"Then and Now" /A celebration in the Finnish /American Perspective/ "Ennen ja Nyt"/
Monthly Programs 2009  


Finnish Heritage Museum Monthly Education Series Program

The Kaleva De-mystified

         By Lasse O. Hiltunen 

         Belt, Montana, the second largest town in Cascade County, was a wild town, a rough town, one hundred years ago.  It had thirty-five saloons at a time, although that number was 110 over all the mining years altogether. Those saloons and houses of prostitution catered mainly to the miners who worked all day long in the coal mines, where 1000 men brought up over 2500 tons of coal daily.

Gunshots often punctuated the night, killing or wounding many.

JohnLeivo John Leivo captured the attention of the FHM members with those startling revelations.  He went on to present the history of the Knights of Kaleva.

 Juho Oxelstein of Oulu, Finland arrived in the USA in 1887 and worked first as a miner in Tower, Minnesota.  A Finnish high school graduate (unusual in the late 1800’s), and later a university educated surveyor, he and his wife Sofia moved to Belt, Montana to be closer to his brother Alex Stone.  Juho quickly changed his name to John Stone, matching his brother’s American name so that he could better succeed in the business world.

 A 32nd degree Mason, Oxelstein or Stone wrote the framework of the Kaleva using Masonic lodge rules, but with the Finnish flavor of the Kalevala, and Lemminkäinen, who has transformed over the years from a shamanistic figure to an epic war-hero type.   Prayer always opened and closed all meetings.

 Oxelstein left Finland during Russia’s rule over Finland during 1880 to 1917.  At this time, Russia had army bases in Finland and often would conscript young Finnish men into their army.  That forced many to simply leave Finland since they feared being forced into serving the Russians, revealed Leivo.

 Stone admitted that he did not know what to do with the unruly, but hard-working miners.  He did know that the deadly cycle of working all day, retiring to a saloon and getting drunk, visiting a whorehouse, and then returning to the saloon, and finally collapsing drunk and incoherent, only to return to the mines in the morning had to stop.  Stone said they needed some kind of salvation from this practice.

 Salvation came in Stone’s creation of the Kaleva Lodge, or the Knights of Kaleva, which originally was formed to promote and preserve the culture of the Finnish people, according to Leivo.

 Born in 1898, the Kaleva Knights movement spread quickly, and had an appeal since it was not a church or temperance society, but an organization that laid its roots in the well-known Kalevala, the Finnish Epic poem.  Every Finn had that in his cultural understanding.

 Originally, John Stone and his friends did not make it a closed-door group, but eventually it became that, leading to its eventual slow disintegration.  Leivo reports that at one time there were 61 chapters across the country, with lodges (or majas as they were called) in California, Montana, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.  Wherever there were Finnish populations, the movement had possible roots.

 Leivo reported that the Fairport Harbor’s chapter, which was formed Dec 6, 1907, was called the Knights and Ladies of Kaleva Virkkusen Maja 22 and had its own building on Fifth Street across from Zion Lutheran Church.  It too had a triangular altar (owned now by FHM), and the preacher would open and close all meetings with prayer.  The building was sold in 1977.  Meetings now are held in member’s homes.

 Ladies’ chapters came later in 1904, and the thought was that a closed lodge had to make accommodations for the wives or there would be a problem.  Fairport’s ladies chapter was originally called the Pohjolattaren Tupa and was formed August 31, 1910.

 The Fairport Lodge purchased land in Leroy, Ohio popularly known as “Indian Point.”  It was later sold to Lake County Metroparks due to the finding of Indian artifacts and relics on that property.  It remains a Metropark today.

 Every organization has a publication, and the Kalevans were no different.  The first issue of the Kalevalainen was published in 1913.  Aili Leivo was featured as Grand Matron in 1991, while John was Grand First Brother in 1993. 

 Leivo related that the problem of communications amongst the lodges across America eventually created the Grand Lodge Meeting to be instituted.  At these meetings, attended by delegates from each lodge, changes in by-laws and regulations came from democratic suggestions from the floor.  The meetings themselves would last six to seven days, but today that has been reduced to three days. 

 While attending the 1994 Grand Lodge meeting in Red Lodge, Montana, Leivo and his friends were walking along the streets and discussing things in Finnish.  They were approached by strangers and asked what language they were speaking.  The reply: Finnish.  Their response:  “Oh, oh, these must be members of the Finnish Mafia.”

 Fairport had Grand Lodge meetings in 1960, 1968, and in 1992. 

 The museum has a Kaleva display in the main gallery.  Ohio had lodges in Warren, Conneaut, Fairport, and Cleveland.  Featured are crossed swords of the Ritaris, and really have no significance other than they were given to the officers of the organization as part of the formal rituals. 

