Finnish Heritage Museum 301 High Street
Fairport Harbor, Oh, 44077
Map Here
Museum Hours:
Saturday 10am-3pm
"The Holmstroms of Erie’s Fourth Ward by Jovette Hiltunen"

Our September program highlighted David Paul Holmstrom, author of Life in Erie’s Fourth Ward. David began his presentation talking about the reason for writing this book. He wanted to preserve and pass on his family history to his children, grandchildren and subsequent children. His knowledge of the family history had never been written down and he knew only what had been passed down by word of mouth.

As you might guess from the title of the book, David Holmstrom was born in Erie, Pennsylvania, in 1940. Early in his young life, only six weeks old, David had a fight with whooping cough. He was not expected to live. In those days news did not travel fast. Several years later, his brother was asked if David had died. His brother promptly responded, “No, this is him sitting right next to me.”

His book is written from the perspective of the stories he was told as a child. It is as he remembers it as told by his mother, Finnish grandmother, and Finnish aunts and uncles. His grandmother came to the US as did many, through Ellis Island with 20 other Finnish girls. She worked in New York City as a housekeeper and a nanny. It wasn’t until later that she came to Erie. My Grandfather came to the US through Canada and then to Erie. Although they both came to Erie, they did not know or meet each other there. Rather, they met in Ashtabula, Ohio, another heavily populated Finnish settlement. They married there.

In the late 1890’s, the Holmstroms moved to Erie to the Finnish neighborhood located on West Third Street. They had five children. David’s dad was right in the middle. When he started school he could only speak Finnish. His grandfather died in 1926 in an industrial accident. His grandmother, Alexandra Honkalo Holmstrom and his Aunts Ina and Wilma ran a Sauna and Massage business at Second and Cascade Streets in Erie. Later, his grandmother became ill and closed the business in 1953.

David’s dad attended Erie Technical High School and graduated in 1926. He was an auto mechanic. He was unable to serve in the military due to a heart condition, but his services as an auto mechanic were in high demand.

Oh, he remembered the services at his Finnish Lutheran Church on Wednesday nights. An Itinerant Lutheran Minister from Ashtabula conducted the service and then there would be coffee, sweet breads, cookies and kuchens. The smell was tantalizing. After eating, they would work together and package items to be sent to Finland during the war. Even after the war, they continued to send the care packages.

David’s mother was third generation German. She did not understand nor speak Finnish. David thought his dad was cool because he could speak both English and Finnish. David’s grandmother tried to teach him to speak Finnish, but David had great difficulty learning it.

In the summers during the 1950’s and 1960’s the Holmstrom Family would have a reunion at Presque Isle State Park at Erie, PA. David remembered the laughter, the conversations with relatives, and of course, the food, games, and swimming in Lake Erie. In later years, they didn’t have anyone to organize or take responsibility for setting up this reunion and it fell to the wayside. David was only 7 years old when his Dad died and it was in December. David remembers the kindnesses of the Finnish relatives as they made sure the Holmstroms had a Merry Christmas. Be sure to check out David’s book. It will make you smile on the inside.