Guest post series continues: Welcome Ron Sutton, a retired educator and hobby farmer living in Embarrass for 40+ years. He and his wife Verna Mae are volunteer artisans at the Nelimark Museum. Enter Ron:
Finnish residents here in Embarrass are accustomed to taking a hot steamy sauna on Wednesday or Saturday nights.
Whether it be winter, spring, summer or fall the weekly traditional sauna (pronounced SOW NA) has been the tradition of families for well over a century since the first settlers came here in the 1890s or early 1900s. The very first building a family would construct on their 40 when settling down in this Northern Minnesota community of forests and swamps was a well-constructed 10’ x 12’ (or larger) log structure to serve as the family bathhouse or sauna. The sauna was also used as the family birthing place. It has been reported that all 17 of the Pyhala children were born in their savusauna (smoke sauna) It was the best and only place to really get warmed up with temperatures dropping to a -50 degrees on a cold winter night. And it was surprisingly the most sterile environment for natural childbirth. To this day you will find these sturdy wooden structures on almost every farm in the community and smoke still comes curling up from the chimneys on Saturday afternoons. You can take a stroll down the bike trail and see the Pyhala savusauna on the farm site east of the Nelimark Museum. Nelimark is located across from Timber Hall on Co #21 in Embarrass.
Dry kindling wood was easy to locate and burned hot enough for the family to enjoy the breathtaking steamy experience.
No electric stoves in those early bathhouses! Wood was the only way to go. About 3:30 or 4 o’clock, after the kids had gathered sticks and kindling for starting the fire and cut, split and hauled it in to fill the woodbox for the weekend ritual, Grandpa or Grandma would “light the fire” and before long the crackling little stove (kiuas) with rocks on top would send out a warmth and a sweet smell that will ever linger in my mind. The smell of the smoke continues to waft its way into even the earliest memories of a time long past but ever present.
The wooden buckets of clean snow were toted in to melt on the cedar bench and fresh cedar or birch switches (vihta) gathered and tied to complete the preparations. A metal bucket would be balanced on top of the stove to provide steaming hot water to add to the bathing experience. Each family member had a chore to take care of and they all proudly worked together to have everything ready for this. Usually the ladies of the family would be first; and the men and boys would follow; and yes, sometimes people even went sauna together.
The traditional celebration of the sauna has seen a real revival in Embarrass, Minnesota.
Several years ago “sauna” became the theme for the annual June Sisu celebration and Embarrass adopted and claimed the National Sauna Day. In fact June 3rd will be the fourth annual National Sauna Day in Embarrass as folks gather together to take part in family sauna traditions. There is something for every age to enjoy including a display of pictures and sauna memories from community families in a room upstairs. Several saunas are available on the property to explore. There will be goodies available for purchase with sausages, hotdogs or brats and hot coffee and soft drinks for your family picnic during the day.
Saturday morning, June 3rd, 2017 at 9:00 sharp artisans at the Nelimark Museum will arrive to start the day.
A huge pot of coffee goes on. (“First we have coffee….”) and fresh baked slices of pulla (sugar sprinkled cardamom biscuit) with real butter is offered for everyone who comes to enjoy together. The community comes together. An unlimited supply of (sauna) talk will take place and the happy sounds of the young and old mingling together once again will fill the air in the rooms and yard of the century old farmstead museum.
And yes, the children will gather firewood and kindling, (You never can tell, there might even be some fresh fallen snow, as well!) and all the things that make this experience one you’ll not forget will come together once again. The sauna will be lit in the afternoon. It’s National SAUNA DAY in Embarrass.
Hot coffee! Hot sauna! Life is Good!
Sisu, the Traveling Sauna that is winding its way across the United States, will also be on site at National Sauna Day in Embarrass, MN. Please help Risto put another mark on the sauna chalk board as we welcome his warm and tenacious efforts to share authentic sauna culture all over the country, in celebration of 100 years of Finnish independence!
To get even more feeling of the heat, please check out a review of last year’s National Sauna Day here.