When I researched the history book I wrote two years ago, Superior Land and the Story of Grand Marais, Michigan, one of my tasks was to search through the museum archive and other resources. I have a fourth cousin in Finland (Rauno Sarja) with whom I have been corresponding for several years. Rane found me on the internet due to the posting of a picture of my great-grandfather, Jonas Hill. Jonas was a sibling to Rane’s grandparent. A couple of years ago Rane sent me some letters he found that were written by my great-grandfather. They were written in Finnish, so Rane was kind enough to translate them.
My great-grandfather was born in Finland in 1871 and immigrated to the United States around the turn of last century. He resided in Grand Marais, other than a short time when he lived in Washington State, until his death in 1950. A picture of my great-grandfather and his family is below. Jonas is holding my grandmother. The photo was taken around 1908.
The difficult times livings in Grand Marais during the first few decades of the 1900s are explained in this series of letters between my great-grandfather, Jonas Hill, and our relatives in Finland. The first letter discusses the birth of my grandmother.
Grand Marais, Michigan, December 6, 1907
Well hereby I declare that the incorruptible laws of causes and consequences have increased our family with a daughter on October 18, a grace day in 1909. The name was suggested by a soul better than I — it is Anni Elviira. I hope she will be the beauty of the Promised Land.
Then I found myself to be in bed massaging my bones for three weeks, dead foot fever as they call it. I tried to fix myself, first by means of liquor and pills, which are used in these kinds of health situations. But my pharmaceutical skills were not adequate and I had to rely on medical assistance from a doctor. He willingly gave it proper treatment twice a day for the next week, so I was able to be cured. What a great burden this illness added to my fatherly concerns.
According to recent data there are over 500,000 people unemployed with more lockouts happening every day. Workers must consider if they think with their brains or with their intestines. During our lifetime they care about us very little — only trample and oppress us. Oh well, the situation will not get better by crying. One must open his eyes and start to do something about it.
Grand Marais, Michigan, February 25, 1946
I declare that I live yet, although I am already rotten old at 75 years. I guess nowadays there are only a few people alive who I knew years ago.
It has been difficult here [due to the war] — you need to have a ration card to get what you need. The government is giving me just enough old-age assistance so that I can get my daily bread.
Grand Marais, Michigan, March 5, 1946
My life has been multi-staged and one could write quite a novel about it. Wartime has not been the worst years here. There has been a lot of complaining, but compared to what is happening in other countries complaining here in the U.S. has been almost pointless.
Grand Marais Michigan, April 30, 1946
I thank you for your letter. Receiving it was a moment of joy – the first for me in a long time. I have been in poor health for a few weeks now and couldn’t do much. Old age is causing trouble for me. Also, a lot of younger people have been sick lately, too. It has been an unusually cold spring so far, it is causing troubles for us. This little village has no doctor and it is a bad thing.
The power of money in this country is devilish. The government does not share it with those of us who live in these small villages. Unfortunately, the people here don’t care to put pressure on the authorities. We have only about 100 elders in town now plus the children, but there has not been cooperation in this community for a long time. It is so hard to even get the most basic of goods here nowadays.
So to survive we must take advantage of Mother Nature’s breadbasket and grow what we need during the summer. Because of my age I haven’t been able to work for the last six years. Another issue has been that even if according the law I was entitled to have bread money from the state once I was 65 years old, they delayed giving me that money until I was nearly 68.
Here we have started a collection to send items to Finland. Some used clothes have already been sent. It is tough, though, because now when people are able to earn more money, it seems that the government takes it away. We are taxed so much that you have only empty pockets left. Only those who have no money to begin with have been left in peace. The rich have made a lot of money and now they want to start a new war. I still cannot say if they will succeed but everything is going in that direction.
In my life there have been so many chapters. Now when I’m alone in this cottage my thoughts tend to often return to my homeland in Finland, which I haven’t forgotten. There are no longer many Finns remaining here in Grand Marais as they have all passed away. I’m one of the oldest surviving Finns in town. The younger generation cannot speak Finnish, and they don’t want to learn Finnish — I think this is wrong!
I’m still living and taking care of myself. Although I don’t earn a wage anymore, I try to do something every day. Winter has not been too bad this year, but I am looking forward to the summer breeze when this old pal will hopefully revive a little.
A picture of my great-grandfather’s home is below. The house is located to the west of the Lutheran Church on Brazel Street.