Tag Archives: John B. Johnson

Then and now

I wrote about my recent trip to northern Wisconsin a few inches down this page. The purpose of the expedition was, along with my brothers, to “get to know” one of our great-grandfathers, a colorful Norwegian immigrant named John B. Johnson.

Below is a picture I’ve shared on this blog before, showing John B. and his family (my grandmother is the little girl second from the left). The story of this photo, I’ve been told, is that they’d bought a fancy new glass door for the house, and they wanted to take a picture to commemorate the event (it’s hard to tell here, but under magnification you can see that my great-grandmother Olina, the woman on the left, is wearing an apron embroidered in the Norwegian Hardanger style. Such items were treasures — she had put on her best for the photo). At the last moment, however, a neighbor boy scrambled in to be in the picture too — and stood right in front of the new door. This neighbor boy, the tall drink of water, would years later marry the little girl, and they would be my mother’s parents.

The Johnson place

On our trip, we visited the site of the farm, and saw what was left (just near-buried concrete foundations). This picture shows the hill where the house stood.

The Johnson place 2016

Thus pass the glories of this world. Also its humilities.

The Saga of Apple Johnson

I was out of town the last few days. I took a long weekend for a trip with my brothers. I’ll share a couple pictures in a few days, when I’ve cleared up some technical problems with my camera.

It was a family history trip. We went to visit the natural habitat of one of our great-grandfathers on Mom’s side.

The man has always been something of a mystery to us. He was larger than life in family memory, half joke and half cautionary tale. But we didn’t know where he came from in Norway, or where to look for the information. The clues I remembered steered me entirely wrong.

But one of my brothers did some digging in his spare time, and not only located the old man’s grave, but also made contact with a second cousin. That cousin met us in Iron River, Wisconsin, along with his wife (nice people; devout Baptists). So we heard some stories, saw some documents, and visited some locations. The result was a more detailed, and nuanced, story of our great-grandfather, John B. Johnson.

The story:

Our ancestor was born on the island of Ytreøy, near Trondheim. The first fact that caught my imagination was that his baptism name was Johan Arndt Johanson. The name “Johan Arndt” is significant. Johann Arndt was a German Lutheran theologian in the 17th Century. Not strictly a pietist, his devotional writings were prized by the Pietists when they eventually came along. In Norway, they were particularly popular with the Haugeans, members of the evangelical lay movement (I’ve written about it here before) that changed Norwegian society, and to which my paternal family belonged.

So if a common family (and all my ancestors were common as dirt) named their son after Johan Arndt, that’s a pretty good indicator that it was a Haugean family.

Young Johan Arndt Johanson, however, was a prodigal son. A laborer and a sea cook, he was immensely strong, a prodigious drinker, and pretty much uncontrollable. Continue reading The Saga of Apple Johnson