night.
At least 8,000 people attended the fair on that date—a record for a weekday—of which 6,000 were counted as Swedes.

Successive Svenskarnas Dag
The very next year, on Jan. 31, 1895, the committee was transformed into the Swedish American Patriotic League, proclaiming their dual allegiances as a congress of all local Swedish clubs with delegates from each, to cooperate and coordinate, and specifically to produce an annual Swedish Midsummer festival. Dr. Westerberg was elected president.
The early programs held on the summer solstice were for many years called Svenskarnas Dag (Swedes’ Day). For almost a half century these were celebrated outdoors at rented spaces in parks and beaches. They featured programs with favorite songs and dancing to familiar tunes around the maypole, but also family picnics with Swedish specialties, children’s races, and athletic competitions like tug-of-war.
The second year’s program, attended by 2,000 people, was the largest west of Minneapolis; in 1898 parades and floats preceded the program, in which Columbia and Svea’s companions were Cuba, the Philippines and Hawaii, as Americans celebrated the spoils of the Spanish American War. The following year returned to the picnic format.
SAPL’s celebration with a Midsummer Queen, Columbia, Svea, and the Maids of Honor—strictly a Bay Area invention and now historic feature of our festivals—is emblematic of these Swedes’ dual allegiance as well as of their pride in representing each of the clubs composing the league. This pattern began to form in 1901 with the first Midsummer Queen to reign over the festivities, then attended by 4,000. The next year, with 5,000 attending, the court of Maids of Honor, each representing a constituent club of the league, was established.
On April 18, 1906 San Francisco suffered its destructive earthquake and fire. Only eight days later, Vestkusten’s headline proclaiming “San Francisco in ruins,” also carried the announcement of that year’s Midsummer at Shell Mound Park on June 13. This news was greatly appreciated—everybody came to learn the fate of friends and exchange contact information.


A major transition
For 47 years SAPL’s Midsummer was held outdoors, but in 1941, with the beginning of World War II, the celebration moved indoors to the Scottish Rite Auditorium in San Francisco. Not only did the location change, but so did the entire celebration. Rather than informal picnics and dancing outdoors, now the festival was celebrated in a cavernous auditorium with a ballroom and formal stage, a huge horseshoe balcony with hundreds of seats above that, and below ground another huge area with tables for dining. The program became more formal to match the building. People wore formal attire. The program became an evening’s entertainment and concert with a dozen acts. Songs were sung by a full men’s chorus. Each Maid of Honor in the court curtsied to the queen and the audience. There was always a piano on the stage because there were always accompaniments, soloists or duets. Once a magician was featured live on stage.
The typical processional was formalized here: parade marshal, flag bearers, performers in folk costumes and court members were ushered through the audience and up the central steps onto the stage. Afterward, the queen and court exited to an adjoining room where the audience congratulated them, and a volunteer crew pushed all the chairs under the stage to transform the ballroom for dancing. A band took the stage, the queen, court and escorts had their initial dance, and everyone took to the floor for both modern dances and old Swedish folk dances. This after-party became a contemporary dance party of the 40s and 50 era, with all the latest tunes.

Another transition
By the mid-1960s, the auditorium was sold to become a cineplex and our Midsummer transitioned again. A younger group of SAPL officers, who had grown up in Sveadal, recommended we save money and transfer the tradition to the league’s cultural heritage site, the same place where in 1926 a huge multitude of Swedes had gathered when the Crown Prince and Princess dedicated it.
So, in 1967, Charlotte Peterson served as the last queen in the auditorium, and a week later she and her court repeated the program in Sveadal, where it has been ever since.
Sveadal is a couple hours’ drive from San Francisco and the East Bay where many of the clubs and people lived at the time, but during the postwar years, bridges, highways, the family car and road trips all became typical, as did commuting. Now Sveadal was within reach of everyone.
That first Midsummer in Sveadal changed the nature of the program and festivity, not merely the location. A low stage and performing platform was temporarily erected on the semi-circular lawn in front of the original clubhouse near the towering 400-year-old Olsson Oak. For some years the court and stage were lit directly by the hot sun. Gradually pity was taken on the court and performers, and the stage was moved to a shady nook at a corner of the lawn.

