Memorials to Finland’s “Great Hunger Years”

kansanlehti_23dec1927_death
Kansan Lehti 23 Dec. 1927. Heikki Laakso’s reflections on the sixtieth anniversary of the Great Hunger Years were illustrated with the spectre of Death.

This homepage allows visitors to scroll down and read entries in the (reverse) order in which they were written. However, it is also possible to click through directly to the regions of particular interest:

Kainuu & Karjala — Kajanaland & Karelen — Kainuu & Karelia.

Keski-Suomi — Mellersta Finland — Central Finland.

Pohjanmaa — Österbotten — Ostrobothnia.

Satakunta, Häme (Tavastland, Tavastia) & Pirkanmaa (Birkaland).

Savo — Savolax — Savonia.

Uusimaa & Kymenlaakso — Nyland & Kymennedalen.

 

Translations of Finnish famine-related literature can also be found here.

Hilda Käkikoski, “That Great Hunger Year” (1902).

Juho Reijonen, “During The Year of Hunger (A Karelian Tale)” (1893).

Part 1Part 2Part 3.

 

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In the borderlands of Central Finland and Northern Savonia (Road 5300), May 2018. The road to Nälkämäki (Hunger Hill).

Merikarvia*

The most westerly (marginally west of Vaasa) of the 1860s famine memorials that I’m aware of, the contemporary stone in Merikarvia has eluded me so far – but I hope to return a.s.a.p. for another look! The stone is north from the town centre along Rantatie, and is pictured in e.g. Pertti Kohvakka’s collection of memories from 2015 (see below). It is reminiscent of several of the other contemporary memorials, which just have the year roughly hewn into the rock (along with the enigmatic initials, “IK”). It was apparently relates to the relief work that was provided in 1868. Almost a century later, when the road was being improved in the 1960s, the stone nearly got removed – but in the end it was put in its current position. I spent a couple of hours walking up and down the road without actually spotting the stone – I know it is about a kilometre north of the “Ruohon kauppa” and was in the right vicinity, but it was just one of those days when all the rocks looks the same… In 2012, there was talk of adding a plaque – maybe to create something like the Tokerotie memorial – but as far as I know, this was not carried forward. The “1868 IK” text has earlier been coloured red – but this has not been maintained (maybe following the current accepted practice e.g. of rock carvings, where this highlighting is not encouraged).

Sources:

Merikarvia-Lehti, 7 Sep. 1983.

Kristiina Dyer, “Kivipaasi kaipaa kylttiä”, Merikarvia-lehti, 2012.

Pertti Kohvakka, Tietoja, tapahtumia ja sattumuksia Merikarvialta lähinna viisikymmenluvulta (Noormarkku, 2015), pp. 203-5.

Padasjoki*

Near Padasjoki, about 30km south of the Kuhmoinen “Hunger Stone”, is a another anonymous memorial from the 1860s. This one was left as a reminder of the road that was built as relief work, between Padasjoki and Nyystölä, after 1866. I became aware of this stone after seeing a brief exchange of letters in the local newspaper, from the summer of 2013. In the original article, Leo Suomaa gave an account of local memorials and claimed that a small plaque at Tarusjärvi – marking a Häme Jaeger camp from 1963 – was probably Padasjoki’s “most unknown” memorial. The discussion was joined the next week by Helka Luoto, who wrote that:

…the most unknown monument is probably that carved into a rock alongside the road made during the Great Hunger Years (1866-68), nowadays Nyystöläntie, the location of which was once shown to this author by Leo’s grandmother’s father, who also told stories about the years of famine that survived in his family, although he had not experienced them himself at the time. Compared to the “sweatstone” of Tarusjärvi, one can only imagine what it was like to build a road in Padasjoki’s rocky terrain, with contemporary manual tools and weakened by hunger.

In the next edition of the newspaper, a photo of the memorial (by Antti Kortelahti) was published – I hope to find time to visit and look for it myself some time soon.

Sources:

Padasjoen Sanomat, 13, 20, 27 Jun. 2013.

Lapua (Lakaluoma)*

Like its Southern Ostrobothnian “neighbour” at Lapinkaivo (over 100km walk by the most direct route…), the memorial at Lakaluoma, about 20km east of Lapua, represents a tragic individual story that we can only presume was replicated around Finland in 1867-68.

