August 21, 2014
Last week I told you about my journey to Elk Horn, Iowa to learn about the Danish heritage that my Mormor often talks about. She chose to live at The Danish Home of Chicago because it not only keeps the Danish traditions alive, but also she says they are truly celebrated everyday. So the chance to visit a Danish community in the U.S. and to see the renowned Danish American Museum, was truly a highlight of my summer.
The museum is surrounded by beautiful prairie grasses and rolling hills. It looked very much like many of the pictures of Denmark that I have found in the Hope Chest. The building has the Danish style exterior with its red roof and half-timbered façade. Inside, the simple Scandinavian lines are the perfect backdrop for the fascinating relics and information offered in this beautiful museum.
Beginning on the lower level, I found cherished Danish artifacts and treasures collected from donors. They are carefully preserved in the highest quality enclosures available and I was able to view many intricate items such as apparel, home adornments, artwork and every assortment of keepsakes.
Upstairs, I journeyed through a timeline of Danes coming to America. Between 1865 to 1914 over 300,000 Danes immigrated to the United States. Today, it is estimated that 1.5 million people living in the U.S. have a Danish heritage.
Danes immigrated to America for many reasons but top of their list was often the Danish economy. While most Danes were farmers, only one child was entitled to inherit the family farm, leaving the rest of the siblings out of work, at the least. Although tickets to America were expensive, immigrants were buoyed by the promise of a brighter future and were often lured by the offer for free land.
The greatest number of Danes moved to America between 1868 and 1893. Emma Thorsen, moved with her husband, James and their four children to Chicago in 1869. It would be 22 years before Ms. Thorsen would gather 12 like-minded women to champion the creation of The Danish Home.
The Danes brought their strong heritage with them: arts & crafts, songs (both folk and hymns), dancing, needlepoint and woodworking. They also brought their famous positive attitudes and open-mindedness. Danes assimilate into their environments easily and purposefully. They believe that embracing the culture of the place will benefit them in all areas of life. Danes expect the same from those who choose to live in Denmark. People who do not embrace their country’s open-mindedness and sense of equality cause unrest amidst the country, a collection of happy, peaceful small communities.
Danes reject racism of all kinds and fervently believe in equality. When Germany occupied Denmark during WW2, Denmark’s King Christian X, rebuffed Hilter and enraged the dictator making Denmark a target. Danes and their fellow Scandinavian neighbors worked to spare the local Jewish population and their families from Hitler’s reach and to a great extent were successful.
I learned so much in my three-hour visit. I have to say I am very proud of my heritage and of Denmark today. They pay more taxes than anyone in the world at about 50% and their goods are taxed at 20%. But their belief that the good of the community supersedes the importance of the individual serves them well. People who live in Denmark enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living and the lowest unemployment. They are also reported to be the happiest people in the world.
Queen of Denmark – Margrethe II
Do you have Danish roots? Do you know someone who does? We’d love to hear what brought your family to the United States.
To learn about your Danish heritage, visit the Family History and Genealogy Center on Main Street or visit: danishmuseum.org.