More significant changes
In the early 80s we invited Swedish gift shop merchants to form a village marketplace (marknad). Over the years there have even been moose sandwiches and Swedish flavored ice creams; now the Midsummer cafe, run by the Sayegh-Massey family, quenches the hunger and thirst of all those who need more than they packed in their picnic baskets.
A big change came in 1993, a year before the festival’s centennial. The maypole was made of large PVC pipes anchored at the top with wires secured to the corner posts at the Old Dance Floor. Fred Nichelini and John E. Peterson were in charge of decorating it. Gradually John’s son-in-law, Ken Weissenborn, came on board and shortly thereafter Ted Olsson joined the crew. But in 1993 Gus Brolin led Ted on a tour under the new clubhouse. Gus proudly pointed to a flag pole which had survived the catastrophic fire that destroyed the old clubhouse. Ted said: “That’s not the old flagpole, Gus; that’s the new maypole!”
They went right to work creating a crossarm and soliciting John Spencer, a steel worker, to re-create the flagpole’s stanchion for a maypole in time for the 99th Midsummer festival. That year we raised the huge maypole for the first time on the Sports Lawn, had ringdances for children and danced around it with guidance from our leaders Britt O’Grady and Jan Nordin and traditional Swedish instruments played by accomplished musicians.
A third distinctive element was also formed at this time. The SAPL invited each of its clubs to host their own potluck smörgåsbords at a picnic area in a shaded area across the road from the clubhouse lawn. This always attracts people to meet each other from the different lodges and perhaps sample each other’s foods. Some now bring home-brewed akvavit, one was famously labelled “Majstång Sally,” parodying the song “Mustang Sally.”

Special celebrations
These Midsummer programs have not only celebrated our solstice traditions, but they’ve also observed various anniversaries. Following the patriotism implicit in the name “Swedish American Patriotic League,” these programs have observed significant occasions in both countries and for the larger Scandinavian communities, such as the bicentennial of the U.S. Declaration of Independence in 1976 (which occurred the same year as the 50th anniversary of Sveadal)and the bicentennial in 1983 of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the United States and Sweden, one of the earliest nations to recognize us.
SAPL celebrated the 90th anniversary of the birth of Dag Hammarskjöld, UN Secretary General and recipient posthumously of the UN Peace Prize. The league observed the establishment of the Nobel Prizes and Alfred Nobel’s life—with the wealth from his 355 patents and his international factories (including one in NYC and one in SF). Linnaeus, creator of the binomial classification system for plants and animals, was also memorialized.
In 1988 two major Midsummer celebrations were held in the Bay Area. That was the year of New Sweden ’88, the 350th anniversary of the founding of the North American colony of New Sweden, which became part of Delaware. A celebration was held in a glen of Golden Gate Park, and concluded (as do some Swedish celebrations) with the wedding of a Swedish couple. The next week, many of the same people participated in the Midsummer celebration at Sveadal.
These Sveadal Midsummers also recognized more current occasions, such as when each of our most recent Consuls General received awards, e.g., Swedish American of the Year. The Swedish Immigration Jubilee (1846-1996) was celebrated; royal marriages and the births of royal children have been recognized, and it was very special when Ambassador Jonas Hafström and his wife, Eva, were guests of our Consul General at our Midsummer program in 2011.
The centennial of San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915, for which I wrote a series of Nordstjernan articles, was also celebrated—it had been a remarkable world’s fair, when Sweden displayed its international leadership in many fields of world trade and of the arts.
Finally, it should be noted that on the occasion of Muriel Beroza’s 90th birthday, she was so honored. She was born about a month before Sveadal was dedicated, and Muriel always felt Sveadal was a wonderful birthday present, which she delights in sharing with everyone.

