Dan Soderberg Photography

The Campus and The College

Campus Drive In dsoderblog.com

There was probably no landmark more associated with The Boulevard than the Campus Drive In Movie Theatre. From 1948 The Campus Drive In was famous for its 50-x 80-foot neon mural and 46-foot tall majorette complete with twirling baton and Indian headdress. The background scene of the mural included the old SDSU campanile–Hepner Hall– the Hardy Memorial Tower, goal posts and Cowles mountain with an “S” on it.
Tickets were 50 cents a piece. You had the choice of walk in (200 available seats) or drive in (700 cars).

If memory serves me correctly, Sam J. Russo, chief operator of The Campus Drive In, also brought forth the neighboring College Theatre. In its day The College Theatre was among San Diego’s most renown in terms of screen size, seating comfort, and sound quality. I also have this memory of seeing a picture there called The Loved One in 1965, starring Jonathan Winters. A few of the more choice movie theatres offered reserved ticket sales. The days of movie going as an event.

By the time I got my first job as a film projectionist at the College Theatre in 1979, the connection between The College and Campus Drive In was dissolved. Separate owners. The operator of the The College was a man named Herb Krapsi. Apparently bored in his retirement years, he ventured into the film exhibition business. He made the big beautiful College into 4 small “plex” theatres, The College 4. He seemed to consistently demonstrate a tendency to be penny wise and pound foolish. The smaller theatres were not especially well constructed. Sound transfered through walls. The additional projection booth floors rendered footsteps to ears below. And if walking wasn’t done carefully, the projectors jiggled enough to give a shaky or bouncy picture. Intermission music came from the cheapest 8 track tape players made. the J.C. Penny Penncrest. He bought them second hand at a swap meet. The Barbara Streisand tape he insisted upon sounded so bad I heard one customer complain “That’s Moms Mabley singing–DRUNK!”
Worse than that was his automated projection system. The machines were prototypes from a company that went into and out of business overnight. They ran horribly. It must have cost Herb more money to replace damaged film than the cost of buying decent equipment.


The Classic Pre Automation Drive In Theatre Projection Booth.  This one is the Lackland Drive-In Theatre in San Antonio. Image source: The Top Shelf, A blog about Special Collections at the UTSA libraries. The article, The San Antonio Drive-In Movie Theaters, August 19, 2013

The old fashioned projection booth had two projectors. There was a precise system of alternating between the two for projecting separate reels of a movie continuously and uninterrupted. Under normal circumstances that is. If the projectionist messes up, the audience may see numbers on the screen or “jumps” in the movie. A projection mishap audiences tend to enjoy, however, is when a movie frame gets jammed or stopped in the film gate. The image melts and burns before their eyes evoking “whoops and hollers.” Nothing like a hot and heavy love scene suddenly vaporizing.


Image Source: Big Screen Blog – Celebration! Cinema

One might think of an automated projection system along the lines of an 8-track tape. A bit different though. The above shows film feeding out through a control mechanism in the center. That mechanism precisely monitors and regulates the speed of that platter with the feed rate of the projector. The separate reels spliced together on this platter are discernable as “bands.” The first reel of a movie is wound upon a core ring at the center of this platter. All the reels are spliced together. The core ring is removed, then the film is wound through the control mechanism and over to the projector via rollers and guides. After the film is projected it runs back to a “take up” platter. It winds, again, upon a core ring. And on it goes.

The platter is most typically made of a light alloy or anodized metal designed to be static resistant.

The platters Herb Krapsi installed at The College 4 were plastic. On some days you walked into the booth your hair stood straight up because of static electricity. Or lighting bolts sparked between yourself and objects you reached for.

“I love it,” said Herb. “My projectionists can’t sleep on the job!”

But there were more problems in his projection booths. Those mechanisms for controlling the speed of the platter went hay wire sometimes. For no reason other than the machines were junk, the platters spun out of control whirling and whipping motion picture film every which way through the projection booth. The projectionist had run over and resolve the calamity. Running caused the picture to jiggle and jump on the screen. When the film feeding into the projector broke, an automatic “trip” was set off to close the curtain, bring up the auditorium lights and play music.

