Friday, April 17, 2015

A Visit to Skeppsholmen

Skeppsholmen (literally, ship island) is one of the 14 islands upon which Stockholm was built.  The island today looks much as it did hundreds of years ago, a peaceful, urban oasis in the center of Stockholm.  

Two long row houses (långa raden), built in 1699 for King Karl XII's guards, dominated the island waterfront and still do today. 

Those two buildings have been painstakingly restored and transformed into the chic,  eco-friendly Hotel Skeppsholmen. That is where Dick and I spent two nights this month on my first visit to Sweden, and, to the best of my knowledge, the first descendant of  my grandfather, Axel Ström, to return to his birthplace. 

Dick, standing in front of the Hotel Skeppsholmen
The Skeppsholmen ferry landing for the ferry to Gamla Stan (Old Town) and Djurgården, Stockholm's National Park

More about the history of Hotel Skeppsholmen can be found at this web site:

  My first encounter with the word 'Skeppsholmen' was upon reading Axel Ström's exquisite confirmation document, issued by the priest of the Skeppsholmen church in 1882. To participate in parish life as he reached adulthood, he would have been required to demonstrate his knowledge of the Lutheran faith.  At this time, this was the official State religion and had been for over 300 years since the time of the Protestant Reformation when Sweden broke with the Roman Catholic church.  

Axel was 15 at the time of his confirmation.  The priest declared that Axel was 'ganska god' (fairly good) in his knowledge of church doctrine. 

The confirmation document must have been important to Axel as he carried it with him when he emigrated to the U.S. via Sunderland, England in the 1890's. It has survived over 100 years longer among our family papers.

Skeppsholmen Church, secularized in 2001 and now the Eric Ericson International Choral Centre. 

Unfortunately, we were not able to enter the old church as it was locked.  Hopefully I'll be able to get inside on the next visit to Sweden.

Axel Ström as a young man, holding booklet. The other three young men are unidentified.  One may possibly be his half brother, Karl Gustaf Adolf Ström, b. October 27, 1864 in Adolf Fredrik parish, Stockholm.

But why was Axel taking catechism lessons at the Skeppsholmen church in 1882 anyway?   He was born on January 1, 1867 in the Katarina parish in Södermalm, the area of Stockholm to the south of Skeppsholmen. This is the church where he was baptized.

Katarina kyrka (church) in Södermalm

Axel's father was Carl Johan Ström (b. March 24, 1840, Maria Magdalena parish, Stockholm) and his mother was Maria Wilhelmina Olsson (b. June 28, 1842, Lillhult homestead, Älgarås Parish, Västra Götaland, Sweden).  By the late 1870's, Carl Johan had become a master field surgeon in the Swedish Royal Navy.  Between 1878 and 1879 (and possibly longer) he was residing in naval residences on Skeppsholmen with his wife, Maria and his son Hjalmar Axel Oscar, my grandfather.

Maria Wilhelmina (Olsson) and Carl Johan Ström

My mother had told me that her father, Axel, always loved the sound of fog horns and wanted to be near the sea.  Axel arrived in the U.S. sometime in the 1890's.  Here are the addresses of four of his homes in the U.S. All are mere blocks from the water:

              55 Sussex Street, Jersey City, NJ (1898)
              154 Sussex Street, Jersey City, NY (1900)

              666 60th Street, Brooklyn, NY (1920)
              102 72nd Street, Brooklyn, NY (1921-1953)

Stockholm, sometimes called the Nordic Venice, clearly made a lasting impression on young Axel. Now that I've made the trip 'home' to Skeppsholmen, I can see why.

Axel and Anna Strom, probably in Brooklyn, around 1950.
Axel Strom, around 1950.