Nordic Heritage Museum Vanishing Generation Interview with Margaret Long

  • By June Smith
  • Posted 9/23/2004
  • Essay 5762
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Margaret Long (b. ca. 1914), of Finnish/Swedish heritage, was born in the Seattle neighborhood of Ballard and has lived there her entire life. June Smith interviewed her on August 11, 2000 for the Nordic Heritage Museum Vanishing Generation Oral History Project. Margaret worked at her father's shop, Koll & Wicks Grocery, through the 1930s and 1940s. She describes the shops and markets in Ballard during those years and the many changes Ballard has undergone in her lifetime.

Today is August the 11th, 2000, and I'll be interviewing Margaret Long. We are at the Hearthstone Retirement Community near Green Lake in Seattle, Washington. My name is June Smith.

Margaret, can we record a little bit about you now?

Well, I was born in Ballard of the youngest of three children to Alex and Hannah Koll. Both were immigrants from Finland, Swedish, Swedish speaking. And they moved into this home when they were married in 1910. We three children grew up there when it was very undeveloped, really. There were homes, but not paved streets. There were dirt streets, and we used to stand at the window, we three kids, and watch the horse-drawn carriages bringing wood or milk or -- later on, we saw them pave the streets and become better organized. And I lived in that house for 35 years.

What was the location of this house?

6534 25th Northwest, just a block up from 65th, and a block over from 24th, which were both arterials, not far from the Nordic Museum.

We attended Adams Elementary School for eight years and Ballard High School for four years. There were no junior highs or middle schools in those days.

And we went to church on Second Northwest, which is quite a walk. We didn't always walk. We sometimes drove it in a car. And we went -- I think it's interesting, with all the ethnic groups started their own churches, their own Lutheran churches. We went by a Swedish Lutheran Church, a Norwegian Lutheran Church, a Finnish Lutheran Church, until we got to our Swedish Finnish Emmaus Congregation up on Second Northwest. That building is still there, but it's been sold to another church group. And the building has been kept up very well.

Do I understand that your parents were instrumental in helping to found that church?

Right, my father was one of the charter members of that church.

And do you know what year that was founded?


Can you tell me what you know about your parents arrival in Ballard?

I have been told by others that my father came from Finland in 1903, but I don't know the year my mother came or where they came into the United States, whether they came at Ellis Island or where, I don't know. But my father worked in grocery stores in the Ballard area for other people till he got his own store. He joined with Mr. Alfred Wicks, and they formed Koll & Wicks Grocery. They just named -- they each owned their own separate stores under that name. My father was in different locations. Mr. Wicks was also -- the final location. My father was on 24th Northwest and Northwest 62nd, which he closed the business in 1943. Mr. Wicks had his store in the Interbay District. And he went on for a few years after that.

Did you sometimes work in the store, too?

Well, during -- I got out of high school in '32, in the Depression, and my father had to let that other man in the picture go who had worked there for years for another owner, and I worked full time several years till he closed the store. I didn't go to college. I just worked in the store.

What kinds of things did you do when you worked in the store?

I did everything.


Waited on customers and filled orders, and my brother drove the truck and delivered the orders to peoples' homes. It was harder in those days. My brother thinks it's so interesting because a customer came in and stood at the counter, and we did all the running. If they wanted a can of peas, we went and got a can of peas (inaudible). And where now the customer does all the running. In those days we did it all. Or if we -- we got telephone orders and we shelved them and they boxed them and delivered them in the truck to their homes. But nothing was all bagged and boxed like it is nowadays. We weighed up sugar in 25-cent, 50-cent, dollar bags, and we -- other like beans and dried peas. And in the -- we had a warehouse in the back and we had chicken feed. We had flour, big sacks of flour, and things like that. It was entirely different from what it is nowadays.

What do you remember about your mother? Can you tell me about her?

