Family Memories
by Everett Arthur Niemela
Chapter 2 - Edvard Bastubacka

Edvard was born in Peraseinajoki, Finland on November 19, 1874, and he lived in Tampere as a young man. The original version of his name was Antti Edvard Bastubacka. His sister, Ida, my mother, always referred to him as Edvard, and his wife referred to him as Etu. Perhaps Antti was not used because Grandfather's name was also Antti. The surname of his brother, Victor, was changed to Pastobak when he immigrated into the United States. Immigration officials quite often made mistakes. The Bastubacka name was Swedish in origin. Bastu means sauna in Swedish, and backa means hill.

Edvard had some military training as a young man. There is a picture of him in a military uniform with a long rifle and bayonet. Mother remembered him as a loving, handsome, and carefree brother. His life's work was that of a mason. He must have been proud of his trade because he sometimes signed his name Mason A. E. Bastubacka.

There was a great deal of building in the industrial city of Tampere in the late nineteenth century. At this time, it was a city of 36,000 people. The book Tampere, published in 1945 by the Tampere-Seura, shows a city surrounded by the water of two lakes. These lakes, the Nasijarvi and the Pyhajarvi, are connected through the city by the Tammerkoski. The Tammerkoski is a river of rapids and falls that provides electrical power to the city. Tampere is often referred to as the beautiful city of factories. Ida often spoke of going out on the Pyhajarvi late at night in June and still being able to see to read a newspaper. Pyha in Finnish means holy or sacred and jarvi means lake. We can only wonder how this name originated.

In a 1902 letter to Victor, Edvard tells of visiting Kalle and Ida, my father and mother, in Tampere. Fanny had become his wife two years earlier. I'm sure there must have been some discussion of Kalle's and Ida's upcoming move to the United States. Edvard must have had some thoughts of emigrating himself, for in his letter to Victor he asks about the wages of masons in America. His only move was to Turku in southwestern Finland.

In 1899 the Russiafication of Finland had begun in earnest. It was so disturbing to the Finnish people that 522,931 signatures were gathered in 1901 and sent by a delegation to the Czar to protest the new rulings. Nicholas II refused to meet the delegation or hear the protests. Since practically all adult men and women signed this document, it can be assumed that Edvard and Ida signed it also.

During the Russian-Japanese War in 1904 and 1905 pressures from Russia eased. The hard-pressed Russian government issued a manifesto repealing the illegal acts of the previous six years. The Finns took advantage of this situation and formed a new government with a unicameral parliament. Universal suffrage was established. Women were given the right to vote, and a person no longer needed to own property to vote. Finland was the first country to enact such laws.

In 1908 Russia began to take away the concessions given in 1905. By 1910 Russian was made the official language. Finnish officials who tried to uphold Finnish laws were imprisoned. By 1914 the Finnish constitution was stripped of its meaning. It was not until the Russian Revolution of March 1917 that the Finnish nation was given the opportunity to free itself. Although all Finns had come to hate the Czar, there was confusion about what to do now. Some felt that it was time for Finnish workers to take over and join the Russian workers in their revolution. Others wanted to establish an independent Finland with its own democratic government. During the summer and fall of 1917 there were acts of violence by the Red Guards. They had been getting weapons from the Russian garrisons that were still in Finland. The Finns had no army of their own at this time, so many Finnish towns formed their own militia units to keep law and order. A civil war ensued between the Whites and the Reds. Edvard's letter to his brother Victor in 1920 tells of his joining a militia unit in 1917. Although he was forty-four years old at this time, the military training in his youth probably helped him to be a member of the militia. He told of being shot four times on January 14, 1918. The next five months were spent in a hospital. His intestines were repaired, and he considered himself a fortunate man to survive his wounds. He attributed his recovery to being a temperance man for the last ten years. Edvard's friends told him that a man as strong as he could not be killed, even by a gun. The man that shot him was put into prison for five years and was required to pay Edvard 4,200 marks.

General C. G. Mannerheim, once a cavalry officer in the Russian Imperial Army, returned to his native Finland on December 15, 1917. On January 10th he was named commander-in-chief of the nonexistent Finnish army. He went to the provincial city of Vaasa and started to raise an army. On January 28th the Reds seized Helsinki, and Vaasa became the temporary seat of government. Russians played a great part in the revolution, but the Russian government did not officially participate. The Red Guards still had their supplies from the Russian garrisons. By the time the civil war was over in the spring of 1918, Mannerheim had been able to raise an army of 70,000 men. Most were farmers and ordinary workers from the cities.

Edvard's letter to Victor was sent by way of Sweden because there was still censorship in Finland. Edvard previously had sent three letters to his sister, Ida, that she did not receive. He wrote that their father had died the other winter. Because of poor communications and his injuries, he had not attended the funeral. Life was a little easier now, and he was working as a night watchman in the harbor. Apparently he could not continue his work as a mason after his civil war ordeal. In his letter, Edvard also said that the people of Finland had faced unbelievable hunger.

The country was in distress after the revolution of 1918. Famine had taken over many sections of the country, and how to deal with 90,000 prisoners of war was a vexing problem. Most were given amnesty and sent home, but there were many sick and wounded who needed medical care,

With all this background, it is interesting to see how Edvard's situation tied into the whole national scene. After the war, he was not the same physically strong man that he had been before. He died in 1929. Edvard and Fanny had no children. Ida, my mother, continued to send packages to Fanny. This was especially true during and after the 1939 Finnish-Russian War. Mother would always include a three pound bag of coffee beans in the center of the package, surrounded by clothes. This package was put into a washed chicken feed bag and sewn tightly. I remember them well because I carried many of them to the post office to be mailed to Finland.

In our 1988 trip to Finland, my wife and I visited Turku. We went to Edvard and Fanny's old address at Puutarhakatu 42-B. It turned out to be a well-maintained wooden apartment building now occupied by young people. Even though the new tenants did not know Fanny and Edvard, it was a emotional experience to see the place where we had sent those packages many years ago. Virginia and I next went to the city records department to find out where Edvard and Fanny were buried. The grave lot numbers and the directions to the cemetery outside the city were given to us. At the cemetery a young female summer worker guided us to the burial place. It was marked with a rusting iron cross with a small brass name plate. With the passage of time this marker will rust away. Only the Lutheran Church records in Turku will remain. The beautiful hourly chimes in the cemetery chapel will continue to ring out for Edvard and Fanny and others like them who saw the birth of an independent nation.

Go to
Chapter 1 - The BastubackasChapter 3 - Victor Bastubacka
Chapter 4 - Ida Maria Bastubacka Niemela, My Mother

Home | Select a Story | Contact
Finlander is a project of Smart Cookie Design.  
© 1990-2003 E. A. Niemela and Smart Cookie Design.  All rights reserved.  
No part of this website may be reproduced without permission from the authors.