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I Have Seen Much

Emil Kisko

It was the year 1901, when I, the youngest of our family's five children, left home. I went to the town of Tornio to work. There the talk was about Socialism, something people didn't know much about. A tailor, who had traveled around the country said Socialism could be explained thus: All tool of production into the possession of the State. I learned to understand that this ideology would best benefit the working class, and so I embraced it.

I worked in Tornio almost four years. In the spring of 1905 I traveled to Helsinki with 2 boy friends. We lived together there. In the evenings we often went to the Workers Hall on 27 Yrjönkatu. There was always something going on. There was a library and a coffee shop there. The Trade Union Division was also situated at the Hall. I belonged to the Trade Union and was also a member of the Socialist Party.

Came Fall and the Start of the General Strike. I took part in the meeting that decided on the strike. Enthusiasm was high, we sang songs and recited poetry. The recently become famous Peter's Bloody Sunday gave us additional vigor.

Mr. Mantere recited a poem at the meeting. I can still remember one line of that poem. It went thus: "In the Eastern sky the fire-flowers burn. Eastern children swear to freedoms light".

When the meeting ended, we rushed out the gate, we stopped the first streetcar coming toward us, and lifted it off the tracks yelling "The strike has started" the strike became complete when the police joined with us. We established a red guard to uphold and keep order in the town. I joined the red guard. Captain Cook, astride his white horse was the leader. My, the mobs of people at Helsinki railroad market place that week and every day as long as the strike lasted. Standing on different boxes in the market place were speakers, all speaking at the same time because no one could speak loud enough. Matt Kurikka stood on a box in the middle of the market place.

When the strike ended we were asked what good did it do? We were able to eliminate the classes and women were given the right to vote a few years later. We wished equality for all the people of Finland, pledging freedoms light. Did we get it? Anyone who reads the "Työmies" newspaper knows the answer!

In the fall, I was unemployed and lived the winter in want and poverty. In the spring of 1906, it was back to work and summer slipped by fast. Came fall and the Viborg Insurrection.

We watched from the shore as Russian warships fired their cannon at Viborg. Bombs exploded and the air crackled.

The next day when I want to the Worker's Hall, I was told the night before a group had left to defend Viborg. I felt badly that I hadn't been told as I would have gone with them.

Most of the Finns that went never returned. Some of them escaped by rowboat to Helsinki.

After the Viborg Insurrection, I returned to my home in Tornio. In my mind the dream of going to America began to take shape and in March 1907 I began my preparations. On April 19, 1907 I had my 23rd birthday. Nobody was there to see me off except my aged father, who was at the station with tears in his eyes. My Mother had died when I was 11 years old.

We arrived at a railroad station in Chicago, from where immigrants were taken by a two horse drawn wagon to another railroad station, from which by train we were taken to Calumet, Michigan. I worked there for some time as a painter. I was happy because I had been able to leave poor, depressed Finland.

In Calumet, at that time there was a Socialist Hall, and I joined as a member. I read the "Työmies" newspaper, which at the time was four years old. All the boarding houses subscribed to the newspaper during the start of the century.

The "Työmies" was published in Helsinki in 1905 or 1906, so I have read that newspaper for 70 years.

Calumet had a large number of young people and all kinds of recreation. But on the other side, the young men had to work in the mines shoveling copper racks day after day, year after year with small pay. The girls, for 7 or 8 dollars a month worked as domestics.

Soon after my arrival in Calumet, the workers were celebrating May Day (May 1) in Hancock. We left, after forming a parade and carried a red flag, but we didn't get very far, for those that hated the workers came and broke up the parade. We went to hide in the woods, but I can't remember if our flag was torn or not. They called our parade the "Hancock Red Flag Case". Hilja Friiland was leading us. Now she is gone from our ranks.

After spending some time in Calumet, I left to seek work elsewhere. I traveled in several states and even Canada, but the time came when I returned to Calumet.

In the summer of 1913 a bitter strike began in the copper country. Yhtio company "loud mouth" director McNaughton boasted "I'll feed potato peels to the workers". The company hired strike breakers and the National Guard to help protect these strike breakers. A black-list was also started. I along with many other Finns learned to experience the copper country strike and the Italian Hall happening in which, at the children's Christmas Festival, at least 80 children and their parents lost their lives. Provokers had yelled into the hall filled with people, "the fire is loose", panic ensued as people headed for the exit and down the stairs trying to save their children.

Little by little the Finns began to leave the area, some went West and some to Detroit to work in the automobile factories. Middle age Finns tried to start stump and rock farms, where they sacrificed their final strength.

As I reminisce about those times, it seems like a dream to those who have lived to this age. The biggest portion of those who saw all this with their own eyes have gone to their final rest.

In 1915 I met my life's partner. We moved to Detroit, Michigan and were married there, last fall we celebrated 60 years.

By the time this article goes to press, I will have celebrated my 92nd birthday. I have, so far, been in very good health, under the warm Florida sun. My dear wife has had health problems. Our days are numbered. I want to wish for the future, to live side by side in peace and development in all that is important to mankind.

Printed in Kevat, Spring 1976. Translated from Finnish by Violet Kisko, August 1986.


1986, Added By Violet Kisko during the translation from Finnish to English:

Ten years have passed since Emil wrote this article. They lived quietly those years. His health began to fail in about 1980. Edith took good care of him. In September 1980 they celebrated their 65th anniversary with a party at the Hall. In April 1981 Emil celebrated his 97th birthday and passed away in June 1981. The title of this article is so true. He did see and experience much during his life time. I wish I could have heard more of his experiences.

Violet Kisko


23 January 1999

Now almost 23 years after Emil wrote this article. I have put this article on my computer and disk for my genealogy. I have been doing my family history research for about four now and have learned so much about the life and times of my ancestors, where they came from, how they lived and how they loved their families. I know that they are looking down from Heaven and smiling, knowing someone cares to know who they were. If they can here me, I just want to tell them, I love them so much for letting me experience this world.

Robert A. Kisko


Note from Robert Kisko 18 December 2001

I sent an e-mail to my Finngen mailing list (Finngen is a genealogy list to request information on Finnish ancestors). I requested information on some things in my Grandfathers story "I Have Seen So Much". I asked what Peter's Bloody Sunday was, if it was a song or what. I got this answer: "Bloody Sunday" refers to January 22, 1905 in St. Petersburg, Russia. On that day, during a demonstration a big crowd had gathered on a square near the Czar's Winter Palace. They wanted the Czar to receive a petition by their spokesmen. Soldiers guarding the palace were ordered to shoot at the demonstrators, and many unarmed were killed. The person did not tell me if there was a song written about this. I still assume that there was a song that Grandpa sang that day at the Finn Hall meeting, in Helsinki.

I asked about who Mr. Mantere was. The person told me that he might have been referring to Kullervo Manner (1880-1936?), a socialist politician, journalist and Member of Parliament. He was one of the leading figures in the workers' union movement, and leader of the red guard during the Finnish Civil War in 1918. When the aimed socialist revolution failed, he fled to the Soviet Union. There he was one of the group of Finnish socialists to found a Finnish communist party. Manner was executed during the Stalin terror in the late 1930's.

I asked also about Capitain Cook and who this might be. The person told me it certainly referred to Johan Adolf Kock (1861-1915), who was a capitain of the Russian army and a socialist. He was involved in arranging the general strike in 1905, became leader of the red guards in 1906 and lead a mutiny in the fortress Viapori (Suomenlinna) in Helsinki same year. As the mutiny failed, he fled to the USA. He lived with his family in Evergreen, Mass.

As for Matt Kurikka (1863-1915), I was told he was a journalist, idealist and socialist politician, who founded the "Sointula" community on Malcom Island, British Columbia. He was one of the leaders of the general strike in 1905. From the year 1908 he lived in the USA.

The last thing I asked was what the Strike was about and what it was called. The person told me it was called "Suurlakko" in Finnish. The accounting social unrest lead to the general strike in St. Petersburg beginning 25 Mar 1905. The strike movement spread to Finland, where the general strike was announced, and the strike lasted for one week.

This information was sent to me in reference to my posting on the Finngen list, by Kirsti Ervola, e-mail address kirsti.ervola@nic.fi. The Finngen list e mail address is finngen@genealogia.fi.

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