She was what we would call nowadays, a stay-at-home mom. She's a wonderful person. She died at 53, so quite young. She loved to garden. And she was a very good cook, a good housekeeper, a wonderful mother. She didn't -- she never went to the store. People in the store didn't know her. But she was active in Runeberg and all that.

I understand that your father was active in Runeberg.

Oh, yes. I think he was -- probably started in Seattle, was instrumental in starting the Seattle chapter, and he was national president for four years in 1922, from 1922 on.

Did you also attend Runeberg meetings?

We did as kids. I don't remember if they met on Sunday afternoon. I remember going to the old IOGT Hall up on Boren, and we met other people there, but -- and they had their meeting and then they also had a program. I suppose refreshments.

And I guess you've already covered your earliest memories of Ballard when you talked about your house. Is there any other memories of early Ballard that you --

We walked down to Ballard District, shopping district, but all the stores were on Ballard Avenue. There was nothing much on Market Street. Everything's on Market Street now. But at that time it was all down on Ballard Avenue. And some of those old, old buildings are still there.

They had a big brick city hall, Ballard City Hall, because Ballard was a separate community, a separate city. I think it was 1907 when it became part of Seattle. And they kept the old, big two-story, or three, building that was City Hall, and they kept the Bell Tower and the had this Tower, and that's -- they built a little park down in Ballard now. That building is no longer there, but they kept the Bell Tower, and there's a park that is now on 22nd and Ballard Avenue.

What language was spoken in your home?

Mostly English because my father was in business. He had to speak English in the business. And my sister, who was the oldest, when she went to school, the teachers said, "You have to speak English." We all did. I'm sure we were familiar with Swedish, and we'd learn some of it. And some women who came from Finland, the single women, weren't -- stayed in their home for awhile till they got established and . . .

What did you and your family do for pleasure, for entertainment?

Well, we went to church and we rented cabins on Lake Sammamish from a Finn, Finnish farmer, and he had these six cabins down on the lake. The farm was up on the hill. And he had these six cabins that were typically finished, painted red with white trim, and they were very simple. And we rented those for the summer and went there on weekends. And we all learned to swim and row boats, and it was a wonderful community feeling, spirit there. I have got pictures of -- the mothers even used to swim.

Do you remember some of the local businesses in Ballard that you visited?

Yeah, Harvey's Variety Store. That was like a more modern dime store, ten-cent store, but they had everything. They were down on Ballard Avenue. And Halvorson's Department Store, Hauff's Department Store. Bartell Drug was on that triangle building that has been a bookstore, now I think it's vacant, but that was Bartell's first store in Ballard, I believe.

There was nothing on Market Street till the Eagles built a big hospital building; which is now called 2208 Market Street Building. And that's a four-story building on the north side of the street. But that -- we remember when that was built. There was nothing there before. And that  the Ballard Hospital started in that building. My mother passed away there in 1935. And until the later years, the Foundation built the new Ballard Hospital, which has been added on to several times.

What were the greatest difficulties in those days?

Well, life was simple, and yet we didn't have all the modern conveniences we have now. I know my mother had a washing machine, a big copper tub washing machine. I don't know when she got that. And they boiled clothes and things like that. But as children, it was very simple. We didn't have to go to this and go to that. We made our own fun in the neighborhood with other kids and, you know, went -- most of us went to the same school.

You've already mentioned the school that you attended. Can we -- what were they again?

Adams Elementary and Ballard High School.

How did you get to school?


Can you tell me about other students, any things that you remember?

Well, some of them went on through high school with us, too. You know, people didn't move around as much as they do now, and there weren't any choices in school, other than there was a Catholic family that went to the Catholic School. They lived in Taylor's old home, went to Adams and Ballard. When I was in high school, they were building James Monroe Junior High School, which is still being used to house -- schools like Whittier rebuilt a new school, West Woodland rebuilt a new school, and they housed those children in Monroe during that period that they were building. So it's still -- it's a nice building, still being used for school.

Can you tell me about your teachers and other adults in the school?