I became aware of this memorial thanks to an article in Lapuan Sanomat (9 Jul. 2020), which noted that at Hirvijoki there stood a white wooden cross in memory of Maria Lapinsaari, who died of hunger while on the road looking for food. A follow-up article gave a more precise location – about two kilometres from the shop at Pohjasmäki towards Hirvijoki (i.e. on Road 7112), on the left-hand side of the road.

In an earlier edition (1988) of Lapuan Sanomat, it was explained that the white cross had the text “1868” and a small plaque saying “Maria Lapinsaari on tähän vaipunu” [“Maria Lapinsaari has fallen here”]. My friend and colleague Dr. Eliza Kraatari, currently based in Seinäjoki, went to investigate and sent me these haunting photos, which I reproduce below with her permission.

I found an even earlier article – coincidentally from just over a century ago – which demonstrates the long heritage of this memorial, whether or not the current cross is the original (the plaque certainly seems to be new). In Vaasa (20 Aug. 1920), we can read the following short article:

Vaasa 19 Aug. 1920.

Interestingly, the article explains that mention of the year “1868” brings contrasting emotions to Finns’ minds: of course, there was the terrible famine year, but on the other hand, there was also the terrific harvest of that summer, which finally brought to an end the long series of harvest failures and heralded better times. It concludes: ‘one of the “memorial statues” of those times is still to be found along the narrow village road that meanders through the forest from Lapua’s Lakaluoma to the village of Kotajärvi in the same parish. “Here Maria Lapinsaari fell in 1868”. – This sentence does not need further explanation.’

Dr. Eliza Kraatari‘s photos (10 Oct. 2020) are added below. Please do not reproduce these without Dr. Kraatari’s explicit permission:

Sources:

Vaasa 19 Aug. 1920 (also e.g. Karjalan Maa, 26 Aug. 1920).

Lapuan Sanomat, 9 Jul. 2020.

Anttola (Mikkeli)*

As the winter of 2020-21 starts to approach, it seems less likely that I’m going to have time to return to come of the memorial sites for which I have firm secondary evidence, but where I wasn’t able to find anything on first visit. As a result, starting with Anttola, I’m going to write “holding” entries with some of the evidence I have found, until such time as I can re-visit in person.

In April 1971, a “memorial for those who died from hunger” was announced in Länsi-Savo newspaper, coinciding with the hundredth anniversary of Anttola parish. The project was being driven forward by bank manager Pentti Seppänen, and was to mark the old famine-era graveryard “near the municipal offices”. It was not known how many victims were lying in the mass grave, and there was apparently only one named gravestone in the vicinity – that of the church’s first cantor, Wilhelm Kyyrö (d. 1891). The memorial was to be of natural stone, with a copper plaque, a similar style to many of the contemporary famine memorials (and indeed memorials for other events).

Länsi-Savo, 2 Apr. 1971.

By the time autumn came around, and Anttola was ready to celebrate its centenary as an independent parish on Sunday 12th August 1971, the memorial unveiling was for the “old graveyard”, rather than for those who starved during the famine. (Länsi-Savo, 17 Aug., 11 Sep., 13 Sep. 1971). I am not sure at this point whether there was some change of plan (which seemed fairly concrete in April), whether some “rebranding” went on, or whether maybe there are two different memorial. This is on my “to-do” list.

Länsi-Savo, 3 Apr. 1971.

In Summer 2019, I visited Anttola and spent some time in the old graveyard. Despite some cleaning up and renewal in 2010 (see e.g. Länsi-Savo, 15 Jun. 2010), it was quite overgrown again by 2019. According to Leena Lahdenvesi-Kohonen (2010), the old graveyard and its renovation was on the local agenda – and indeed a useful map in Lahdenvesi-Korhonen’s report allowed me to pinpoint the old graveyard.

Anttola Old Graveyard, July 2019.

The dilemma is therefore this: (i) I was able to locate the old graveyard (Pajakuja 2, essentially), and there were indeed several stones in various states of disrepair, but the generally overgrown state made it hard to find what was called the “Old Graveyard Memorial” at the 1971 unveiling ceremony; (ii) this seems not to be the site that was intended for the “victims of hunger” memorial, which was described as a mass grave with only one named stone.

So, a return visit to Anttola is needed to get to the bottom of all this!

Sources:

Länsi-Savo, 2 Apr., 3 Apr., 17 Aug., 31 Aug., 7 Sep., 11 Sep., 13 Sep. 1971; 25 Sep. 2009; 11 Jun., 15 Jun. 2010.

