This year, it did. The San Francisco Bay Area simultaneously celebrated Midsummer and the centennial of San Francisco’s second world’s fair, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) of 1915. In that year Swedish immigrants and their families from all over California and the U.S., as well as those visiting from abroad, celebrated a Swedish Midsummer at the fair's Swedish Pavilion on Sweden Day. But for the Swedish American Patriotic League (SAPL), this oldest of Swedish Midsummer festivals in the United States was already 21 years old, having been celebrated annually since San Francisco’s first world’s fair in 1894.

That event was the birth of two institutions: a congress of Swedish clubs in the Bay Area called the Swedish American Patriotic League; and this Swedish Midsummer festival, which is the SAPL president’s primary responsibility every year. Midsummer had actually been celebrated here for decades but not with such continuity or sponsorship from all the Swedish organizations. So, this year was anything but a typical Midsummer in Sveadal, the League’s Swedish resort community.


Midsummer Committee Chairperson Twinkle Peterson worked all year long to made sure the many committees and their volunteers were tightly coordinated, ensuring a carefree day for visitors. By Thursday volunteers began arriving at Sveadal to clear and mark out the huge parking lot. By Friday campers and RVs began to arrive to pick the choice spots for their tents or vehicles. The boutique tents for vendors were all set. Some of these vendors — like June Olsson Hess of Kingsburg’s Svensk Butik and Sylvia Myrvold with all her handmade floral head garlands — have participated for several decades in Sveadal. Flanking the basketball court was the Midsummer Café with tented picnic tables, sillmaka, brats and beverages. And by sunset the maypole was lying in place being dressed in native greens, awaiting only the next day's young decorators with their special flowers. The stage, with its new addition of PPIE1915 banners, was built and positioned, ready to be draped as garland the next day. Rows of empty benches would accommodate many.

The big day
By 10 a.m. Saturday the crowds were already waiting in lines. Cars from the various lodges were at the large picnic area getting unpacked in preparation for their smorgåsbords, while down at the Old Dance Floor, families had staked out tables for their picnics and Carol Talbot and Karen Van Horn were rehearsing the young women of the pageant.

It’s always necessary to explain to visiting Swedes this pageant, for back home Midsummer is merely a time for family and friends to get together out in nature — rather like many American Fourth of July celebrations. This celebration, however, is more formal and historic because those initial Swedish immigrants were very proud of their dual heritage, as native Swedes and new Americans.

The league, like their Midsummer, demonstrated that dual heritage. Each group in the congress could appoint a young woman to represent them. And each year the privilege would circulate among these clubs to take their turn in being able to appoint a maiden Svea representing their homeland, Sweden, and Columbia representing their new land, the United States, and then their turn would come every dozen years or so to appoint the unifying symbol, the Queen of Midsummer. For that year all of the other clubs' women would represent their group as maids of honor in the Queen’s Court.

Raising the maypole
After the court rehearsal, the queen, Svea and Columbia placed the first flowers on the maypole. Then all the children got handfuls of flowers and placed them while the maypole was still grounded — making sure to lie on their backs to place enough flowers on the underside, too.

After everyone had a chance to decorate the pole, they raised the maypole together on the stroke of noon. With master of the maypole Ken Weissenborn at its base, with his tools to secure it and assisted by Ted Olsson and his “maypole forklift” (a long 2x4 with a huge plywood “fork” at one end to steady the pole above), the pole was hoisted upright to great applause. Every year’s majstång (maypole) is declared to be the best ever.

It was then the musicians turn. Kikki Nordin and Jan Nordin sang all the traditional Midsummer songs, and Karin Forsell led everyone in the ring dances. Accompanied by the wonderful old Swedish songs like “Små grodarna,” everyone relived their childhood by teaching their own kids how frogs hop and ducks quack and pigs snuffle. After many a ring dance in intricate patterns, everyone retired to their favorite spot at tables or picnic blankets in the dappled shade. Time to taste the smorgasbord, tip the akvavit and chat with old friends.

Later in the afternoon artist Flo Spanier did sketches of individuals and families. Interesting guided tours about Sveadal, swimming and tennis or just lounging are always among the many afternoon options. This year Mark Walstrom and his daughter Jennie serenaded us with wonderful songs and nykelharpe duets. And the Zaida Singers, who perform at so many important Swedish functions, presented a musical prelude. Their music has such a soothing effect that it calmed the audience and set the mood for the forthcoming program.

