Halloween is a day to remember the dead, sacred or secular. Tonight I reflect upon friends who made our Swedish community joyful by sharing their music, making every occasion more festive and keeping alive our culture. This year the Bay Area lost two musicians within months of each other, reminding us again of how we are blessed by having artists amongst us to pass our legacy down one more generation. It also reminds us how tenuous that transmission is.
Ernie Lantz and and Clyde Forsman were distinct each in their own right, but they shared a number of traits in common. In their working lives they were both creative artisanal craftsmen, analyzing problems and crafting solutions in metal and in wood. They both first learned the harmonica before mastering the accordion. They joined bands to share their love of music with colleagues and played for the enjoyment of others. Both celebrated their own Swedish heritage with traditional folk tunes, though both were accomplished musicians and played a range of music far beyond these melodies. Finally both were quiet, gentle, kind and wise with great senses of humor.

Ernie Lantz’s parents were born in Söderhamn, Hälsingland, Sweden. He was born in San Francisco and grew up here during the Depression. Ernie joined the Navy at 17 and was stationed at Five Fingers Lighthouse in Alaska. After the service he became a tool and die maker at Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, followed by a distinguished career of 30 years at SRI, one of the nation’s great think tanks, creating novel tools, instruments and machines for the scientists. He loved partnering with SRI’s creative community; he crafted what others could only imagine. He was part of the team that designed the computer mouse, which we take for granted today.
Ernie's admiration for craftsmanship and his interest in working at close tolerances led him naturally to a lifelong hobby of assembling clocks. He rescued many antique clocks and furniture in pursuit of his hobby, including a beautiful masterpiece, an antique Swedish grandfather clock adorning the Swedish American Hall.
Music—both instrumental and dance—became another passion. At age eight he began to study piano and discovered his musical talent. He enjoyed jazz as a young adult, playing with bands in local clubs. Having mastered the harmonica before joining the Coast Guard, there Ernie taught himself the accordion. Living and working at a lighthouse gives you plenty of time to practice and perfect a small portable instrument.
Ernie Lantz’s appreciation for his Swedish heritage and his personal love of dancing led him to learn, love and play Swedish melodies, songs and dances. Christer Falkerström of Ronstadt, near Karlstadt, Sweden was a friend and mentor. Beyond the accordion, they were both engineers and Masons. (Ernie earned his 50 year pin before his died). Playing with his local partners—Carolyn Anderson, Jan and Kikki Nordin—were favorite times for all of them. Together they graced all manner of Swedish festivals, Vasa events and Midsummer in Sveadal, and for a quarter century at SWEA’s annual Christmas bazaar in San Francisco. Always, they were in demand for individual commemorations and community celebrations.
Ernie's friends would not be denied a celebration of his life where they could share their memories of this kind, consummate musician who passed on the love of his heritage to many younger generations. All of his closest colleagues were there to honor his generosity of a life in music. Christer came from Sweden to play Ernie’s own accordion, Jan and Kikki and Carolyn together with Herb Lundin, Joe Nanut and David Carlson all saluted him with the music he cherished.
Ernie survived his first wife, Barbara, and met his second wife, Molly, while they were both attending spousal grief classes at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. His children remember their father, as do so many others, as one who always thought of others and generously served them in countless ways.