Oh, I think I could name most of my teachers. Is that of any interest?

Well, it's some -- maybe one that, you know, especially you remember or --

We had a music teacher, Miss Lillian Foss, whose father was a pastor, a Lutheran pastor, and she taught music and some gym classes.

I want to get some water.

Well, I can name most of my teachers, but I don't know if that's of any importance, but they were pretty -- as I understand it, they didn't allow married women to teach in those days. I know some of the people here say that. They couldn't teach if they were married till during the war when they couldn't get enough teachers, then they had to allow it, but up till then, they didn't. No, you kept -- you had the same teacher all year, and they went on year after year very, very steady, very basic, not a lot of changes. You had the same teachers year after year.

And I remember the principal at Adams. He walked from -- school was on 26th, and he walked over to 24th to catch a streetcar to go home, and that was the principal. They had streetcars then that were in the middle -- you went out to the middle of the street to get on. That's why some of the streets are wide like 24th and 15th and some of those because they had streetcars in the middle of the street, and people had to walk out, you know. You wouldn't dare do that now. You had to walk out to get on the streetcar.

You started to say something about your family.

My mother passed away. She was ill just a very short time and passed away in 1935. And my brother married in 1937, and my sister in 1940, so it was just my father and I. We worked together in the store and afterwards, till I got married in 1946. Then my father encouraged my husband, who was SwedeFinn also, to live there, and we all lived together and -- till our second child was born, and then he put the house up for sale. He said -- all the bedrooms were upstairs, and he felt it was too much with two little guys to have to go upstairs all the time, although we did it as kids. But -- so then, we got our own home after that.

Do you remember any local landmarks or personalities in particular around Ballard?

Oh, yes. There was a Mr. Smith who had white hair and wore a derby hat, black suit, and he had a beautiful white collie dog. And he used to walk that dog up and down 24th quite often. He was just a really -- not a character, but he just was part of the Ballard scene.

And across the street from our store over -- was a Reverend Honor Wilhelm. I don't know if he was Presbyterian, I think so, but he did a lot of weddings and that. He was quite a -- he was a character, an interesting person.

And we knew a lot of the same people when you live in the same neighborhood. It was altogether different. Now it's apartment houses on every corner, and then it was gas stations and drug stores and shoe shops and all that, but now it's all big apartment houses, condominiums.

I guess that leads right into my next question about how did Ballard change over the years, and you're already telling me a little about that.

Well, they got rid of the streetcars and got trolleys and buses. And, well, like I say, they built this big building on Market Street, and business moved up there, and there were shops along the street in that building. And now it's a lot of shops, some of it altogether different from what it used to be. There used to be gas stations on some corners; not anymore. And grocery stores were independently owned. There was a Safeway. I remember my father saying there was Safeway way back then, too, but there was the smaller stores independently owned.

What changes do you think were positive?

Well, I suppose a lot of it was improvements and got rid of some of the

ramshackle, older buildings and put up better buildings.

Were there some that were negative?

I don't remember.


But we were able to walk to the Locks, and everything was open, nothing was -- I mean, we used to go onto the gate of the Locks; that's closed -- blocked now. It's just altogether different. The Locks were there, and there were lots of shingle mills and lumber mills along the Canal from the Locks over to the Ballard Bridge and so forth. I don't remember when they built the bridges.

Well, what kept you in Ballard?

Well, business, our home. In fact, when we bought a house, we bought up on Second just a block north of our church, so we lived there until we moved here, so we didn't get very far.

My husband was in the war. He went over in '42. He went to Africa and Europe. Came back in '45. And we were married in '46, but we grew up in the same church, and our families were friends. We never got very far from Ballard.

Well, I guess that's one of the positives.

Oh, yes. That's progress, I'm sure.

Were there celebrations and things that were important to you and your family?

Oh, yes. Christmas holiday, there were four, five -- five Swede Finnish grocery men. My father was one of them. The other four were brothers, were related, but my father was not. But we, as families, we got together on the holiday at different homes, and so we grew up with those kids on Lake Sammamish and otherwise.

