Nebraska at 150: Swedish Heritage Center in Oakland

Editor’s Note: Nebraska is celebrating its 150th birthday in 2017. As the state observes its sesquicentennial, we are revisiting some of the state’s attractions. Today, we take a look at the Swedish Heritage Center in Oakland…

Swedish Troll

My dad’s parents came to America from Malmo, Sweden, in the early 1900s. So, my dad and his twin sister were the first Swansons from that side of the family born in the United States. My dad didn’t speak English until he started grade school. My kids would say he never learned to speak English, as he had a slight accent and mumbled when he talked. They used to say I was fluent in “Marvish,” because I could understand him (though it was a struggle at times).

My dad (step-dad, officially) hailed from the Oakland, Nebraska, area. Oakland is considered the Swedish capital of Nebraska. I’m not sure anyone with brown skin ever lived there (only kidding) until my mom and he married and we moved there.

Swedish Capital of Nebraska

Oakland is proud of its Swedish heritage. And, rightly so. The community’s history is shared at the Swedish Heritage Center. It tells the community’s history through a variety of exhibits.

Swedish Heritage Center

The center is located in a former church building. Stained glass windows provide an attractive background.

Stained Glass windows at Swedish Heritage Center

The center has a variety of items on display – from old photographs to posters from the old high school. Symbols from each Swedish province are on the main floor, waiting to be displayed more prominently.

Symbols from Swedish provinces at Swedish Heritage Center

The center has a collection of wedding gowns from years past. The gowns range from basic white to more decorative and colorful. A colored gown with a cameo pendent was worn by Anna Anderson for her wedding to Carl Hultquist in 1894. The gown looks like it could be worn today.

Wedding Gowns from Sweden

Corn husk ornaments adorned a holiday tree. The husks are handmade by Tom Wallerstedt. Tom, an Oakland native, moved back home after years away. He is the de facto caretaker of the heritage center.

Corn Husk roses

He became involved with running the heritage center after it had fallen into disrepair. The center had previously been managed by an elderly woman. However, after she passed away, the heritage center wasn’t maintained at the level it should have been.

After he moved back, Tom talked with people in the community and became involved with cleaning up the building and exhibits, and then pretty much running it.

Swedish Heritage Center

A candelabra caught my eye. It is a ljuskrona is Swedish.

A Swedish candelabra

The center has a working organ. Tom displayed his musical skills by playing a song or two for us.

working organ at the Swedish Heritage Center

I loved the felt poster for the Oakland High School Vikings. The school had merged with Craig schools before we moved to Oakland, so I knew it the high school as the Oakland-Craig Knights. I liked Vikings better as a nickname. LOL.

Oakland High School Vikings

Dalas are Swedish decorative horses. They originated from the central Swedish province of Dalarna. Vikings considered them holy animals. They are usually painted with bright colors. The center had a couple of straw-made Dalas on display.

Dala horses

Folk costumes are located throughout the center. The brightly colored clothing represents various communities. Historically, Swedes wanted their folk costumes to be different from other villages. Thus, that’s why you see so much color and different patterns and styles.

Folk costumes at the Swedish Heritage Center

A few home exhibits are available for viewing. A display represents what an early 1900s kitchen may have looked like in a Swedish immigrant’s home.

Taste of Home at the Swedish Heritage Center

Oakland once had a nice train depot. Many people arrived in town via the train. While the depot no longer exists, the heritage center remembers it with a display of a woman and her family possibly arriving to their new home.

Oakland Train Depot

Besides telling the history of Oakland, the heritage center is available for group meetings. A meeting space is available in the basement.

We had a great visit in my old stomping grounds. With my dad gone for seven years, it felt like I got to know a little more about him with the tour of the Swedish Heritage Center. He was proud to be Swedish-American. That pride is shared by Oakland.

Swedish American Heritage Center