Barbara! “The waaaaaaaaay we were.

The man in charge of holding together Herb’s plastic prototype film platters was named Mike Boyer. A man I should be ever grateful to for giving me my first job as a projectionist. But there are two thoughts that come to mind at the mention of his name. First his almost Hitler like mustache. Second his need for “Heads and Shoulders” shampoo. The sight of him scratching his head and “sprinkling” an ice cream cone he ate wasn’t pretty.

Boyer and I were standing in the lobby with a number of people milling about the snack bar.

I asked “doesn’t Herb give consideration to the number of complaints he must get about film breaks here?”

His reply was “Herb worry about complaints? That’s why he doesn’t care about complaints.”

I looked to where he was tipping his flaky head. A woman with her hair up in big rollers was eating out of a tub of pop corn as a dog would eat except she wasn’t on all fours or eating off the floor.

Mike sensed I hadn’t observed completely. “You didn’t look at her hair, did you?”

A second look revealed several six legged creatures with long antennae crawling in and out of her curlers.

“That’s why Herb doesn’t care,” Boyer finished his ice cream cone.

Interesting though, Mike Boyer noticing someone’s hair but not his own.

Herb Krapsi was especially excited with the release of Scanners in 1981. “This is going to make us a lot of money,” he said. “Run the preview in all four theatres.” Only problem was it was an “R”rated film. The trailer or preview was to be used appropriately. We pointed out previewing Scanners for the audience watching Disney’s Song of The South might not be a good idea.

“F___k ’em,” he said. “Run it!”

Below is a link for the preview. You’ll see what mothers and young children watching Song of the South were presented with. The outrage was fierce and intense among the people storming out of the auditorium to complain. Herb pleaded ignorance. He said his projectionist failed to inform him about the horrifying subject matter.

Yep, that’s right. I did it.

. . . . photo San Diego Reader, 7/6/06, “Field of Screens,” p.26

The Campus Drive In closed in February 1983. The College Theatre carried on awhile longer. The Majorette Portion of the Campus Drive In mural was preserved. It can be seen today at College Grove Center. I wondered with all the new construction at SDSU over the years why a wall of one of those buildings couldn’t have been dedicated not only to the majorette but the entire mural. Precious little of our past landscape survives. Those imaginative elements with colorful and unique detail seem so easily discarded. And replaced by what?

Scanners Preview

YouTube featurette shows a projectionist at work.

Dan Soderberg Photography

Mother Road

“Mother Road” is the name reserved for Route 66.  El Cajon Boulevard is San Diego’s version of that.  Before Interstate 8 it was the western leg of the only highway between San Diego and El Centro.  The character of the entire stretch of road was determined when the automobile became king.

Auto Camps were unique to The Boulevard.

Tents and trailers sat under shady trees.  Guests and campers enjoyed the spacious grounds.  There is little evidence today of that by gone era.  Just this one little area I found.

These Motor Hotels, “Motels” were the standard back in the day.

A large percentage of San Diego’s inventory of guest accommodations were along The Boulevard.

The Grand Daddy of The Boulevard was the Layfayette Hotel.  Here is The Red Fox Room. The interior was brought over from England by Marion Davies for her Malibu beach house. When she tired of it, it was put into storage and eventually incorporated into the Red Fox Room.  The interior comes from an English Pub or Inn dating from the 1500’s.

Appropriately The Boulevard was also the premier car dealership zone in San Diego.

Guaranty Chevrolet relocated. There’s a furniture store in there now.

The Boulevard also had San Diego’s finest furniture stores.  “Top of the top.”  Lloyd’s Furniture, though, is long gone.

Dan Soderberg Photography

The Boulevard Colors

The Pink Poodle.

At The Live Wire Bar you see red and distorted reality going in as well staggering out.

And then a Bloody Mary for breakfast.

With plenty of mass produced grease available to soak up a hangover.

The essentials of generic fast food architecture.

Der Wonnerful places.

However The Boulevard also boasts having just about any ethnic or world cuisine you might imagine.

Dan Soderberg Photography


There’s Eatin’ to do on The Boulevard. The water is iced. Milk is chilled. Windows are portals. Only times changed; the diner has not.