 “The local Maja is in its last stage,” says Leivo.  Membership is very low.  “The organization is closing across the country for a number of reasons.  First, the closed-door policy, allowing only Finns, restricted membership since no one wanted to find out what the organization was.  Secondly, the Finnish language itself would keep younger members out.  Younger people could not understand the language and they did not want to even talk to the elders.  Earlier, only Finnish wives could attend; that has since changed, but it is too late.”

 When the Kaleva first started, membership dues were sixty cents, which at the time was a large sum of money.  Many working people did not join because they could not afford the money, said Leivo.

Leivo suggested the book Kaleva History, by Alphonse Uukonen and said that the Ladies’ history is in the print process now and is due out soon.

The Kalevala Re-mystifies with its symbolic beauty

         By Lasse O. Hiltunen  

 Janine Urdal LaBounty continued the “K” night with an explanation of 3000-year-old stories or “runes” that make up the Finnish Epic known as the Kalevala.  The purpose of the Museum’s program at the April meeting was to explain both the Kaleva and the Kalevala, two separate, yet intimately close and very Finnish concepts.

 John Leivo reported on the Kaleva and Janine LaBounty spoke on the Kalevala.

 LaBounty a retired English teacher, understands the concepts of the epic poem quite well and stressed that she was a “newbie” or beginning student of the Kalevala.  She explained that the Kalevala was a “tradition epic” since it captures oral stories of Finns from the beginning.  None of   the   3000 year old stories were ever captured in written form until 1670.

 Since Finland was basically a tossed ball between Sweden and Russia for many years, and had no status of a country, it was subject to the whims of whoever was in power at the time.  LaBounty explained that during the last Swedish rule, the Finnish language could have been decimated.  Only the peasants spoke Finnish while all of the official government business and the discourse of the more affluent people was Latin or Swedish.

 Finally, Elias Lönnröt and students from Turku University made the decision to start collecting the “runes” or oral poems in   Ingria and Karelia.  They collected over two million verses or runes, with some having 200 variants. These were all spoken/sung verses, painstakingly memorized by the speakers as the “historians” of the people.

In 1827   Lönnröt   began to   arrange 50 of the runes into a coherent whole. This first Kalevala was published on February 28th 1835. Today   this date is celebrated as Kalevala Day in Finland.

The verses were memorized and subsequently written in trochaic tetrameter, which is a line of four trochaic feet.  A trochee is a long syllable, or stressed syllable, followed by a short, or unstressed, one.










 Most reference works will cite both the Kalevala and Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha as the best examples of this form.  Also interesting is that the diverse samples collected from many different parts of Ingria and Karelia in Finland had the same rhythm or metric pattern.

 LaBounty further reports that the themes found in the verses were many.  Those themes incorporated fantasy with “lots of room for interpretation,” with those interpretations dependent upon the reader or the listener.  The possibilities are limitless because the themes are universal in their appeal. 

 Themes included conflict, weapons, domestic life, furnishings, tools, the world’s materials such as iron and gold, and magic. Magic changes include a morphing of a fish to a bird for example.  The power is   not in the weapons but in the Words, said LaBounty.

 Everything in this Finnish epic has a soul.  Inanimate or not, it has a soul, says LaBounty.  She explained that other   national epics are different in that they tell a specific story about a central character. The Kalevala has more than one hero.

LaBounty also told the story of the Sampo.  It is a magical wonder machine that blessed the holder with good fortune.  In the Kalevala, it takes the form of a mill grinding gold, salt, or grain.  It is lost and in the effort to recapture, it was smashed and lost at sea.  Thus it takes on a mysterious and magical aura, and affects the story and the reader/listener.

 Many related arts including music, photography, theatre, film, stories, poems have gleaned their inspirations from the Kalevala giving it a universal jumping off place for creative people.  Akselli Gallen-Kallela for example has earned universal distinction for his illustrations in one edition of the Kalevala.  The Finnish National Museum has paintings from the Kalevala on the ceiling where Vainomoinen makes a kantele from a fish.  Sibelius has the Lemminkäinen Suite (Four Legends from the Kalevala), which bases the music on that character.  Finnish heavy metal bands too have incorporated the themes also in multiple works by multiple bands.

LaBounty concluded by saying that the Kalevala was the turning point for Finnish Culture and has affected cultural items around the world. She pointed out that a Vietnamese woman; having translated the Kalevala into Vietnamese became inspired to write a Vietnamese epic. The Kalevala has been translated into 51 languages.

  The Kalevala has boosted Finnish confidence and national pride. It is credited with inspiration for   the “National Awakening” that led to independence of Finland from Russia in 1917.

LaBounty relates that she is only a beginning student of the Kalevala, and promised to return in two years with full interpretations. 

 Anne Kalliomaa Pohto introduced both Leivo and LaBounty.  Pat Spivak provided refreshments.

Pictures ©Finnish Heritage Museum, 2009   Text ©Lasse O. Hiltunen, 2009 


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