A Spring Concert with Nautical Stories
News Report by Nick Hiltunen
A visit from Tom Kastle. a singer, songwriter and ship captain, reminded members of the Fairport Harbor Historical Society and others in the audience of the trials and tribulations of Finns who settled there.
Kastle played before an audience at Fairport Harbor Harding High School Sunday May 15, an event sponsored by the Finnish Heritage Museum in the village.
Master of Ceremonies John Ollila talked about his childhood on New Street, and some of the forgotten pains of early industrial technology.
Many of those early Finnish immigrants lived in a complex of temporary homes that came to be known as "Finn Hollow."
Immigrants from Finland started arriving in the late nineteenth century in the village of Fairport Harbor, on the northeastern Ohio shoreline of Lake Erie, Ollilla said.
"In the 1880s, they settled to work primarily on the docks — Finns, Slovaks and Hungarians, among other[s]," the master of ceremonies said.
They settled on land in the 300 block of High Street, an area that would become known as "Finn Hollow."
Finn Hollow is gone today, and so are some of the annoyances of early heavy equipment, the master of ceremonies said.
"I remember the sound of the coal [machinery]," Olilla said. "It sounded like thunder was going off, when they dumped the [coal] car."
The homes of Finn Hollow were built on temporary foundations, and the Diamond Alkali Corp. eventually asked them to move.
The Finns with houses on the temporary foundations were asked to move, and purchase lots elsewhere in the limits of Fairport Harbor.
Some of the relocated homes are still in existence today, and plaques for the ten known remaining houses were commissioned after the acquisition of a grant in 2008.
Kastle, who calls himself a "teller of tales" along with being a singer/songwriter, sang traditional salty folk songs of the seafaring variety, including Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."
The famous Lake Superior shipwreck is remembered locally by the loss of Eddie Bindon, a first assistant engineer a local football hero in the heavily-Finnish Fairport Harbor.
Bindon died along with the rest of the crew of 29 people near Whitefish Point, Michigan in 1975.
The master of ceremonies John Ollila, also took a turn at lyric writing composing lyrics that describing what it was like being a young man growing up in Fairport — and what it smelled like.
Ollila said the docks no longer had the pungent tar smell he remembered as a boy, nor the scent of "soda ash," known in common vernacular as "sodi ash."
"Back home again in Fairport Harbor / And it seems that I can see / The Diamond Alkali still shining bright / Through the Sycamores for me
"The sodi ash sends all its fragrance / Through the streets I used to roam / When I dream about the moonlight on Lake Erie / Then I long for my Fairport Harbor home."
Fairport Harding High School Principal Tom Fazekas also spoke, and said that students at the school were involved in other Finn-related activities.
Painted rocks "inspired by prehistoric art rock discovered in Finland" was on display in the school's art exhibition cabinet. (Photos © Nick Hiltunen, 2011)
Concert was A Community Effort
The Sunday Concert was more than just a concert. It combined the forces of many people and groups in a co-operative spirit.
The event was sponsored by the Finnish Heritage Museum, the Fairport Harbor Historical Society, the Fairport Harbor Tourism Council and the Fairport Harbor Village Public Schools. Also helping was the Fairport Public Library.
The Fairport Schools graciously provided the facilities, and had Director Chris Ruzin's high school band perform three numbers, while Mrs. Louma's art classes displayed painting art depicting the recent gas explosions, rock art modeled after ancient rock art of Finland, and even scripted a "SISU" on the outdoor fence with Lake Erie drift wood.
The Fairport Library designed and printed the programs.
Come see and hear Tom Kastle in Concert
Through a joint community venture among four groups, the Finnish Heritage Museum, the Fairport Marine Museum and Lighthouse, the Fairport Harbor Tourism Board, and Fairport Harding High School, singer and story teller Tom Kastle will present a concert on Sunday, May 15, at the W.R.Branthoover Auditorium at the high school at 2 pm.
Tom Kastle is a singer, songwriter, tall ship captain, and teller of tales based in the Great Lakes who has traveled the US, Canada, Mexico, Europe, and the Pacific.
He toured as half of Tom & Chris Kastle for two decades, producing a dozen recordings and a soundtrack for PBS (WTTW-TV Chicago). He has one foot the singer/songwriter world where his original songs run from the romantic to the nautical. His ballad Cold Winds has been covered by performers in the US, England, and the Netherlands. The other foot is firmly planted in the traditional maritime world where he is a shanty singer and US Coast Guard licensed captain. This hands-on background on tall ships and maritime music led to an invitation by Andy Cohen to be a "professor" at "Folk University" at the 2009 International Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis with Enoch Kent, Tracy Schwartz and Ginny Hawker.
This Winter, Tom has a speaking role in the Candid Concert Opera production of Die Fledermaus. When ashore, he lives in a 19th century log cottage on the shore of Lake Mendota.
Fairport High School students can attend for free if they ask their teacher for tickets. The faculty are also invited and will attend for free. To cover costs, others will be charged $5.00 for each ticket. The full program will be posted when it becomes available.
Click Here to go to Tom's website with a You Tube recording to hear Tom's songs.