Flower shirts on Sunday. Father and son breakfast. As it was in 1949, it is today.

Is your preference salami or hash? Over-easy may be your style. Bacon too. Let there be no doubt.

A check to pay. Ham Hocks and Lima Beans topped off with a sprig of parsley, perhaps. Slice of pie, a la mode if you would.


On The Boulevard

The Boulevard has redefined the term independent individual entrepreneur many times.

On The Boulevard business is usual. Elimination of “overhead” means fresh air, sunshine and a view.

A desk has a multi-task. Dirt intends no harm to fine leather shoes or a suit. It’s a wireless world. Here that means no light switches.

Yes, On The Boulevard business is usual. Whether power broking or power walking.

Dan Soderberg Photography

Marstrand 11, Return and Reunion.

NOTE: So you don’t have view the 11 chapters of this story backwards click here for a beginning to end version:

Marstrand, Sweden: My Family Story.

June 2006. Greta immediately recognized the rocky geography. Her bus window view was from the road between Göteborg and Marstrand. A road that was still under construction during her first trip to Marstrand. Her arrival then was by ferry. With the familiar silhouette of Carlstens Fortress on the horizon Greta was nearly “home.” Once upon the cobblestone streets, there was no hesitation about the familiar way to the old house of August and Alma Palm. Stepping to the veranda she pointed to a window. A room where the Christmas tree once stood. She remembered the rustic kitchen and the relic of a stove her mother created meals upon. She looked out from the veranda on a peaceful Marstrand harbor and remembered fishing with Grandfather August. She recalled the sight of ships at battle.

Greta on the veranda, 2006 (left). On the veranda 1939 (right). From right to left, Greta, Gunnar, Gunhild, & friend.

Question remained if she would find anyone she remembered. Or if anyone was still around that remembered her, her mother and grandparents. Or if there was even a chance of finding relatives.

Our Innkeepers were Lena and Gunnar Danielsson at Korsgatan 5 in Marstrand. When they heard Greta’s story, they were very interested and became actively involved. After a few phone calls they offered Greta a pleasant surprise.

Lena Danielsson located one of Greta’s old Marstrand friends Karin. Lena invited Karin to Korsgatan 5 for coffee and coffee bread. Karin remembered the “American girl was allowed to have painted nails.” Sam Soderberg, center.

More surprises were in store. The next came via a short boat ride.

It is about right to say the Marstrand experience is incomplete without a boat ride, not counting the ferry. Gunnar Danielsson at the helm. Lena Danielsson at the rope. Sam Soderberg with floppy hat. Greta. And Sam’s wife Ruby.

Walking down memory lane, Greta meets with Ingrid, her second rediscovered friend.

A reunion sixty six years in the making. Ingrid, Greta, and Karin.

There were more happy meetings for Greta behind this door.

Dan and Sam with Swedish third cousin Ã…ke, Greta’s second cousin. The three third cousins share the same great grandparents, August and Alma Palm. Ã…ke’s grandmother is Margit, Gunhild’s sister. This is at the patio area of Ã…ke’s home in Marstrand. He operates an antique business in Göteborg.

Ingrid, center, is a curator at Marstrand’s History Museum. She opened the doors for us. We studied the displays and learned from her expertise. Greta, and Gunnar Danielsson look on as Ruby asks questions.
Another priority of our Marstrand stay was to locate the grave site of August, Alma and Algot Fredrik.

We walked and walked through the small cemetery in search of the family grave marker. It seemed every stone was looked at repeatedly. No matter how often the same markers came into view, the names August, Alma Katarina Palm, and Algot Fredrik were not there. A pile of discarded grave stones were set to the side. We happened to see the Marstrand Lutheran Church Vicar nearby attending to a site. He couldn’t recall ever seeing the name Palm. Then explained unmaintained or abandoned sites are made available as new plots. “Space is limited here.” The old stones are set aside or carved over to mark more recent burials.

From nearby trees the “cuckoo” of cuckoo birds seemed to herald our departure and unsuccessful quest. We were just past the cemetery gates when a woman called out.

“Did you say you were looking for August Palm? It’s right here.”