Are there some particular traditions that you remember in celebrations of Christmas?

I do remember going to Jullotta early in the morning. It was dark, early on Christmas morning, and when you came out, it was daylight. I remember that. I guess in the early days they even had a Swedish service at Jullotta.

Do you remember songs, games and traditions that you and your family had brought from -- or that your family had brought from Finland, other than Jullotta, obviously, was one of them.

I don't know. My father being in business was trying to be as American as he could, you know, because he had to deal with English speaking people, and he did. He could get up and give a talk at Runeberg in Swedish or at the grocer's meeting or convention in English. He enjoyed giving speeches. I can remember him practicing upstairs in an upstairs bedroom the speeches he was going to give.

It would be nice to have some of those written down or something, wouldn't it?

Oh, yes. You don't think of those things.

Well, tell me some of the important historical events or issues of those days, and what impact it had on you in particular.

Well, there was World War I. I was born just when that started. I can remember once, being in the Ballard Library, still -- the building is still there, but it's not the library anymore. It's on Market Street, a round building. And my mother took us to the library. And, of course, we heard about war, you know, and shooting and the Germans and all of that. And somebody was taking flash pictures, and I thought it was the Germans coming. You know, as a child you don't realize.

Well, what do you remember of the Depression?

Well, my father, being -- having the store, he said, "You'll always have plenty to eat, but you may not get new shoes when you think you should." And we didn't suffer, really. We managed to keep things going and -- but my father did lose money in the store. He would credit customers who couldn't pay, and you -- some were very honest and paid all they could for as long as they could.

And then, during the war we had rationing. And in the store we had to get the stamps -- stamps from people so they could buy certain things. And then we had to paste those stamps on a big sheet of paper so we could buy wholesale, because we couldn't just buy -- there were times when you couldn't get butter, and you -- different -- coffee and sugar were scarce, things like that. But that was during the war. We didn't -- I didn't keep a ration book. Some people say they still have them, but I didn't. I know my father-in-law lost weight because he couldn't get his sugar beets. It wasn't -- it wasn't easy.

Do you remember such things as the women getting the vote and Prohibition, the wars, elections or anything of that nature?

I don't remember anything like that. I suppose, as a child, those things don't -- don't make an impression.

Well, there's some other things that we'd like to cover.

Would you turn it off?

What do you remember about Golden Gardens?

Well, our church groups used to go there for a beach party, very simple. We -- many of us would walk up there. It was a walk and have beach parties and play simple games, like Last Couple Out and so forth, but no drinking, no carousing. It was just -- my mother used to say, "You kids have simple -- have cheap fun." And that was true. Nobody had any money to spend, and nobody did. We did it on our own.

I know there were beach parties, and they --

But I was going to say about Shilshole, our boys were young, and we drove down --we used to go for a Sunday afternoon drive, many people do. And we went down to Shilshole, and there was just the two-lane street, and I said to the boys, "You're old enough to remember what this looks like because it's going to change." And they built the breakwater out, and then they built a bulkhead along -- it's still there. I'm sure it's probably the same bulkhead. And they sluiced sand from out beyond that and shoved all that land where the marina is, where -- what do you call it? Oh, Charlie's and the Windjammer, that was all on landfill, and that was -- came from out in the bay. They pumped all that sand and fill in, inside that bulkhead, and so all that fill, that's what it was originally. And our boys remember that -- cause I told them, I said, "You can remember now what this looks like."

Did you know something about the Sunset Hill Community Club?

No. I know they -- and I think that building is still there on about 32nd and probably 70th Street, in there someplace. I think it's still there, but we didn't live that direction, that close, so I don't really know.

Do you remember anything about the Ballard firehouses or did they have more than one, or was there just one in Ballard?

I think there was just that one on Market Street.

Did you ever see them back in the time where they used the horse-drawn?