Traditional program
By 5 p.m. the traditional official parade began. Following the flags, carried by Bob Olson and Dwayne Erickson, came the parade marshalls. This year Charlotte Bernstrom, linked on both sides of her family to Sweden’s official commissioners of the 1915 world’s fair, was one of a trio of parade marshalls. (Several weeks earlier she gave a superb lecture on the Swedish Pavilion and Sweden’s fine art exhibited at the fair, reported in Nordstjernan.) She was accompanied by Jonathan Lammers, the architectural historian whose study assured that San Francisco would landmark the Swedish American Hall. (He, too, gave an excellent lecture in the centennial commemorative series, reported in Nordstjernan). The third of the trio was Ted Olsson, SAPL past president and PPIE100 coordinator.

Following in the parade were musicians in Swedish provincial costumes, then the beautiful Court of the Maids of Honor, each bearing a bouquet, and Columbia and Svea, each accompanied by an SAPL officer. Then this year’s young crown bearer marched proudly alone before his queen bearing her crown on a pillow with the Swedish flag’s cross and colors. The SAPL escort accompanied the majestically robed queen with her long train borne by her very young train bearers.

It is a short walk from the Clubhouse, along the road beside the homesteader’s old rock wall, up the other side of the main lawn, and then down the aisle between the benches to get on stage or be seated beside it. As thrilling as it is for the parade participants, this pageant is enjoyed by all witnessing it who symbolically and specially appreciate their own hyphenated heritages.

SAPL President Conor Massey as MC greeted everyone and called upon the beloved Zaida Singers to lead the American and Swedish national anthems. Massey reminded everyone of this year’s festival theme: the centennial commemoration of this Midsummer festivity at PPIE. He pointed to this year’s new structure above and behind the stage, upon which hung three banners, one each for the three symbolic personages. The central banner for the Midsummer Queen was the cover of the 100-page 1915 Midsummer edition of Vestkusten; to the left was Columbia’s banner, a picture of this U.S. world’s fair’s main palaces and courtyards; and to the right, for Svea, was SAPL’s own membership/fundraising card for that 1915 fair, designed by the local jeweler of that time, George Larson.

As he remarked on the importance of PPIE for San Francisco and the local Swedes, Massey pointed out the image in the Vestkusten cover. Adding personal context, he said his great grandfather, Alexander Olsson, then publisher and editor of Vestkusten, sat down at his home and office at 30 Sharon Street, San Francisco, to commission Charlotte Bernstrom’s great grandfather, Anshelm Schultzberg, Swedish artist and Sweden’s Commissioner, to paint a picture of the dual celebrations of Swedish and American Midsummers.

With that he called upon SAPL Past President Ken Weissenborn who introduced and crowned Rachel Tennis as Midsummer Queen. Shel grew up in Portland, Oregon and graduated in 2013 from Azusa Pacific University in southern California, majoring in graphic design and minoring in marketing and psychology. After a year as an au pair in Austrailia, she returned to Oregon where she is a full-time pastoral assistant at Lake Grove Presbyterian Church. She spoke with gratitude of her grandparents who had immigrated here and who, with her parents, gave her the love of all things Swedish.

Swedish Consul General Barbro Osher, in her witty remarks, spoke of how refreshing in spirit and temperature it is to return to Sveadal every year and extend this oldest Swedish Midsummer. She noted the contrast between the rainy weather in Sweden this year and balmy Sveadal. She brought special greetings from the royal family with their excitement of both birth and marriage immediately preceding this Midsummer.

Before the presentation of Columbia, Paul Beroza came to the stage to play his ukulele ... not quite the typical Swedish instrument, but Hawaii’s native instrument was introduced to the continental U.S. at PPIE. At that fair Hawaii’s pavilion was one of the most popular, and the following year ukuleles and ukulele music outsold all other music in the U.S. Berozal told us that with this centennial the “uke” is witnessing a rebirth of popularity. And then he romanced us all with “On the Beach at Waikiki” after reminding us that the instrument was introduced to Hawaiian natives by Portuguese sailors and that the Hawaiians called it “the jumping flea” (ukulele) for its jaunty strumming.