One sensed Greta’s relief. I imagined the trip would have felt somewhat incomplete if the grave site had not been found.

Perhaps we didn’t look as closely for a horizontal or flat gravestone. Most were the upright markers.

We made a second visit later. Greta bought some petite roses to plant at the site. “Mama would want that.”

Sam adding a cup of water to Greta’s freshly planted roses.

August passed away in 1947

Grave yard service for August. We noted the flowers tied together with U.S. Flag ribbon. We imagine Gunhild sent those.

The Watch and The Broach.

“It was on a lazy afternoon in the summer of 1939. Mama’s work was done at the house and we went swimming. I swam and played for several hours when she decided I should come out and rest a bit. While Mama dozed in the sun I explored the rocks and crevices. Deep in one of those crevices I saw something shiny. It was very far down and I had to lie on the rock very flat. I reached my arm down and stretched as far as I could. I barely managed to touch it with the tip of my fingers. I couldn’t quite pick it up. I held my breath, lunged as far as I could, and managed finally to lift the object between my outstretched fingers. Gingerly, carefully, I pulled the object up against the rough rock surface. To my surprise it was a beautiful gold watch. I ran to my mother holding out my treasure.”

Gunhild was even more surprised because she recognized the watch.

“‘I know whose watch that is, Greta. We must find Mrs. Ambjornson and return it. She will be very sad when she realizes she has lost it.'”

Mrs. Ambjornson in fact had tears upon seeing it. “My husband gave this watch to me on our wedding day. I have always cherished it and now he is gone.” He drowned a few years ago when a storm caught hold of his sail boat. “It is the most precious memory I have of him. It is worth more than money to me.”

Mrs. Ambjornson rewarded Greta with a trip to a jewelery store. Greta chose a simple porcelain brooch with a carved picture of blue water, blue sky with white fluffy clouds, and a sail boat on it.

“To me this was Marstrand. The water I loved to swim and sail upon. The open sea and the wind blowing through my hair. With this pin I always remember the best things I love about Marstrand and how it was.”

“Under Mama’s protection my childhood cares were few. Life was a party; a new and exciting experience every day. I greeted each new day with excited anticipation.”

The End.


Greta Louise Teter Smith for unrestricted access to her personal history on Marstrand and to Gunhild’s letters. Also for opening the family photo album and answering a myriad of questions over the past few years.

Ruby Soderberg, additional photography

Mark Wagner, permission to use images of The Gripsholm

Gunnar and Lena Danielsson, for all their help not only in providing a top notch Bed and Breakfast Inn in Marstrand, but for all the attention given to making Greta’s return so memorable.

Korsgatan 5 SE 44030 Marstrand, Sweden. Tel +46 (0)303-14827 Fax +46 (0) 303-64807


Marstrand 10, Blitzkrieg, Blockade, Escape.

It was customary in Sweden for the Christmas tree to remain up until January 20. Then to have friends over to sing and dance around the tree. “Mama served our favorite kinds of food.” Greta was still busy eating the candy ornaments.

“It has not been this cold in 50 years,” wrote Gunhild. “You can only be outside for about 30 minutes or your face feels like it will crack.” Keith sent them an electric heater he bought at Thrifty’s for $0.98 cents. And a small radio for $9.98. The cheapest radio available in Sweden cost $75.00.

The heater was put to use promptly. Before, their room at night was so cold they used every blanket in the house. Still they shivered. Hot water bottles were useless as they cooled quickly. Then it was too cold to get up and fix new ones.

“In the morning we were tired from the weight of blankets on our bodies.”

They listened to the new radio a lot. Besides Swedish radio Germany, Russia and England came in. Russia offered mainly church and prayer programs. From Germany it was all “marches and noise.”

Marstrand was solidly frozen in. Arrival and departure of goods and services came by horses and sleds. People traveled to and from Marstrand and Göteborg on ice skates. By Greta’s 6th birthday in February she handled both skis and skates competently.

Since November Sweden’s neighbor to the north, Finland, was at war with invading Soviet Union. Stalin and his generals had not anticipated the fight on their hands. Although Sweden and Finland had strong ties, Sweden did not veer from their strict neutral policy. Assistance was not provided. She did however nurture a citizen’s volunteer effort for Finland. At least 10,000 Swedes felt compelled to join Finnish forces.

