Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The travels of Axel Westling's immigrant trunk

Axel Westling was a young man --- age 24 and single --- back in 1887, living in the vicinity of his native town, Hjo, Skaraborgs lan (now Västra Götland), Sweden, when he commissioned this sturdy piece of luggage commonly known nowadays as an "immigrant trunk."

Hjo was (and is) located on the west shore of Vättern, in south central Sweden and that nation's second-largest inland body of water. 

Not long thereafter, Axel packed all of his worldly possessions --- other than those items that would be needed for several weeks of travel --- into the trunk and traveled west overland to the port city of Göteborg (Gothenburg) where both he and his trunk boarded a ship of the American Line, bound for a new life in America.

Axel knew precisely where he was going, so had directed that his destination be painted clearly on the front of the trunk: "Mr. A. Westling, Chariton, Lucas Co. = Iova, U.S. of Amerika."

Some years earlier, Axel's elder brother, John Frederick, had married Anna Carlson in Sweden and then emigrated alone. Arriving in the Midwest, he landed a job on a bridge crew of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, then sent for Anna and they settled down to raise their family in Chariton.

Axel planned to join them and a job as a railroad section hand awaited him, so soon after landing at the port of New York in 1887, he boarded a train west and both he and his trunk alighted a couple of days later at the old C.B.&Q. Deport in northwest Chariton where John awaited him.

But in the long run, railroad work didn't suit Axel --- he was a farmer by trade and preference, so went to work as a farm hand until he could afford land of his own five miles northeast of Chariton in English Township. The trunk accompanied him to his new home there, handy for storage.

Some years later, during 1900, Axel married Miss Emma Nelson. He was 37 at the time and she was 32. They settled down on his farm and lived there for 30 years, until Feb. 10, 1931, when he succumbed to heart disease and died at the age of 67. 

Axel and Emma had been planning to move into Chariton and had held a closing-out sale at the farm just a week before he died. Emma carried those plans forward, commissioning a house across from First Lutheran Church in a location that ensured she always would be able to walk to services and, when necessary, up to the square to do her shopping. The trunk came in from the farm with her.

By 1944, Anna was having difficulty caring for herself and her home, so she entered the Lutheran Home for the Aged in Madrid and lived there until her death on June 15, 1952.

Because there were no children, her belongings were shared by nieces and nephews --- including Albert Westling, son of John Frederick, who provided a home for the trunk. 

Eventually, the trunk was taken in by Albert's daughter, Miriam (Westling) Hibbs --- and it was she who presented it to the Lucas County Historical Society during 1994.

We're going to feature the trunk this summer in a prominent spot in the Perkins Gallery, which also serves as the museum entry point. So last week, Karoline and Bob hauled it upstairs from its former home in a lower-level gallery. Now it's parked squarely in the middle of the room where it's going to end up being the centerpiece of a board meeting late this afternoon.

It takes two people to move this mighty piece of luggage --- it is very heavy --- so after that, we'll move it to a slightly more convenient spot. The old trunk is a wonderful thing to have --- a real survivor --- and we're all looking forward to sharing it with our guests after the museum opens for the season on May 1.

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