Thursday, May 29, 2014

Firing up saunas during the Winter War

The Soviet Union invaded Finland during the winter of 1939-1940, which is known as the Winter War. Though the Soviets had far greater numbers, Finland used its resources, even the cold, to its advantage. One of those resources was the sauna.
Service regulations prescribed saunas once a week.

Field Marshall Carl Mannerheim ordered saunas to be built in bunkers, dugouts, deserted buildings and even tents. Here camouflage was important, so those saunas looked rustic.
Soldiers marching past a sauna in the morning would light a fire in its stove so those who would camp there late that day would find it hot and ready to use. Those saunas warmed the frozen soldiers, cleaned them, rejuvenated them.

Besides that, the Finnish Army created a portable “sauna” to de-louse their soldiers’ uniforms while the men were relaxing in the sauna.

A neat solution for two distinct problems! 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The earliest recorded use of sauna — as a weapon

Nestor’s Chronicle is a compilation of anecdotes, stories and legends describing life in parts of Russia between the years 850 to 1110, written by a monk named Nestor. In one account dating from the year 945, the sauna helps a woman out of a predicament.

In this tale, the duke, Igor, was murdered, leaving his wife, the duchess Olga, a widow. Another duke, Mal (presumably responsible for the murder), sent messengers to Olga’s village to pressure her into marrying him. While she considered her response, the messengers were offered a session in the community’s sauna.

Then, Olga ordered the sauna to be locked and burned (which the relaxing messengers might not have noticed until too late, smoke saunas being what they were). Her action thus avenged her husband’s death and gave the duke a clear answer.

Perhaps this anecdote is not what you were expecting?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

War and Peace and the sauna

Would this title describe:
  • Reading Tolstoys novel while taking a sauna?
  • Arguing about how much water is ladled onto the rocks?
  • Political discussions?
  • How a stressed-out person relaxes after a sauna session?

Interesting thoughts... Instead I was thinking of how significantly the sauna has contributed to life during wars and in peacetime. In researching for the book, I read intriguing stories, and even corresponded with a general in the Finnish Ministry of Defence.

May has several days of military remembrance.
May 8V-E (Victory in Europe) Day
May 17 Armed Forces Day
May 26 Memorial Day (observed)
May 30 Memorial Day (traditional)

As Memorial Day draws near, I’ll be reflecting on the sacrifices of the veterans who served (and serve currently) in military forces. Most never enjoyed a sauna during their hitches, but for a few who did, that sauna helped them survive.

The next few posts — War and Peace and the sauna — are my salute to soldiers. My dad and many uncles were veterans from World War II; my brother and cousins served since then. My sister and her husband served in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thank you for your service.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Visit Minnesota’s oldest sauna

The sauna built in 1868, the one which caused the lawsuit, is at Temperance Corners, north of Cokato, Minnesota. 
Visit it during the Cokato Finnish American Historical Society event on Memorial Day weekend at Temperance Corners, this year May 24. They will celebrate 150 years of Finnish continuity, with a program at 1 p.m.

But plan to spend the day. Besides the program, stop by the bake sale (9:30a), shop at the tori (10a-3p), have coffee, enjoy the music, check out the history booths, tour the buildings (10a-5p), watch a children's play (4p), purchase tickets for the drawing (5p).
For more information, check their Facebook page.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A lawsuit over a sauna?

Instead of being an instrument of healing, the first sauna in Minnesota caused a lawsuit. 

In 1868, two Finnish neighbors, Barbo (later it became Barberg) and Selvala, built and shared a log sauna on the property line between their adjoining farmsteads, for their families’ use. The families did not construct a separate dressing room, but cooled off outdoors. They took turns heating it every Saturday, bathing together, for 20 years. Over time, Selvala bought out Barbo’s share. 

By the late 1870s, a public road was laid on that property line — which became an increasingly busy road. The sauna was still located along the side. People driving past on bathhouse day would see the sauna-goers relaxing and wonder about the custom. (You can imagine what those non-Finnish horse-and-buggy drivers were saying.)

When the road became a township road in the mid-1880s, the sauna was ordered to be moved. Only three dollars was allotted for its removal from the right of way. Selvala protested — and sued the township.

He won his case and was awarded $30 for the damage to the right of way and $40 for moving the sauna to a more private site.

(I first read about this in Florence Barberg Merrill’s family history at the Cokato Historical Museum in Cokato, Minnesota. It’s also found on MNopedia, a curated online encyclopedia about all things Minnesota.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day

Mother’s Day is May 11. 

A salute to Mom — and many special women who loved me as well.

Long ago, women gave birth in the sauna. On an immigrant farm in the early 20th century, it was one of the few places that was clean and had heat and water. 


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Is our sauna tonttu upset?

Did our sauna tonttu miss us?

One hot and mosquito-wild summer, we stopped taking saunas. But on a fall evening, I fired up the (electric) stove and came back an hour later to enjoy my first steam in a couple of months. As I opened the door, a cloud of smoke engulfed me.

Alarmed, my dear Bill came back to inspect and found  smoke, though somewhat less than I had described. We called the local fire department.

They brought a full contingent: a house fire can be very serious business. Their thorough inspection brought us relief — and a smile to the firemen’s faces. After they removed the safety grate atop the kiuas and a few of the rocks, they found the cause — a partially-burnt stash of sunflower seed hulls.

A mousetrap confirmed our culprit: a kangaroo mouse had visited the sauna and, while sitting on the grate, had eaten sunflower seeds and dropped hulls onto the rocks.

The smoke smell gradually disappeared. But was it really a kangaroo mouse? Maybe our sauna tonttu was angry at being forgotten.

Has your sauna tonttu  left you messages?


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Sauna elf

I learned the legend about the sauna tonttu — the sauna elf from Mauri from Finland, with whom I corresponded while researching the book.

This elf,  a little old bearded guy,  lives below the sauna benches and protects it. You’re supposed to leave some wood burning for the sauna elf, who also needs his share. He gets very angry if bathers don’t behave themselves they are too noisy or throw too much water, for example. Then he makes the sauna less enjoyable and, in extreme cases, will burn the sauna down and move elsewhere.
                              ~ (Chapter 4: How to Take a Sauna)

Lore says that the elf, male or female, dresses in grayish brown to match the environment. But that few people can see elves only if the elf wishes.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Sauna scents

As a memento from a spa in Germany, my friend Heidi brought me some sauna scents, lovely citrus oils to add to the waters for fragrant steam. Every now and then, I add a few drops into a ladle full of water, sprinkle it on the rocks — and breathe in the aroma of lemon, or orange, or grapefruit.

The scent doesn’t stay long — that magical steam is momentary. As the next ladle of plain water becomes steam, I can barely detect a whiff of briefly-wonderful bouquet.

I hadn’t tried — or even considered — sauna scents before Heidi gave them to me. Now I wonder what other products I’ve missed. Let me know…