Besides volunteering for The Red Cross, Gunhild was among the many women working for the Finnish cause by knitting. About the fight in Finland “They are the good guys; our heroes.” She thought if the Finns made it, Russia would leave Sweden alone.

There was wisdom in that thought. Sweden carefully and alertly positioned herself to be the worst possible headache for any invading nation by diligently building up the strongest defenses of all Scandinavian nations. That Finland proved to be a bitter pill for Stalin was noted by the world. Sweden was prepared to be a whole lot more trouble.

“They are now torpedoing and sinking almost all ships that venture into this area,” wrote Gunhild. People commented among themselves “If its not the torpedoes that get them, then the icebergs will.”

A war time atmosphere wasn’t helping Grandfather August. He was laid up and lame for over two weeks by another “mild” stroke. He didn’t look well as Gunhild helped with his shoes and socks every morning.
Still, their suitcases were packed and ready. But with month after month passing in wait, the cases had to be packed and repacked according to seasonal needs.

Stateside Keith was busy locating an available liner. In April 1940 he reserved one. He forwarded tickets to Gunhild along with $40.00 in cash. She was desperate to get $75. Food alone cost $35; other expenses seemed inevitable. All funds at this point were borrowed. Undoubtedly, Keith tapped every resource he knew.
Hitler had other ideas about ship traffic. On April 9th Germany invaded Denmark and Norway. A naval blockade was in effect. Göteborg was a port that lay motionless with a glut of docked ships.

There was a complete break in communications. Keith wasn’t sure if Gunhild departed or not. With no idea where his family was or what happened to them, he contacted the U.S. State department.

The federal government took up the job of repatriating the many U.S. citizens caught in the war. This project partly came under the hand of President Franklin D. Roosevelt when he offered safe harbor to Norway’s Royal Family. The ship assigned for that mission may well have been the last chance out.

“One very early morning in July, (it was still dark) two men came quietly to our house and rapped softly on the door. Mama, who wasn’t sleeping well, heard the knock first. Throwing on her bathrobe, she hurried to the door and carefully peeked out. A man’s deep voice cautioned us to be very quiet and not to turn on any lights. We were to dress quickly and come with them as soon as possible. ‘Take only the barest of necessities,” the other man advised us. We had already said most of our goodbyes to Grandfather in the last several weeks. We were very sad he refused to come with us. No amount of cajoling would change his mind. ‘I am too old,’ he told us. ‘I must stay with my country.’ He knew we would be leaving at a moment’s notice any day. I was wearing a gold cross he had just given me and I dressed very quickly by myself. I put on a new pair of rainbow-colored canvas shoes with a small buckle on the side. I had some trouble snapping the buckle as they were still stiff and new. (Mama let me choose them myself in a weak moment). We were only allowed to carry the small valises we had packed earlier containing underwear, a nightgown, a couple of changes of clothes and toiletries. Mama cut out of its frame a canvas painting of some fishing boats that a friend, Ingeborg, had painted. She rolled it up and tied it under my coat around my waist to take with us.”

“It seemed forever, but in reality it was only a matter of minutes and we were ready to depart. We hastily kissed Grandfather August goodbye one last time. With tears in our eyes we turned to go. Mama knew she would never see her father again.

“The two men escorted us to the water in the dark. A small row boat was tied to the wharf. We climbed aboard with one of the men. He rowed us across the water toward the other side of the bay. We turned around to see our home on the hill where we had lived for the last two years and thinking about Grandfather inside. I wondered if he was looking out the window for us as we rowed.”

The plan was to reach the port of Petsamo, Finland, which was still open to neutral passage. The U.S. army ship American Legion awaited the refugees. But the trip there was difficult and dangerous. It was made mostly under the cover of darkness through the war zone. Secrecy and quiet was the utmost of importance.

“We took at least two small boats, a train, and a small bus. From the bus I remember seeing small burned and smoldering villages or towns. Bodies of people and animals were here and there. Some were burned. Some just lying on the cold ground. