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The year was 1901 as my great-grandfather stepped off of the ship onto American soil. Imagine the courage it took at just nineteen years old for him to make the joumey alone. He was looking to leave Finland's general depression. (Finland was then ruled by Russia). He was also unwilling to be drafted into the Russian army, and he realized that he would not receive a large portion of the family farm after it was divided between the children. (As was customary in Finland). Landing in New York in August, he was faced with the challenge of making it in a new nation. It is also believed to have been the time that his last name was changed from Ylikoski, meaning "over the rapids", to Koski in the immigration process. Despite all of this, my great-grandpa, William Peter Koski, found courage and determination to move on to his new life in America.
William emigrated to the United States during the most important wave of emigration (between the 1860's and the 1930's). He was one of over one million people, who in the past one hundred years, have moved out of Finland.
My great-grandfather's life began on January 3, 1882 in Pekanpää, Finland, which is near the Tornio River between Sweden and Finland. He was the third son of Juho Pekka Ylikoski and Maria Kaisa Nelson (who was Swedish). William had two older brothers, Kalle and Kristian, and four sisters, Josephine, Emma, Aliina and Elmina.
The family farmhouse, a log house, was built in 1865. It was on a piece of land about 400 hectares in size (1 hectare = 2.5 acres). The family farmed and fished on the Tornio River and near the rapids. It was a hard and poor life; William remembered his mother adding bark to extend the flour for making bread (pettuleipä).
William, having never attended school, learned arithmetic from his mother at home. Once in America, he learned his first English words, "give me a job". And a job he did get! His first was in Lake Linden working for a contractor putting in water lines. By winter his job was over, so he worked in the woods making cordwood. Shoftly after, he went to work at the mine in Atlantic Mine.
During this time he corresponded with Ida Pieti back in Finland. In 1907, after six years, he decided to leave the U.S. and return to Finland, mostly likely with plans to get married there.
Arriving in Finland, William was so dressed up that his own sister didn't recognize him! The Pieti family also farmed, though they were inland from the river, so Ida and William had known each other as children. Ida was the third child born to Pekka and Sofia Pieti on October 30, 1885 in the Tornio area. On June 11, 1908, she and William were married at the church parsonage in Ylitornio.
The two first lived with William's parents. He had intentions of farming in Finland, but he changed his mind when he realized that it would be easier to make a living in the U.S. So in July of 1909, William, Ida and their son Axel, born on March 21, 1909, came to the U.S. It is believed that William earned the money for the trip by fishing for salmon in the Tornio River.
Axel was four months old when they arrived in the U.S. One of the family stories was about the train ride from New York to Michigan when William threw one of Axel's dirty diapers out of the window and it landed in the face of a bystander.
When the family reached the Copper Country, William worked in several mines in Painesdale and Baltic until the mine strike of 1914, which lasted for nine months. Alpi was born on October 15, 1910 and Aale on March 7, 1912. Arvid was born on January 25, 1914, and when he was two years old, the family moved to the farm in Keweenaw Bay. Indians had settled earlier and had planted apple trees. The family homesteaded the farm, which had only three or four clear acres. Most of the other farmers in the area also worked in the stamp mill in Keweenaw Bay, but William decided not to work out, so he and Ida's brother Kalle cleared seven more acres of land the first year.
Their social life included visiting neighbors. They walked to each others homes carrying kerosene lanterns. They would talk of working in the mines, farming and Finland. My grandpa Albert has said that he remembers being told that children were to "be seen but not heard".
William and Idas family expanded, with Saima on September 30,1915, Art on August 1, 1917 and Albert on December 29, 1918. They suffered much grief though, as Saima died at twenty months of age on February 13, 1917. Aale died af a burst appendix in 1929 and Alpi drowned in the Sturgeon River in 1931 at the age of 23. It occurred duhng a spring flood when a cable walkway across the river got hung up and Alpi and Axel took a boat to free the cable. The boat capsized and Axel swam to shore. Alpi had been very talented in drawing and typing, though he had lost most of the fingers on his right hand in an accident with a silage cufter. After high school graduation he applied to West Point, but was rejected because of his hand.
In school, the boys learned to speak English (my grandfather, Albert, went up to the eighth grade). Ida never learned to speak fluent English and William learned enough so that he could speak ft recklessly and so that he could apply for his citizenship papers (granted May 17, 1920). My dad remembers it difficult to communicate with him however, because though he basically understood English, he always spoke Finnish with them. Finnish was the language spoken at home and at church. The family had a subscription to the Finnish paper, Valvoja, and to the L'Anse Sentinel, which the boys read and translated for their parents.
In 1947, William and Ida sold the farm to Albert and Aileen (my grandparents), and moved to Chassell where they built a new home, though William still helped out on the farm. They had time to enjoy their grandchildren. Ida was always busy knitting or crocheting sweaters and mittens for the children. A series of strokes however resulted in Ida's failing health and she lost the ability to speak. She died on July 27, 1957.
William returned to Finland to visit in 1959. He had only one sister living, Aliina Bjorken. His relatives there tried to get him to stay, but he returned to the U.S. after six weeks. He had remarked that flying to Finland was a much easier journey than the ships he had taken earlier in his life.
After he sold his home in Chassell, William lived for periods of time with his sons. He died on May 13, 1968 from flu complications. Long after he has passed away however, his memory lives on. My Uncle Gordon remembers a story that my grandfather told about him:
My great-grandpa used to log in the winter. One time he was in a lumber camp and he and another fellow had top bunks and two other fellows had lower bunks. The guys in the lower bunks would fire the wood stove at night. Of course it is always cooler in a lower bunk and they liked it real warm to sleep. This made it too hot for the top bunk sleepers. William had told them on a few prior nights not to fire the stove so much because it was too hot. The two lower bunk guys ignored him. Finally one night it was real hot again and my great-grandpa jumped down from the top bunk, opened the door, then the stove door, and grabbed the burning wood with his bare hands and threw it out the door. Then he told them that if anyone put more wood in the stove that night, he would throw them out just like the wood. No one dared even think about putting any more wood in the stove - they had gotten the message!
I am proud to be a great-granddaughter of William Peter Koski. My one regret is that I never got the chance to meet him myself. I have leamed much about him through stories however, and those I will never forget.
© JoLynn Koski
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