Maaseudun Tulevaisuus, 11 Jun. 2010.

Leena Lahdenvesi-Korhonen, Kylä Harvion ja Pitkäpohjanlahden rannalla: Anttolan keskustan maisemasuunnitelma (Anttola, 2010).

Vimpeli

A short entry for another “contemporary”-looking 1860s famine memorial, which my friend Dr. Eliza Kraatari found while exploring the churchyard in Vimpeli, Southern Ostrobothnia. Like examples at (relatively) nearby Perho, and other places in Finland (e.g. Kuhmoinen and Liperi), the stone is roughly-hewn with a date, apparently 1867. I will visit Vimpeli as soon as possible to look at the stone in person and take some more photos. Please do not re-use these photos without asking Eliza Kraatari for permission.

VimpeliKraatari1VimpeliKraatari2

Kannus

Kannus (known in the 1860s as Ylikannus) is one of the sites that I always believed seemed likely to have a famine memorial. Having passed by the parish church on trips through Central Ostrobothnia (Kannus is a very short drive from many of the other places mentioned on this blog, such as Lohtaja, Kälviä, Toholampi, Ullava, and Sievi) I had stopped on several occasions to look in the graveyard for signs of a memorial stone.

Kannus Church dates from 1817 (the previous church on the site, from 1761, burned down and its location is marked by a memorial in the churchyard). My mistake, however, was in presuming that a famine memorial would be located in the immediate vicinity of the church. In fact, it turned out that Kannus does have an 1860s memorial, but it is situated in the nearby graveyard of St. Michael’s Chapel – a 5-10 minute walk from the main church. The graveyard was established in 1863 and I presume that it was used as a mass grave during the famine years. Turpeinen (1986) notes that Kannus, along with the neighbouring parishes in Central Ostrobothnia, was already suffering from a severe typhus epidemic in 1865, and was extremely vulnerable in 1867-8.

Kannus1868_BirthsDeaths
Births and deaths for Kannus parish, 1868. The extent of the crisis can be seen in the fact that the parish witnessed only 72 births compared with 398 deaths in the worst famine year. National Archives of Finland, Kannus (Ylikannus) Parish Archives, Population Tables (1868).

Interestingly, although the parish website highlights several other memorials in the graveyard, the famine memorial is not mentioned (July 2019).

I was able to revisit Kannus in July 2019, and finally got to take some photos of the memorial, which is fairly familiar in form: a simple stone with plaque indicating the dates of the famine, and a biblical quotation. As I find out more about the inauguration date and so on, I’ll update this page.

Location: St. Michael’s Chapel (Mikaelin Kappeli), Tapulikatu 23.

Parish: Kannus.

Modern Region: Central Ostrobothnia (Keski-Pohjanmaa).

Year of Memorial: TBC.

Inscription: “In memory of the dead residents of of Kannus from the Great Famine Years of 1867-1868. [placed on behalf of ] Ancestors. 1 Moses 47:13″.*

*1 Moses (Genesis) 47:13 reads: “There was no food, however, in the whole region because the famine was severe; both Egypt and Canaan wasted away because of the famine.”

 

References:

Oiva Turpeinen, Nälkä vai tauti tappoi? Kauhunvuodet 1866-68 (Helsinki, 1986), pp. 50-1.

 

Kontiolahti

Karjalatar19Mar1880
Karjalatar, 19 Mar. 1880.

The memorial to “Victims of the Years of Dearth” in Kontiolahti is an early work by the renowned glass designer and artist, Päivi Kekäläinen. I am very grateful to Päivi for giving me some information about the memorial, and extracts from Kontiolahti – Kirkon Kylä, and I visited the site at the old graveyard in person in July 2019.

The people of Kontiolahti have suffered many tribulations. In 1791 there was a harvest failure year, wars in 1808-09, and terrible years of dearth struck again in 1833 and 1868. The latter year of dearth was the worst of all – a seventh of the whole country’s population was lost. In Kontiolahti the death figures were three times greater than in previous years, and there were 736 victims.

Kontiolahti – kirkon kylä, p. 294.

The local parish and municipality raised some money for a memorial and the memorial itself was then designed by the Kontiolahti native and (at the time) Art & Design student, Päivi Kekäläinen. The memorial was inaugurated in the old graveyard on the 20th July, 1989. It is quite easily visible from the main entrance to the graveyard.

