Monday, May 17, 2010

Henry Richard Emanuel Wessman: A Biography, Part 1

Here is another wonderful history by Toni Wyeth.

Henry Richard Emanuel Wessman was born in Göteborg, Sweden in 1885. He and his family belonged to the Lutheran Church. He was christened and given the biblical name of Emanuel. It was the custom of the church at that time. As an adult, Henry had light brown hair with a little gray. He was fair complexioned. He was in pretty good health except for ulcers. “Feeding 14 kids would give anyone ulcers.” He was a quiet and a loving family man.

Over in Sweden, Henry used to go down to the fjords to where the ships would come in. He used to explore the ships. He would go down into the hulls and see what they brought in. It was quite the adventure for that young lad. His diet consisted mainly of seafood. Henry also always loved to swim. He and his brothers (Joe and Herb) would dive off the docks. It was in the Baltic Sea that he learned how to swim as a little tyke. He was good at it.

When Henry was six or eight years old, he came over from Sweden for religious convictions. The family had joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He did not know a word of English. His oldest sisters came over first with some other convert families. His father (who was a sailor) came home from sea and asked where his daughters were. Amanda told him "they were with friends." It is unknown when or what he did when he found out that they had gone to America. Amanda came over with her three sons (Herb, Henry and Joe). [Amanda came with Joe in 1893. I don’t know when Herbert and Henry came. Another source notes that they came before Amanda and Joseph. I cannot find the immigration records for the four older children.] Amanda’s husband came over when his time of military service was over for Sweden. It is unknown who the family stayed with when they first got to Utah. Henry's father got a job as a sheep man up in Kamas, Utah. That was where he was when he died.

Henry learned to spell and punctuate by reading the western novels that he used to sell. He was self-taught. He went to school but did not get very far with only three years of formal education. As soon as he learned the English language, he got a job as soon as he could find one. He learned the language pretty well and did not have too hard of a time. He could not stand it when anyone would murder the English language by saying such things such as "I done it” or "I ain't got none." He thought it was important to speak correctly.

His mother Amanda Matilda Hall Wessman, however, did have a hard time learning English. She had a thick accent that was at times hard to understand. It was obvious that she was a typical Swede. Her husband was not around and so no one can remember about his accent but he probably had one.

Henry would get angry with his mother when she tried to converse too much in Swedish with him. He could still talk and understand it but he felt that since they were in America that they should speak English. Amanda felt more comfortable speaking in her native language. Even in his later years, Henry had a slight Swedish accent.

When Amanda died February 15, 1931, her body lay in state in her home that was on Fourth Avenue and E Street. Norinne (4 1/2 years old) remembers her father lifting her up to see her.

After reaching maturity, Henry was not really tall. He was about 5'6" - 5'8" and about 135-140 pounds. He had gray eyes and wore round lens glasses that made him look European. The first thing that he did in the morning was to put on his glasses. He had to have them in order to shave, read the newspaper, etc. His sight was so poor. He was in his mid-teens when he first got glasses. He had a full head of hair. He was quite the fine-looking man.

To be continued...

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