My wife Joan (Petersen) is half-Danish. Her father Norman was a first generation U.S.-born full blooded Dane, the son of Danish immigrants Rasmus and Sene Petersen who settled in Tyler, MN. Tyler is THE Danish Minnesota town, as one trip through the town’s cemetery will attest, and on July 23 the town hosted its annual celebration of all things Danish at Aebelskiver Day. The Aebelskiver (pronounced ABB-el-SKY-ver) is the Danish traditional spherical pancake. It is reproduced by the hundreds and thousands this day, one at a time, each turned 3-4 times with wooden skewers as demonstrated by the enthusiastic youngster below (enthusiastic by Danish standards anyway). “Skivers”, as the locals call them, are dee-lish by the way, especially when dipped in sugar (our favorite) or drowned in maple syrup. There were many other Danish goodies to sample and purchase, each containing the three most common ingredients of Danish baking: Butter, butter and butter.
While I research my family history on a granular level, Joan knows relatively little about her dad’s family. Our goal this day was to dive into Danish culture AND see what we could learn about her family tree. We started at Danebod, the Danish school/community in Tyler which survives as five nicely maintained museum-like buildings on the town’s south side. We were detectives, going from person to person learning clue by clue about the Petersen Market, the family’s butcher shop/grocery (Norm’s nickname was “Butch”). We finally hit pay dirt with Inis Nelsen (below) who not only knew Norm but worked in the store next door to the market back in the 40’s. The building housing both businesses is long gone, but she had stories to tell, both funny and warm. Inis was a pistol by the way, and is the daily welcomer at Danebod. Stop by and see her your next time through Tyler.
Our final stop was at the Tyler Cemetery. You’ve never seen so many “S-E-N”‘s in your life. Dozens of gravestones labeled Petersen, Hansen, Jensen, Larsen, Olsen and on and on is dizzying, and thank Ooinn (look him up) for the cemetery map. After some more sleuthing under a boiling sun we found Rasmus and Sene, a humble stone marking their final resting place, not unlike so many granite monuments to hundreds of men and women who braved overseas travel from Denmark with dreams of both recreating home and finding opportunity in the new world. They had a nice, shady spot, which both they and we were thankful for.
We came, we saw, we learned and we Skiver’ed. Skoal!