Kontiolahti_E6334

Location: Kontiolahti Old Graveyard.

Parish: Kontiolahti.

Modern Region: North Karelia (Pohjois-Karjala)

Date of Memorial: 1989.

Inscription: Katovuosien Uhreille [To the Victims of the Years of Dearth]

 

References:

Ritva Ahvenainen, Osmo Karttunen, Helka Lempinen & Jussi Puhakka, Kontiolahti, Kirkon kylä (2013).

Karjalainen, 21 Jul. 1989.

Karjalatar, 19 Mar. 1880.

 

Pulkkila [Siikalatva]

The municipality of Siikalatva has at least three famine memorials (as it is was formed in 2009 from a collection of smaller towns): Rantsila, Piippola and Pulkkila. This part of Northern Ostrobothnia suffered terribly in the 1860s (the fourth town of Siikalatva, Kestilä, also featured regularly in harrowing newspaper reports). In 1866, it was reported from Pulkkila that it felt like war-time, as hunger and disease fought violently against the local population. [Oulun Wiikko-Sanomia, 30 Jun. 1866). In his speech to the Pulkkila Society’s “Museum Picnic” in July 2018, Matti Leiviskä described how over six hundred (of fewer than two thousand) people from the Pulkkila chapel parish died between 1866-68.

IMG-7039

As with other sites in Northern Ostrobothnia, the Kirjastovirma website was my original source of information. In the entry for Pulkkila Church, it notes that in  spinney behind the church is a white wooden cross, which was the graveyard of those who fell in the Battle of Pulkkila (in May 1808, during the Finnish War between Sweden and Russia), as well as those who perished in the Great Hunger Years (1866-68).

References:  

Oulun Wiikko-Sanomia, 30 Jun. 1866

Lahti

Lahti was one of the first Finnish famine memorials that I visited, and as would become common, it was tied up with an athletics meeting. I had read from various sources that there was such a memorial. but the location seemed rather vague – “on Road 312 in the vicinty of the Road 12 intersection“. Since then, partly indicative of how quickly things changed, there has been a pin for the memorial on google maps – although that now seems to have disappeared again. In the Sesquicentennial Report, I claimed that Lahti was the largest municipality in Finland (at least in terms of population) to have a famine memorial, as distinct from merely sites of memory. I think this is still true, although I have also wondered whether Hämeenlinna‘s memorial might be the one which is passed by the largest number of people per day. Whatever the statistics for Finnish famine memorial visibility, though, my main point was that Finland has not got the very large, very ornate monuments in prominent public places that can be seen in Ireland, Ukraine, or in places connected with the diasporas of those two countries.

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May 2014. A late spring day “in the vicinity of the Road 4 and Road 12 interchange”. The memorial site lies beyond the red gate.

The Railway-builders’ memorial at Lahti is, however, quite ornate. It is of long standing (originally inaugurated in the 1950s), on the site of a mass-grave which  remained in local tradition, and has been the site of regular commemorative services since its instigation. The strong connection with the railway workers, in particular, meant that the Finnish state railway VR has often been responsible for highlighting its importance and organising commemorations. It was also one of the sites – in the fact the first place we visited – where myself and Eliza Kraatari left commemorative wreaths in May 2018. As we tried to visit a reasonable cross-section of places, we considered it very important to have at least one wreaths places on the “nälkärata” – the Skeleton Track – or the Riihimäki to St. Petersburg railway. As discussed in many of the other blog entries, the overcrowded, diseased conditions at the work sites along the railway were a major contributing factor to the high mortality in early 1868, and there is a line of memorials along the Salpausselkä ridge – which the railway roughly follows – commemorating these deaths.

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The last time I visited, in May 2018, this sign – leading visitors to the Railwaybuilders’ Graveyard – had been vandalised but it was planned to restore it.

