In search of Uncle Sigurd’s story

28 Aug, 2013

by Molly Snyder

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It was research and the love of family that brought Norwegian genealogist Egil Johannessen to the Pfister.

Egil visited the hotel with his wife, Jeanne Marie, and their 12-year-old son, Trygve Johann. The family lives in Larvik, Norway, a small town in the southern part of the country.

They took a vacation this summer to the Midwest to visit Jeanne Marie’s family, she is originally from Indiana, and to attempt to find more information about Egil’s great uncle, Sigurd, who had a connection to the Pfister.

Sigurd was the brother of Egil’s great grandmother, Johanne, and he traveled from Larvik to Milwaukee in 1907 on the Hellig Olav. He was 17-years-old.

SS Hellige Olav

According to the U.S. City Directories, Sigurd started working as a department manager at the Pfister in 1933.

“And thus I wanted to see the place and had hoped the hotel had some more information about him,” says Egil.

It turns out the hotel does not have personnel files from that long ago.

After leaving Milwaukee, Egil and his family traveled to Racine and then to Plainfield, Ind. to visit Jeanne Marie’s relatives. They visit the United States about once a year, but Egil remembers when he was familiar with the US only as a return address on packages.

“Growing up, I remember I got presents for my birthday and Christmas sent from the USA, including the gown I was baptized in. This gown is still in good shape and my son, my sister’s children and her grandchildren were also baptized wearing it,” says Egil.

Sigurd's draft registration card.

Sigurd’s draft registration card.

But perhaps visiting the Pfister was a blessing in disguise for Egil and his family.

“We met a very nice gentleman, the concierge – unfortunately I don’t remember his name – and he was kind enough to listen to my story and then told us the story about the hotel and gave us some written, useful documentation,” says Egil. “He also told us we could stroll the hotel as much as we would like, take pictures and enjoy the culture and art. We had an exquisite lunch at the cafe and toured the hotel with joy. We took some wonderful pictures and also met the lovely Stephanie (Barenz) and admired her art.”

Sigurd Mathison Gravestone Wood Nat Cem

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About the author

Molly Snyder

Molly Snyder has lived in Milwaukee her entire life. She started keeping a diary when she was four and published her first poem at age 10 called “The Unicorn” in the now-defunct Shorewood Herald. Today, she writes less about mythical creatures and more about Milwaukee people and places. She is a senior writer at OnMilwaukee.com, where she has worked for the last 12 years. Telling people’s stories is her passion.

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