Rasmus Hanson: A Full Family Tree
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Washington Island was a friendly and closely-knit place to live. Everyone knew everyone else and people would have their usual Sunday visits with friends and relatives. The population of Washington Island at this time was well over a thousand men, women and children. All of these people helped each other and showed a lot of respect towards one another. During this time in history, it was common for children to die young. How hard it must have been on those mothers who lost numerous children. Children who did survive the harsh infant years grew up very fast. They would start helping their families as soon as they were capable. They would work, in some cases, from sun up until sun down.
Families had to be closely knit together in order to survive. There was a time for work and a time for play. While some people would go on their routine outings to Rock Island, to the movies at Tom’s or just out visiting, others did not even see the furthest parts of the Island until they were teenagers. It is amazing how different life was back then. To think electricity, motor vehicles and indoor plumbing were just being introduced. How different and wonderful it must have been to live in that period of time.
One hundred and forty-five years ago on the Isle of Fyn, (an island off the coast of Denmark), my great-grandpa Rasmus Hanson was born. It was the 5th of June in 1855 when my great-great-grandma, Bodild Hansen, brought her new little blossom, Rasmus, into this world. Of course, my great-great-grandpa, Hans Peterson, was there to help. Rasmus was the first of nine children. Christian A. was second in 1856, Sophia the third, Knute the fourth in 1865, Hannah the fifth, Hans B. the sixth in 1867, Maren the seventh, Camilla the eighth, and Camilla the ninth. This large family lived in Kullerup, a town on the Isle of Fyn. So marked the beginning of a whole new world, yet only a mere limb of my family tree.
Rasmus Hanson was the first seed in his family to venture across the immense and fierce Atlantic Ocean, according to Jeanette Lindal Hutchins, my cousin and fellow Islander. How scary that must have been, to head into the unknown without any family, or even an idea of what was in store. After traveling across the Atlantic and down the St. Lawrence River, this ambitious twenty-five-year-old man arrived in Milwaukee in 1880. It was there that Rasmus continued to use his expertise as a boat builder. Three years later in 1883, Rasmus found his way up to Washington Island on board Albert and Tom Goodmander’s boat. Rasmus liked the Island so much that he decided to take up residence there and let his roots take hold.
Later, Jeanette informed me, Rasmus’ brothers, Christian A., Knute, and Hans B., followed in his footsteps and came to live on Washington Island. Christian A. ran the farm on Main Road where Ted and Charlotte Hansen now live. Knute worked the farm on Mountain Road where Chick Richards now lives. Hans B. ran the potato farm on Detroit Harbor Road where Monica Wulfers now lives. Jeanette still gets a chuckle out of how Rasmus “…enticed his three farming brothers to this rock to farm on”. One by one, the four branches of the family tree came together to grow on Washington Island.
By this time Rasmus was involved in the boat building trade. Knute arrived in 1888, just in time to help Rasmus out with his first hooker (a freight boat), the Flotilla. The two shoots (brothers) gathered their own lumber from Rasmus’ 120 acre woods behind and around Jeanette’s house. At this time most everything was done by hand, especially carpentry. Rasmus and his helpers would saw and plane the lumber by hand! In Ray McDonald’s book, The Four Islands, Bill Jepson told Ray he had seen a framework while he was hunting in Jeanette’s woods. Later Bill and Ray found out that framework was what Rasmus and his brothers used to hold huge logs. Using a crosscut saw, one brother would stand on the framework while the other stood on the ground.
Hour upon hour these men spent building magnificent boats. While my mother and I were looking through my great-grandpa’s diaries we just happened to find the number of hours that they worked on the boats. It was remarkable the long hours they meticulously spent on their work. To give you some idea of how long it took them to build a boat back then, the Agnes H. took four years for Rasmus and his helpers to build. (According to my uncle, Jim Cornell, the Agnes H. was “…40 some feet.”) Rasmus also built the Rainbow, Pirate I, the Small Welcome and numerous pound net boats. Rasmus had the talent and dedication to build fine boats.
Rasmus was determined to succeed. He wanted to be able to offer a prosperous home and a secure life to a wife. Next Rasmus needed a place of his own, so he bought the Eastmin’s place. He lived and worked there for several years. Later he sold the Eastmin’s place to Caroline Irr. In 1888, Rasmus built the house where Jeanette now lives. This house has been in the Hanson family for over 100 years! Rasmus was now ready to find a wife, a blossom, for he had a place and an occupation.
