April 23, 2012

TEEN LIFE WAY BACK WHEN: Swede Hollow



Copyright 2012 Carol J. Larson
All rights reserved
Last week I talked about places that fascinate and intrigue us.  For me, Swede Hollow is one of those places.  In the nineteenth century, Swede Hollow was a poor immigrant neighborhood in St. Paul, Minnesota.  It appears in both of my novels, Big Stone Heart and The Secret Society of Sugar and Spice.  Here is how I imagine Swede Hollow: The heroine of Big Stone Heart, Carrie Smith, walks out into the night…

The sky was moonless and the air was dense and moist with the smell of snow on the way.  There were no streetlights in the Hollow, no real streets at all, just paths worn in the dirty snow.  Carrie felt like she was walking through a thick dark soup as she tried to find her way down the path that led to the other end of the Hollow. Most of the houses, arranged in a crazy quilt pattern up the sides of the Hollow, were dark.  No one was about.  Wispy curls of smoke drifted from the chimneys.    She could just make out the rows of outhouses along the banks of the creek like strange sentries guarding the shore.  The pungent smell of sewage drifted up with every breeze.  Finally, she saw the steps that loomed out of the darkness zigzagging straight up into the night. As she climbed up the steep narrow stairs, Carrie felt that she was stepping out of one life and into another.

 Carrie was but one of the thousands of people who began a new life by climbing those stairs.  The poor who settled in Swede Hollow had one driving ambition: to work hard enough, long enough, and to learn enough English to leave for a better life up in the streets of St. Paul. Moving up was more than just getting out of the Hollow; it was a tangible expression of success. For the height of the land on which your house was built was a direct reflection of your wealth and social status.  The very rich built their ostentatious mansions high on Summit Hill overlooking the city and the Mississippi River.  The merchants and bankers clustered on the rolling land above the river. The shop girls, brewery workers, and mill hands lived on the barren floodplain by the river.  And the poorest of the poor lived down in Swede Hollow.

For references and additional reading, see Extras.
Next topic:  Teen Life Way Back When:  Orphanages


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