Printed programs
Another aspect of these Midsummer celebrations that has changed notably during the last half century of Sveadal celebrations is the free booklet. This has changed both in quality and in quantity due principally to the ubiquity of personal computers and Kinkos. What had been printed at Vestkusten’s offices on printing presses with lead type and cuts of photos, is now composed at home. It benefits from the artistic talents of several and the dedicated work of many others. What had been a program of one or two dozen pages is now one of five dozen pages. Now the queen, Columbia and Svea each have a full page biography with photo. There is room for histories of each theme.
Gradually, pages were devoted to the main entertainers or performers on the program. To accompany the historic and nature tour of Sveadal offered in the afternoon by Fred Bianucci, now a map of Sveadal is included. (There is a separate booklet for a self-guided tour of the grounds at the Clubhouse.)
There are ads and greetings from companies and individuals. And equal to the quantity and quality of these programs, is their availability. Thanks to the efforts of the Archive Ladies (Susan Bianucci, Astrid Olsson, and Linda Zalko), all available recovered programs of our long, historical celebration are now freely available to all at under “text” and “Swedish American Patriotic League Midsummer.” This is invaluable historically, though it is still useful to also read the contemporary newspaper coverage of the specific celebration in old Vestkusten or current Nordstjernan editions.
One of my favorite but short-lived aspects of the program was the annual Beroza Writing Challenge, which unfortunately only lasted three years. The winners and their essays were included in the program. The writing as well as the memories and themes were distinguished. I sincerely regret cancelling this project for lack of promotion or participation, both because I believe it was the most appropriate way to celebrate Muriel’s accomplishment (she also contributed articles to Nordstjernan) and because I believe this writing on many themes demonstrated to and celebrated for all people the various perspectives and skill of remembering and understanding what is meaningful in one’s life. I hope someone else might revive this tradition.

What is a Midsummer celebration without the singing, dancing and provincial costumes, let alone traditional foods, drinks and toasts?

One memorable feature that transcended the second to third phases of Midsummer was the continuation of troubadours singing beloved Swedish melodies. Those singers I most fondly remember are: Ragnar Hasselgren, Carl Svenson and Jan Nordin. Now we are blessed with the Zaida Singers, a chorus of Swedish men and women, who continue for us the tradition of Swedish choral singing, even dressed in white trousers, white shirt, blue suit coats and topped by the Swedish universities student caps.
People dancing in provincial costumes isn’t common as it once was, and at Sveadal Midsummers, folk dances have been more recently performed by other folk dance troupes—a Swedish folk dance group from Palo Alto, the Golden Gate “Gammaldans” Friends, the Folkdanslaget Fyrvappklingen, among others. In 1992 Tommy and Ewa Englund’s Dance Group from Sandviken, Sweden entertained us. In 1996, the Scandinavian dances were performed by the Nordahl Grieg Leikarring, directed by Mikkel Thompson. In 1997, we even had an Irish Step-dancing group.
One program featured Riksspelman Jonny Soling and Anders Almlöf, playing Swedish folk instruments, as a musical prelude. This was a notable achievement, for “Riksspelman” is a Swedish national honor, reserved only for one who has won Sweden’s annual Zorn Competition (named Sweden’s famed painter for Anders Zorn, who preserved and promoted Swedish folk traditions) for folk dancing, folk instrument musicianship, and folksong singing! This indeed is an art form which should be continued to be celebrated at Midsummer.
In 2002 we hosted Marete Meyer, the winner of the Swedish Jenny Lind scholarship that year, and Maria Ydreborg, Sweden’s Royal Academy of Music’s awarded pianist. This was a gift of Consul General Osher, who produces a free concert at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Gardens, a glen among the towering skyscrapers.
In 2005 we featured not only the Nordahl Grieg Spelmannslag on the program but also UC’s Cal Marching Band Alumni, under the direction of alumna Linda Vogelsberg Beroza; they even returned the following year. At this program Consul General Osher’s speech was on “Dag Hammarskjöld Remembered.” And again the children of the Swedish School in Silicon Valley, with three accompanists, sang for us.
A beautiful contribution to our programs for more than a decade has been strolling musicians, such as Mark Wahlstöm and his daughter Jenny playing folk instruments and singing traditional songs for groups of people as they take their places for the program. Mark is a luthier, maker and teacher of traditional instruments, which he sells in his store.