As time passed, Rasmus found himself firmly dug in the area called Jackson Harbor. His roots were just beginning to take hold. Rasmus had gone back to Denmark in search of his blossom in 1898. It was on that trip that Rasmus found Rasmine Rasmussen. According to their marriage certificate, on the seventh day of April in 1899, Rasmus Hanson married Rasmine Rasmussen on Washington Island. Margaret Gudmundsen and Louis Gudmundsen were their witnesses, while A. Gudmundsen was the Justice of the Peace.
Rasmus and Rasmine had six seeds: Hans Christian (1900-1947), Arthur (May 29, 1901-October 13, 1974), Camilla (died in infancy in 1902), Birnes (died in infancy in 1905), Agnes (September 2, 1906-1988), Willie (August 12, 1908-1912). Rasmus enjoyed his family and wanted them to have the best, and live life to the fullest.
The Hanson family and the Ellefson family were neighbors in Jackson Harbor for thirty some years. Jake Ellefson recalled they had a strong relationship. Jake remembers his father talking about how Art and Hans were like little fish when they were young. Art and Hans were full of curiosity. They would swim from their dad’s dock over to Ellefson’s dock and snoop around. But as soon as Mr. Ellefson was on his way down to the dock, the two “little fish” had darted back to their dock. Another example that shows this strong and growing relationship was when Jake and his family had bought a boat.
Rasmus, as Jake said, “…was well aware of how important a good compass is and he had one and gave us that for no good reason except a good neighbor…”. These two close willows would also help each other put up ice. Rasmus had bought an ice machine, (“ice saw rig” as Jake called it), in the early 1940’s, which he let the Ellefson’s rent to fill up their ice house. These sort of memories verify the Hanson’s and the Ellefson’s had a strong relationship.
Life took a drastic turn in 1910. It was this year that Rasmus’ very dear wife Rasmine wilted. He would have done anything to make her happy. This bond between Rasmus and Rasmine was shown in a very sad story. The story begins with a lonesome and homesick wife, Rasmine. She longed to go back to her homeland and her family for a visit. This kind of trip cost a lot of money. Rasmus, a somewhat thrifty man, sold Rock Island in 1910 in order for Rasmine to go visit her homeland. (Rasmus had bought Rock Island for its lumber.) If he was able to make the fruit of his seeds happy, he was willing to take the chance. Rasmine made it all the way to Denmark and back to Sister Bay. On December 2, 1910 in Sister Bay, Rasmine died of pneumonia. Imagine how hard that must have been. Almost home and yet so far away. Rasmus was crushed, for half of his limb had died.
The Jackson Harbor Store
To keep his tree green and healthy, Rasmus also was in charge of various stores. His first store was the shed next to Jeanette’s house. According to Jeanette, Rasmus had this general store from 1903 until 1905 when he and his family moved out to Jackson Harbor. Rasmus also had a general store out at his Jackson Harbor home. This store was in the west end of the house (where the living room and bedroom are now). The fifty-seven year old Rasmus kept this store going until 1912. My mom told me a story that she heard through the grapevine. Rasmus would have made more money from his store had his sons not been so generous. Both Art and Hans were very kind and full of life. Between giving away food and eating the cookies that came in, Rasmus’ profit was less than it could have been. According to Rasmus’ day book of 1896, Rasmus sold: one pound of tea for 35 cents, three and a half pounds of cheese for 35 cents, twenty pounds of sugar for a dollar, two pounds of rice for 12 cents, two pounds of ginger snaps for 16 cents. Today 100 tea bags, (half a pound of Lipton’s black tea), is over four dollars – inflation has skyrocketed. Rasmus also had his “Floating Store”, the Flotilla. Every two weeks, Rasmus would do a roundtrip with the Flotilla. He would often take his children along and stop at Gladstone, Menominee, Ford River and Green Bay. These trips drew Rasmus closer to his children.
Rasmus was in need of a housekeeper. Rasmus believed that the only place to find a suitable housekeeper was in Denmark. Off he went in 1912 in search of a new housekeeper. According to my grandpa Art, Anne Christiansen was going to be Rasmus’ housekeeper but the United States Government would not let her into the country unless they were married. They were married by a ship’s captain in Canada. He returned to Washington Island married to Anne Christiansen.
