Malmö to Ellis Island: part five of Augusta Parsons Hylander’s account
A shorter extract now, wherein seventeen-year-old Augusta studies dressmaking in Malmö so that she’ll have a marketable skill before embarking on her solo journey to America.
Perhaps I should go back to the year I was in Malmö, learning dressmaking and preparing for my big adventure across the Atlantic Ocean to the land that we called America the Golden. I imagined the streets really were made of gold and money flowed freely. I had heard many stories about this wonderful land. They were like fairy tales, and I believed them all.
In the meantime, living in Malmö seemed like a fairy tale. I enjoyed my dressmaking school. I had loved to sew ever since I could remember, and now I was learning every aspect of it, from making buttonholes through many steps until I was allowed to cut out dresses. We used no patterns, just measured the customers, then cut the dresses and immediately fitted them. In those days dresses always had linings. This was cut out first, basted and tried on. Then it was ripped up again and the cloth of the dress was cut and basted onto the lining. It all was put together and tried on several times. It was the custom to have little steel strips sewed in each seam, and that was the next step. Not a wrinkle was permitted to be seen when the dress was completed. The waist must be very small, the neck very high, the sleeves very full and puffed. It really was quite an achievement to create a dress in those days. Learning such fine dressmaking was a wonderful experience for me, and a great help in making my own clothes all my life as well as earning money by occasionally making clothes for other people.
I liked the life in the big city of Malmö. It was such a beautiful city, with its location right on the water and its castle and parks. For a big city it seemed very clean to me. The family I lived with were very nice to me, and remained my friends until they died.
After I had graduated from my dressmaking school, from which I received some sort of diploma, I spent two months learning fine ironing, though I did not find this much fun. Then I went back home to Sturup to stay for a short while getting ready for my trip. It was to take place in March. My brother Jöns sent me my ticket and money for other things needed for my venture. In the meantime my sister Johanna and her husband had moved into our home to live there and take care of my mother. Everything seemed to have been arranged satisfactorily, and my mother would be well cared for. My father had provided for her and our home by making a will that would give her the right to stay in our home as long as she lived.
So in March I was ready to leave. I don’t remember the exact date. The ship I was to travel on was named the Denmark*. It was to leave from Copenhagen, stop in Oslo, Norway for a few hours, then go on to America with no other stop.
But before I got on that ship I had to leave Sturup and home. It was very hard to leave my mother, my home, and my village. The son of a neighbor drove me in his horse-drawn wagon to the railroad station in Börringe where I took the train for Malmö, and from there I took a boat to Copenhagen over the Kattegatt, a rather wild stretch of water between Sweden and Denmark. I stayed overnight in Copenhagen and the next day boarded the large ship that would cross the ocean. I can’t remember having any fears about all this travelling. It was a thrilling adventure to me. A cousin of mine from Sturup was on the boat to Copenhagen, then went back to Malmö. His name was Gustaf Borg. Then I was completely alone.
But I soon met another girl who was also alone, and we formed a friendship and stayed together during the whole voyage to America. It took three weeks. My friend was seasick the whole way and never left her bunk. I wasn’t seasick a minute and took care of her the whole time, carrying her meals to her. The food was terrible, but I had been warned of this and had brought some food from home – knäckebröd and some kind of hard cheese we made. The weather wasn’t too bad, though I still remember a few times when the ocean got so wild and the waves so high that no one was allowed on deck. But I would creep up from below and sit on the top step as near the fresh air as possible. I couldn’t stand it in the big room where everyone was seasick.
So life went on. In spite of discomforts of various sorts I enjoyed the voyage and felt wonderful. On good days we sometimes danced on deck. There was a nice boy with red hair who played for the dancing on his violin.
I forgot to say that when we stopped in Norway the captain said we could go on land for two hours and see the fjords, but to be sure to come back on time and not lose the ship. I went off to look at the scenery but I was too afraid of missing the ship to stay long, and hurried back. When I was safely on board again I remember I had great trouble finding my way around and found myself in a very noisy place that was just for families. All the children were crying, and the whole place was terribly crowded and dirty. I finally found where I belonged, with girls and single women. My friend was already back. She had not liked Norway at all, and got into bed and stayed there until we got to America.
It was a long trip, but I really had a grand time and a lot of fun, and was a bit sorry to have it end, not knowing what would happen next. This girl who was my friend was going to Boston. I was going to New York. There my two brothers were going to meet me.
* This is a mistake; perhaps a subconscious slip of the pen. Augusta’s future husband, John Hylander (who she wouldn’t meet until she was actually in America), had sailed to New York the previous year on the Danmark, which sank mid-voyage with no lives lost. His dramatic rescue may have meant that the name of his ship was always the first one to come to mind when looking back over the family history. My own best guess, based on online records only, is that Augusta Persson (as she was then, before her name was anglicized) came to America on the Hekla.