Tack för maten
The transition to Sveadal allowed for a more extensive selection of food during the day and evening, compared with the hors d’oeuvres previously served only in the evening. During the 1960s, Sveadal began to offer a home-cooked smörgåsbord following the afternoon folk dancing at the maypole. Although it required a lot of volunteer help to accomplish this, serving 200-250 meals did raise a substantial sum for midsummer and Sveadal. After the fire that kindled the Clubhouse and before the new one replaced it, summer dinners were served down at the Old Dance Floor. Since the new Clubhouse was built and dedicated in 1988 (by Princess Christina), Midsummer evening smörgåsbords have been served inside this much larger dining hall and out on the adjoining deck and New Dance Floor.
Sveadal also established the fika tradition of Elva Kaffe served on the patio at the east end of the Clubhouse. One can sip delicious coffee with traditional pastries as well as purchase home-baked breads and cakes. Linda Isackson has generously maintained this tradition.
Not everyone always packs a sufficient picnic basket, so the Massey-Sayegh family established the Midsummer Cafe on the basketball court adjacent to the marknad. At first there were some Swedish sandwiches, but then people began to request and devour their delicious hot dogs and brats, which of course required kegs of beer, or iced waters and soft drinks…. This solution not only quenched the thirst of everyone shopping and dancing, it also added to the revenue to maintain midsummers.

Special activities
Swedish gifts are sold in tents surrounding the maypole lawn, the center of attention for the day. This tradition began in the 1980s, and now Susan Bianucci makes sure this aspect of Midsummer is well represented with merchants selling distinctive items. Two of the earliest vendors still with us are June Olsson Hess’s Svensk Butik-Swedish Gifts from Kingsburg and Sylvia Myrvold’s flower garlands, which so many visitors buy for themselves and children to get into the spirit of the day and as a memento of this Swedish Midsommar.
Other things to do have also increased over the years. In addition to the sports (horseshoes and tennis) near the swimming pool, and dancing around the maypole, picnicking on the lawn or at club smörgåsbord has become important. If the afternoon is hot, some enjoy the shade of Mimers Kjälla or crawfishing along Uvas or Alec creeks. Some take Fred Bianucci’s informative tour of Sveadal.
All that happens before 3 p.m., when people start assembling near the stage for the parade and program.
Later, a typical evening is filled with a Clubhouse smörgåsbord and dancing both traditional Swedish folk dances and contemporary tunes and tempos. There is a bar and snacks at the lower kitchen for those who need a break from their exertions or merely a refresher. By 11:30 the dancing stops, there’s coffee before taking to the road, and people leave or retire to a Sveadal cabin, which on this weekend are at a premium.

This is written with thanks to Muriel Beroza and her successors Susan Bianucci, Astrid Olsson and Linda Zalko, for archiving the history of Sveadal. As I’ve said before, what remains magical to me about Midsommar at Sveadal is at the very essence of humankind: a voluntary and communal spirit of life and nature, working together for the greater good. Our festival needs—and gets—100 volunteers. The old regulars and new recruits continue the myriad of details that are each year improved after a century of productions.
And no account of the history of SAPL’s Midsummer festivals throughout its century and a quarter is complete without the appreciation of all the people who make it possible with their volunteer efforts - throughout the year and particularly on that day. This was most especially demonstrated by Laura Carlson, who as SAPL president, had to once more abandon Sveadal and hold our compromised festival offsite. Because of her efforts and many who helped that year, and of the additional sponsorships and donations, this year’s festival continued the unbroken tradition of 125 years of SAPL Swedish midsummer festivals. Everyone is grateful for the preservation of this institutional heritage.