Between the corn fields and the trees along Hwy 106 in New York Mills, a place honoring Finnish heritage celebrates the legacy of Finns in Minnesota today.
At the Finn Creek Museum Summer Folk Festival, people milled through the buildings of the Tapio family farmstead, a school, Savu smoke sauna, chapel, sawmill and blacksmith shop as well as to the wafting aromas of hot dogs, pie and Finnish treats.
With pie and pulla stored all over the kitchen, Anne Marie Cummings, Kailyn Brainerd and Aimee Brainerd of Frazee dished up treats while people enjoyed musicians.
“If we don’t keep these sort of tastes alive then we won’t know how to do them in the future either,” said Amy Tervola Hultberg, dean of the Salolampi Finnish Language Village in Bemidji and owner of Kahvila HEI. She made four types of pulla, including one with cardamon, voipulla (butter), korvapuusti (cinnamon coffee) and suklaapulla (chocolate). “I’ve worked to make them very efficient and very much a part of our lives right now and not the sort of old world methodology of our grandmothers who hung onto these things as much as they did, sometimes to their graves. And so then things get lost.”
At the school building, the teacher for the day was Ruth Koehler, who has volunteered at Finn Creek for four years and taught in New York Mills for over 30 years. Koehler said she enjoys seeing the museum succeed since this is her heritage too as her mom was from Finland.
She taught a small group of willing students the days of the week and numbers one to 10 in Finnish. And even included a handwriting lesson on how the cursive letters intertwine together. There are no silent letters in Finnish, including the many consonants, according to Koehler.
Another intriguing stop sat on the grass outside the sawmill: a Case 1911 steam engine owned by Dave and Lucille Witikko. Dave is a hobby boiler operator who took the opportunity to buy this particular engine from a local New York Mills resident, though he’s interested in tracing the origins of the machine. The engine’s restoration process took place in Fargo and Ontario, Canada with maintenance projects always ongoing.
“This is history. It needs to be presented,” Witikko said of the steam engine.
He pulls out the engine twice a year, once for the festival and once for a school field trip. Witikko said he’s proud to show the machine and help preserve the age of steam.
People have come to Finn Creek Museum with their families, visited for the first time or come to sell their goods. Vendors had items like dog sculptures of old tools and parts, Finnish goodies, tumblers, vegetables and doll clothes.
“I’m so glad people have felt safe in taking a risk to be here, actually,” Tervola Hultberg said. “I think that that matters and as we learn to navigate this sort of new normal I think that’s part of it, and I think also taking time to be and time to be still and to notice and to notice what’s here and what’s not is a big part of this.”
The Tapio farmstead is filled with donated items, the pieces of history labelled in both Finnish and English much like the signs throughout the property. Here you might read about early Finnish homes with wall-to-wall carpeting for warmth in the winter. The carpets could be made of worn out clothing, which is a continued style. New York Mills VFW Auxiliary member Celia Pilippo said her family is a “family of rug weavers” and considers herself a “plain Jane weaver.” The rugs are made with different sized looms, like the four harness loom her sister uses.
With grandparents, parents and siblings filling the seats, kids from the area showcased their new stilt walking skills in the Kalevala Puppet Pageant, which is put on through the New York Mills Cultural Center. The play followed the “Rage of King Kraken,” which highlighted the journey of characters living in harmony to living in chaos in a tale of old Finland. The lessons spoke of respecting the land and remembering to share with others.
As a long-time volunteer having grown up in New York Mills, Tervola Hultberg said her parents volunteered in the sawmill and washing dishes in the kitchen. Now, she hopes to honor the life experiences and items people bring to the museum as a way of meeting people right where they are. She also shared about the impact of the language village from her time as a 15 year old.
“(My parents) had no clue that they were sending me to the most revolutionary, life-changing, impactful place that they would ever send me, and not that that the language village is that place but the window and the doors and the sort of funnel that it opened to the world has consumed my life no doubt as a teacher, as an educational consultant and now as the dean of this village, and as a parent of two children who come with us. It’s profoundly impactful,” Tervola Hultberg said.