The craftsman and accomplished accordionist, Clyde Forsman, claimed his Swedish heritage on his father’s side. Like his paternal grandfather from Dalarna, Sweden, Clyde was a skilled carpenter. Without knowing any English, his grandfather emigrated from Gothenburg, Sweden, at age 16. He crossed the Isthmus of Panama by mule and took another boat to San Francisco. Always very close to this grandmother, Clyde was greatly influenced by her, adding hymns to his repertoire when at 18 he lived with her. He adored his mother who could do anything and gave him her independent spirit, perseverance and optimism.
Farming the Central Valley and the Sierra foothills, the family always had farmhands at the family table for dinner. Clyde loved learning vicariously by listening intently to conversations and tales of these older men. He learned to make their stories his own as a raconteur. Originally a frail boy, after his diabetes was diagnosed he relied on insulin for strength with which he loved to hew wood.
Early on Clyde taught himself music, first on a harmonica and then he bought an accordion when he was 12. Playing by ear, he loved playing music for himself and others. It made him happy to make others happy. He never learned to dance but he had an excellent voice and loved to sing. At one point he played for many Latino organizations, relishing the tempos of their dances and folksongs. And of course Clyde always stayed to listen and learn their stories and their music.
After leaving the farm, Clyde endured working in a gold mine until he tried to enlist for World War II but was rejected. He left the hills and came to San Francisco during the war. Clyde became a boat builder, and after hours he aught himself to read music and formed his own band. He began to play for ethnic folk dance troupes, delighting in the range from simple melodies to fast and rhythmically complex ones.
A lyric tenor, Clyde joined the American Union of Swedish Singers (AUSS) about 60 years ago, when it was very strong in San Francisco. (He was the last member of that venerable institution.) Here he learned songs which he cherished. He also joined the Swedish Society of San Francisco, Fylgia (the Vasa Lodge in San Francisco) and Odin Lodge. He loved the conviviality of these organizations but never sought any office. Instead, he lugged his accordion to every meeting, for his “office” was to play for everyone after the meetings, never to draw attention to himself but always to make others happy by providing them nostalgic Swedish folk melodies as a background to make the occasion special. Because he was genuinely interested in everyone, Clyde was a happy man with never an unkind word about anyone. In the course of a lifetime of listening, Clyde came to have a very detailed knowledge of Sweden to add to what he learned from his Farmor.
Clyde's first marriage lasted only long enough to have a daughter, Victoria. His second marriage of 55 years to Evelyn endured all his life and gave him two sons, Elliott and Emil. The latter was named after his dear companion, the superb Swedish wood carver Emil Janel. They shared their love of wood working and accordions. He loved to hew alder blocks for Janel’s carvings, soaking them in water, to be whittled by the master carver as soft as butter.
Clyde fortunately became a city carpenter, working on the Palace of Fine Arts and even on freeways. He reached heaven when San Francisco assigned him work at the Cable Car Barn, home to the nation’s only moving monuments. Here Clyde exercised all his creativity and meticulously detailed designs. Often there were neither spare parts nor even templates. Admiring the work of earlier craftsmen, he enjoyed the challenge of recreating machined or wood-worked pieces. He enjoyed the opportunity to analyze problems and solve them with highly finished artistic pieces. Whenever a visitor would climb the stairs to the workshop in the car barn, he would explain the history and challenge of restoring the rolling stock to pristine appearance while accommodating the latest safety features. While the union tried to segregate the trades, Clyde always pitched in to help colleagues working with steel and machinery. He retired from the cable cars in 1979.
In retirement Clyde had more time for his Swedish affiliations and to repair other people’s accordions. In the process he developed a second career. A decade after retiring, he joined a new young band, Those Darn Accordions, more than half a century younger than he. Learning their music, he became a star of their show, singing Jimi Hendrix, Rod Stewart and contemporaries. Anyone who knew how humble Clyde was would find it ironic how idolized he became as he played and sang with and to everyone younger than himself. But that was the man: Though he would sing in the spotlight, he was neither blinded by it nor the adulation.
The celebration of Clyde Forsman's life, held at the Swedish American Hall, drew a crowded variety of people whose lives he had touched, featuring his colleagues, Those Darn Accordions, and many other musicians. At his passing the San Francisco Chronicle devoted an article of appreciation for the life and contributions of this man that began with one of the most memorable lines: “Clyde Forsman probably didn’t expect to become a sex object in his 90s! But he had a loyal following of fans that crossed all walks of life, which is why the audience to celebrate his life was itself so varied. His simple, genuine nature affected people and his musicianship gave him the talent for entertainment.”

So on All Hallow’s Eve, I remember these two dear musicians. And I wonder how we can nurture young people to continue their arts or if will we be bereft of our heritage. So, the next time you are blessed by an artist, be sure to thank him or her for invigorating you and continuing our heritage. And because art, like life, evolves, we must be continually sensitive—not merely to the nostalgic and comfortable pieces of the past but also to cultivate the contemporary arts and artists for our culture to flourish. These artists, their instruments and art, need to be enshrined in our archives. They need to be honored by encouraging our youth to find their own passion and artistic expression.

By Ted Olsson
San Francisco