I don't remember now if we did. We probably did, but I don't know.

You probably -- there weren't any big fires or you would probably remember it.

I remember the -- when the Seattle Cedar Mill burned, but that was 1960. And we could see it from our house cause we were up on the side of Phinney hill, and it was so hot, such an intense fire, that the side of the houses, the windows and all reflected red. I remember that. And all those stacks of dry cedar, it went up -- it really burned hot. And they were so thankful that it was a north wind. If it had been a south wind, it would have carried all that out over Ballard, but it carried it out to the Canal instead.

Now, do you remember in the '30s -- in the 30s to the '50s and the impact that had on Ballard?

Yeah, they -- you hear about those things, but it didn't affect me, or us. But I knew of them in the beginning, and they became less. There was Stimson's and Seattle Cedar and others.

Do you remember any wartime industries on Ballard waterfront, the influx of workers to the area?

Not really.

And I understand along with rationing books, they also had barrage balloons at the Locks. Did you ever see any of those?


Wow. Okay.

We used to be able to walk -- my girlfriend and I walked across the Locks and out to West Point Lighthouse until during the war; then they closed off that area, and you couldn't go through there. But we used to walk that on a Sunday afternoon.

What was the post-war economy like after the Second World War? What do you remember of it?

Well, my husband got a job in the Ballard Post Office. And they moved -- they used to be down on Vernon Place and Ballard Avenue, which is now the Olympic Sports Center. And then they moved to a building up on Market Street, which is now Unfinished Furniture. And then, in later years, they built -- got their own building up on 17th and 57th. There used to be -- my husband used to tell about there was a vacant lot across the street. I'm not sure if that's where the hospital is now, but they used to go over there on their lunch hour and play softball. That's how ordinary everything was.

Do you remember the earthquake of 1949?

Oh, yes, very definitely. I was eight months pregnant. I don't know if you want that in there. I had a almost two-year-old, and my husband was delivering mail. And he said -- on Eighth Avenue they have real tall utility poles, and he said they were just swaying. They used to go into the Post Office on their lunch hour, and he said those utility poles were really swaying. And I felt it. It was just about noontime, and I took the two-year-old and sat on a chair in the kitchen and held him between my knees, and we rode it out, as it were, and -- but we made it safely. And when my husband came home, he said he was worried that I would be -- he came home and checked on us. But they don't last long, you know. They're so terrible when you go through them, but a few minutes and it's done. An earthquake, if you've ever been in one.

Yeah, I can remember that one myself.

I remember the '65, our boys were both at Ballard High School, and they said the school dismissed them because they found out later that some of the beams in the auditorium had separated and they had damage. They even talked about that now before they built the new school. And I remember those two earthquakes.

What were some of the typical family food fare that you had back in your earliest memories? What sorts of meals did you look forward to, or did you have any particular favorites, things like that?

Well, my mother was a good cook. My father even went sports fishing off of Ballard. He caught a 52-pound salmon one year, and my mother used to make the most delicious fishballs. She didn't run them through the grinder like you would beef. She chopped them in a wooden bowl with a metal chopper so that you wouldn't lose all the moisture. And she made the most delicious salmon plates, I suppose you'd call it. I can still remember those. She made coffee bread and rye bread and things like that. Typical.

I suppose at Christmas season she did a lot of baking and cookies. Any particular ones that you remember?

I remember my mother-in-law made pepparkakor. I have her recipe. My daughter-in-law has it now. We still make them. My mother-in-law was a wonderful cook and a wonderful person.

It's a big batch. And then, according to the old measurements, you used so many sifters full of flour, you know, not -- we had to work it out to 12 cups or something, but with her it was sifters. But that was -- she was a wonderful cook, and that was her way of doing it.

And the family always had lutfisk on Christmas. My husband wouldn't eat it, and I don't anymore, but we grew up with it.


Audio cassette interview of Margaret Long by June Smith, August 11, 2000, Nordic Heritage Museum, Seattle.

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