The site at Lahti had long been held in the memory of some locals. In 1910, for example, it was reported that the mass grave of railway workers was returning to a state of wilderness. The site was said to contain the bodies of around eight hundred workers (nb Forsius’ later estimate is approximately three hundred), the mortality having risen to such a level that it had been impossible to bury them at the graveyard in Hollola. The burial mound, the report continued, had “no sign of any kind, and no fence to separate the place where such a large number of the victims of these Years of Death [surmavuodet] lie”. The local youths, it was claimed, used the place for leisure, play and “other purposes that are not suitable for a cemetery”, and the author concluded by saying that this state of affairs was unacceptable. [“l-r-o”, 1910] This presaged a similar appeal relating to the railway-workers’ grave at Kärköla, and it is interesting to note this attention was being given to the workers’ graves perhaps more than in local parish cemeteries.

uusirautatielehti_1aug1910
The appeal by “l-r-o” about the site at Lakkila / Lahti – Uusi Rautatielehti, 1 Aug. 1910.

Some decades passed, and plans for dedicating the site seem to have begun in earnest after World War II, with discussion reported in 1947 (Etelä-Suomen Sanomat, 16 Oct. 1947). In 1950, the Lahti Society petitioned the town to ensure that the ”so-called ’Hunger Years Graveyard’, which has persistently been left unattended”, should be protected and equipped with the appropriate symbols of a cemetery (Etelä-Suomen Sanomat, 24 Mar. 1950). In support of their argument, the Lahti Society provided a historical account of the famine years in the town – strikingly reminiscent in tone to “l-r-o”‘s article from 1910. The society noted that popular memory still recalled these harsh times, and stressed that mortality was so great at the time that the local churchyard was unable to accommodate the workers’ corpses. As a result, the railway authorities reserved land on a nearby ridge for the purpose. Although the site was revered for decades, it was said that the current generation had forgotten its significance, and it had become a playground for the ”children and dogs” of local inhabitants. The existence of the railway had contributed greatly to the development of the town, the society argued, and so those who gave their lives in creating it should be given due recognition.

lahti10
The railway-workers’ burial mound at Lahti. The extent of the site can be discerned by the “croft”-style fencing, constructed from iron railway tracks.

The petition seemed to have some effect, a considerable amount of money was raised locally, and when the Railway Board transferred the cemetery to the care of the church in 1953, a monument was erected.

There is a single contemporary gravestone at the site, which is surrounded by railway tracks laid out in the shape of Finnish croft fences. At the centre now stands an imposing slab, two metres or so high, with the text: During the 1867-1868 Great Hunger Years, were buried in this place railway builders who died of hunger and disease from Hollola parish, the villages of Lahti and Järvenpää, and from other places. Monument erected by Lahti Parish, 1953. Although the memorial stone is dated 1953, the inauguration ceremony seems to have taken place in the summer of 1954. (Etelä Suomen Sanomat, 26 Jun. 1954). The site’s centenary (of the start of the building work) was noted in 1968 and the 110th Anniversary of the railway opening was acknowledged at the site in 1980 (Etelä-Suomen Sanomat, 18 May 1968, 12 Sep. 1980). Forsius’ (1980) article has a photo from the 1970s, where the fence is clearly made of wood, and it seems that the iron fence was established as part of the 110th anniversary.  

Note: in the Academy of Finland’s video The Finnish Famine Has Not Been Forgotten (produced by Joonas Aitonurmi), I am interviewed and filmed on a wet autumn day in 2017 at Lahti, as well as the sites at Uusikylä and Kärkölä

 

Location: Off Road 312, in the vicinity of Motorway 4 & Motorway 12 junction, Lahti. 

Municipality: Lahti.

Modern Region: Päijänne Tavastia [Päijät-Häme]

Date of Memorial: 1954 (1953).

Inscription: During the 1867-1868 Great Hunger Years, were buried in this place railway builders who died of hunger and disease from Hollola parish, the villages of Lahti and Järvenpää, and from other places. Monument erected by Lahti Parish, 1953.

 

References:

Etelä Suomen Sanomat, 16 Oct. 1947; 24 Mar. 1950; 21 Dec. 1950; 26 Jun. 1954; 31 Jul. 1965; 18 May 1968; 12 Sep. 1980.

Suomen Sosialdemokraatti, 20 Jun. 1954.

“l-r-o”,  “Eiköhän jotakin olisi tehtävä?” Uusi Rautatielehti, 1 Aug. 1910.

 

Joonas Aitonurmi, The Finnish Famine Has Not Been Forgotten (Academy of Finland, 6 Oct. 2017)

Arno Forsius, Katovuosi 1867 ja sen seuraukset Lahden seudulla (Lahti: Lahden kaupunki, 1980).

Arno Forsius, “Hollolan Kuolovuosi 1868“, Tiimalasi 1/2009.