Visitors Discover Cultural Treasures At The American Swedish Historical Museum On "National Sweden Day"

Kate Tocci, for GPA -- The American Swedish Historical Museum celebrated “National Sweden Day” on June 6 with an open house and free admission. Complete with complimentary, homemade Swedish cake and activities for the whole family, the day allowed visitors to explore the exhibits, take special tours not customarily offered to the public and to enjoy themselves with kid-friendly and educational entertainment.

Bordering both Pattison Ave and FDR Park, the museum is remote but not to a fault. The greenery and sunlit water of the park compliment the white building well and the bland stretch of Pattison Ave serves only to highlight the colorful flags designating the historical site’s perimeter. The entrance located on the park side leads visitors through a large, cast-iron gate, up a white staircase and through a distinguished set of wooden doors, foreshadowing the history and life that lie beyond the threshold.

Upon arrival at the open house, a museum staff member welcomed guests to either begin exploring the twelve rooms that house the exhibits, to visit the gift shop, or to partake in the family-friendly activities, including face-painting and miniature ship building (thanks to the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation).

The gift shop is full of authentic products from Sweden and the Scandinavian region. When asked to point out her favorite item, Executive Director Tracey Beck surprisingly picked out a collection of matches, not only because of the intricate designs on their boxes, but also because the matches themselves were the sturdiest she had ever used, due to the quality and strength of the regional wood. Additionally, she picked out a children’s toy and a set of baby tableware, since her own family had purchased them and because they were fun, safe and well made. Beck’s selections were exemplary of the variety and quality within the shop, from Scandinavian cookbooks to traditional Swedish toys. It was also illustrative of the diversity of the exhibits and extensive knowledge of Swedish culture and history with which the museum is equipped.

Later in the day, Beck led a museum tour showcasing all twelve exhibits in great detail as a special event for the open house. On most occasions, guests wishing to receive tours must book in advance. Each room incorporated a different theme, everything from a 1950s style library, to a traditional log cabin, to a Nobel Prize room.

Of the twelve rooms, eleven are permanent and the sole temporary exhibit is the first on the tour route. It houses a “Do You Know Pippi Longstocking?” display, the museum’s first interactive children’s exhibit. Filled with excited children and relieved parents, “Pippi Longstocking” was a clear success, allowing families to learn through pictures, games and a scavenger hunt leading the young visitors to each room where they could discover something new

For the adult crowd, the eleven other rooms were particularly informative while also visually captivating. Notably, the “Golden Map Room” which was surrounded by what appeared to be a map painted on gold (bronze leaf), depicting Sweden in the 1600s, when Finland was also politically tied to the Swedish government. The “Stuga” exhibit illustrating the interior of a traditional Swedish farmhouse, replicates the log cabin style that would be typical of an upper-class abode in the 1800s. Another favorite would be the first room installed in the museum in 1931, an exhibit on the second floor designed to look like the smoking room of a ship and dedicated to John Ericsson, builder of the “Monitor.” Many of Ericsson’s other contributions can be found in this room and the museum holds twenty-six of his patent models in its collection. These are only brief examples of what the museum has in store and each exhibit is crafted with precision and expertise, showcasing the vast knowledge to be absorbed with a trip to the full collection.

On National Sweden Day, The American Swedish Historical Museum not only depicted the fascinating and distinct history of Sweden itself, but it also captured the strong ties that Swedish culture holds with Philadelphia — a relationship of which many visitors are unaware. Whether it be the more obvious indications of a shared heritage in the color of Philadelphia’s flag (Sweden’s blue and yellow), or the lesser known connections including American children’s love for Pippi Longstocking, there is much to be gathered for Philadelphians about their own culture and history with a visit to the museum. From matchsticks to Nobel Prize winners, it holds a diverse series of stories — one could even say a history to which Philadelphians are connected and have inherited through these historic ties.

Photo courtesy of the American Swedish Historical Museum.