The Rasmus Hanson family tree spread its branches and continued to develop. In 1912, the family consisted of Rasmus (age 57), Hans (age 12), Art (age 11), Agnes (age 6), Willie (age 4), and Anne and her two children, Christine and Marie. This same year little Willie died. The story begins with the boiling of a pig’s head. Poor little Willie fell into the boiling tub of hot fat that had just been taken off the stove. Willie died within the week. A devastating loss, yet Rasmus and his family crossed over that knot and moved on with life.
Life could get quite confusing when you have a lot of “Mr. Hansen’s”. Mail was often mixed up. My mother, Marianna Gibson, said Rasmus Hansen changed his name to Hanson to solve this problem. Name changing was quite a normal thing back then. What may seem even weirder is Rasmus’ last name of Hansen. According to Lois McDonald, Danish speaking countries create last names by the father’s first name and end it with a son (Danish translation of son is sen ). Rasmus, Hans’son, would have the last name of Rasmus Hansen. All this confusion over one name.
The Hansons and Hansens would have huge family gatherings with endless plates and supplies of food. Jeanette Lindal Hutchins, a daughter of Agnes Hanson Lindal, recalls one time when her sister Gloria and cousin Lee McDonald, (a son of Marie, Anne Christiansen Hanson’s daughter), were young acorns. The two teenagers were at a Thanksgiving dinner out at Jackson Harbor and they decided to have a food-eating contest. Not too long after, moans and groans developed from the living room. Jeanette remembers Gloria and Lee just sitting on the daybeds in agony. Another story Jeanette remembers was about olives. At every gathering there were olives, Jeanette and Gloria’s favorite things to eat. These two girls, as Jeanette said “…made pigs of ourselves,” for they went straight to the olive tray. Art and Hans, being the kind of uncles they were, saw how much their nieces loved olives, so for Christmas, the two uncles gave their nieces a gallon jug of olives. This was unheard of back then because olives were so expensive. Hans and Art had developed their father’s sense of need. Rasmus would tell his sons, Art and Hans, “You are only allowed one piece!” So what did these six-foot huge brothers do, but cut and leave one tiny piece and eat the rest as their one piece. Another interesting anecdote when talking about family gatherings is a New Year’s story. Jeanette can clearly recall New Year’s celebrations. She remembers Tom and Jerry’s, a punch bowl, having special little cups with two little mice on each cup. Being so excited to be able to use the special little cups, Gloria and Jeanette would celebrate New Years with the adults. The Hanson family celebrated a closeness that only one could dream of.
“Grandpa was a modern man…” Jeanette told me. Rasmus loved new things. Rasmus had one of the first cars on Washington Island. After talking with Lois and Lee McDonald, I got the impression that Rasmus and his boys loved big cars. They had a ’30 Willys Night, a ’39 Billie, a Nash, a Buick and a Coupe. If these cars could talk, what stories they could tell. Anyone who remembers the Coupe, will remember Rasmus and Hans, his son, filling the seats. Who could forget the sight of these two men? Hans, a solid stump, was six foot and over three hundred pounds while Rasmus, a stick, was only six foot two and about two hundred pounds. If Rasmus had anywhere to go, he and Hans would pack into the Coupe. Rasmus had access to electricity, another modern item. Irvin Goodlet recalls when he used to work with Hans and Art. They would be out working in the sheds and it would get dark. So long as Rasmus was not near, they turned on the light, which Rasmus had specifically told them not to use because electricity was expensive. As soon as they heard someone coming they would shut the light off and act as though nothing happened. Jake Ellefson remembers Rasmus always wearing thick, expensive, wool pants. The knees would become thread bare and he was, as Jake said, “…so amazed at how Martha, (Jake’s sister), could fix his expensive wool pants.” Rasmus filled the branches of his family tree with goods to share with everyone.
The extent of Rasmus’ family tree goes far beyond blood, root, branch or tree. Anyone who knew Rasmus was touched. Everyone felt a loss when Rasmus left this world. In my Grandpa Art’s diary, he wrote on October 28, 1937: “Pa died on ferry this AM. We was going on trip.” The next day he wrote: “Brought Pa home from Sister Bay getting ready for funeral tomorrow.” Then on October 30, he wrote: “Had Pa’s funeral today – it was a northwest wind.” Rasmus may have left this world, but his legacies of devotion, respect, and love will never leave his children, or their children.