Sons of a Norwegian Lighthouse Keeper

  • By Pamela Leary-Wilson
  • Posted 6/15/2000
  • Essay 2269

This is the story of the brothers Harald Blekum (1865-1950) and Einar Blekum (1864-1910) and their assimilation to life in Seattle, 1891 to 1950. It is based on research, documents, and images submitted by Harald Blekum's great-granddaughter, Pamela Leary-Wilson.

Future Seattle residents Harald and Einar Blekum, and their two brothers and three sisters, were born in Horten, Norway, to Olaus, a lighthouse inspector and his wife, Karen Petrea. Horten, like many other towns along Norway's coast, was intimately connected with maritime comings and goings. As children, Harald and Einar saw countless ships traveling north to nearby Oslo, or south toward the North Atlantic.

The Lure of the Sea

Harald was born on November 30, 1865, a year after his brother Einar. Both boys were fascinated by boats, the high seas, and adventure. These childhood dreams brought the two to Puget Sound, home to many transplanted Norwegians who were attracted to the opportunities, terrain, and watery landscape of Seattle and its environs.

Serving as deck boys, the young men sailed away from Horten in 1879. The 14-year-old Harald spent three years at sea, collecting the threads of tales later told to generations of Blekums. He visited Scotland, England, Russia, the West Indies, and Panama along the way. Years later, as he sat in his comfortable Queen Anne home surrounded by his eight grandchildren and his great grandchildren, Harald wove stories of his adventures of sailing "around the horn," and the drama of multiple ship wrecks.

For both Harald and Einar, these years on the high seas provided the experience necessary for professional careers sailing and managing naval and merchant vessels. When the boys returned from their adventures, they completed coursework for official certification in Mandal, Norway. Einar received his "Skipper Certificate" in 1889; Harald completed first class seaman training in the early 1880s.

The town of Mandal lies in the southernmost corner of Norway, near Lindesnes where Harald and Einar's father moved while the two were out seeking their fortunes at sea. Olaus was placed in charge of the Lindesnes Lighthouse -- one of the largest in the world. Although all but two of their children left for America, Olaus and Karen Blekum spent the rest of their lives in Lindesnes.

A 20-year-old Norwegian Arrives in Seattle

Harald's life as an official first class seaman introduced him to many European vessels, and just as many European ports. He made his first trip to America in 1884, one of three trips between New York and Liverpool, England, on the White Star Line's Britannic. Immediately following these voyages, Harald set his sights on the Puget Sound, arriving in Seattle in the fall of 1884. For the next five years, Harald continued ocean navigation, now exercising his skill in the Pacific.

When he was 24, Harald began the process of becoming a U.S. citizen. Three years later, on January 14, 1891, his Naturalization Petition was officially filed in King County. Although he spent much of this time off the shores of the sound, Harald started setting down roots. Einar followed his brother's lead -- he came to Seattle in 1890.

From Harald to Harold, From Adventure to Family

Harald the Norwegian adventurer soon became Harold the American familyman and business owner. His "naturalization," like many others, involved a name change. In August of 1891, while his papers were being processed, Harald married Minnie Thompson (Tonneson) who had also immigrated from Norway, from the small town of Kristiansand. Before the year's end, Harold and Minnie moved into their new Seattle home at 1611 10th Avenue W where they had four children, Oscar, Clara, Edna, and Karen Petrea. Einar married Elise Britton a few years later in 1903, and had three children, Elwood, Helen Mildred, and Clive (who died in infancy).

Harold rode Seattle's rising economic tide in 1893, and became a partner in the Stevenson & Blekum Tugboat Company. Four years later, a Tacoma shipbuilder fashioned the company's flagship, the Oscar B, named for Harold's son. Before the company went bankrupt in 1912, other tugs joined the ranks -- the Doctor, the Magda, the Mystic, the Harold Blekum, and the Harry S. Before he died in 1910, Harold's brother Einar was captain of both the Oscar B. and the Mystic. These were sold at a U.S. Marshall's auction to pay claims for lost wages. Another tragedy soon followed: Minnie died in 1916.

A Not-so-Ancient Mariner

But Harold wasn't alone in Seattle. Since his move decades before, his sister Othilie and another brother, Olaf, made Seattle their home. His son Oscar, and daughters Karen and Edna stayed in Seattle as well. The not-so-ancient mariner now had deep roots in Seattle, which continued to grow.

At age 50, a year after Minnie died, Harold went to work for the Standard Oil Company as a dock maintenance man. He worked for the company for almost 20 years before retiring at age 69. He then spent most of his time at his home on Queen Anne Hill, at 156 Newton Street, until he died in 1950, leaving his many stories with his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

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