This year’s Columbia, Miranda (“Randi”) Erickson was then introduced. All her great grandparents were immigrants from Sweden or Norway and both sides of the family are cabin owners in Sveadal. So, like an increasing number of maids of honor, she has grown up with the traditions of Midsummer and Sveadal. She spoke of the blessing of this dual heritage and the essential role that has played in her character.

Randi’s sentiments echoed not merely all those who, like her, grew up in Sveadal but for all Swedes. She was speaking of the Swedish concept behind the word “smultronstellle” (which I’ll translate as “heartland,” not in the political sense but in the personal one). Literally the word merely means a field of wild strawberries, but as we remember from Ingmar Bergman’s film “Wild Strawberries,” the word is steeped in nostalgia. It signifies a place so meaningful for an individual that it encapsulates the person’s character. It is formative and transformative. For most Swedes that place is out in nature, and nature is a central concept in the Swedish character. For urban Swedes and the people of Sveadal, getting out of town and back into nature is literally refreshing and recreational. And for many this particular spot has generations of significance and holds childhood memories of friendships, adventures, even loves.

Paul and Linda Beroza returned to the stage with the children’s choir, which this time sang several Hawaiian songs to Paul’s ukulele accompaniment and assisted by Greta Harrison. They swayed to the relaxed rhythms and even transposed their last song into a ballad for Sveadal.

Conor Massey himself introduced Svea, Alexa Wallin, who gave a beautiful extemporaneous talk in which she thanked her family but particularly grandfather Chuck Wallin. He instilled in her a love of Sweden and then last year took her there to visit relatives and make real the love for that nation and its people.

Ted Olsson then took on his typical role to present the Queen’s Court to the audience. Before doing this he remarked upon his attire. Because Alexander Olsson was prominent in all aspects of PPIE, many photos from that year show him dressed in top hat, tie and tails — so for this occasion Olsson donned Farfar’s suit and hat. However Farfar wore this in San Francisco, which in the summer is mild. In the mid-90s at Sveadal, dressed all in this woolen black outfit with hat to match, Olsson was grateful that he is a “tropical Swede." He doffed his hat in salute to Farfar, all his Swedish immigrant grandparents, and to his family, thanking his nephews Conor and Ryan, for continuing the family tradition of supporting these twin institutions of the league and its Midsummer festivals for 121 years.

With that he introduced each of the maids of honor, indicating the date, place of founding, and which of the twelve SAPL organizations each woman beautifully represented. Before concluding his presentation of the court to the audience for their appreciation, Olsson thanked all members of the court for continuing this tradition. They were here today because for 120 years their predecessors, other young women — among whom were sisters, mothers, aunts, grandmothers and even great grandmothers — had kept this tradition. And by participating at this festival, today’s young ladies had passed on this legacy one more year to next year’s women. He also thanked all the volunteers it takes to produce this huge event, the vendors and the ever-growing audience, for whom this day is so special.

Massey concluded the program by inviting everyone to follow behind the queen and court’s recession back to the maypole. Soon everyone, grandparents and youngsters, was once again dancing around the maypole on the lawn. This time, however, instead of dancing at high noon, it was refreshing to dance in the cool and lingering dusk.

Midsummer Eve
Some departed for home after the program and maypole dancing but many lingered on their picnic blankets, and those who were lucky enough to buy one of the 200 smörgåsbord dinner tickets at the Clubhouse enjoyed dinner and drinks inside the huge dining hall or outside on the adjoining New Dance Floor, now mercifully shaded.

Soon the dance tunes were coming from down at the Old Dance Floor and bar. A quarter of every hour is devoted to old Swedish folk dances so beloved by Sveadalians and played with zest by Bill Likens, leader of Nordahl Greig Spelemannslag. The remainder of the hour is given over to contemporary dances, led by DJ Paul Beroza. Needless to say, the dance floor supported hundreds of energetic couples and the bar did a steady business. So, ended a memorable night among the redwoods and under the stars.

Young ladies participating for the first time at this year’s Midsummer learned the tradition of sleeping upon their head garlands (thoughtfully composed of seven flowers) to dream of Prince Charming. For those who remained in tents or campers, Julie Bowman served a free breakfast snack of coffee and pastry. The next morning everyone was still talking about the 1,500 people who enjoyed this memorable and traditional day.

By Ted Olsson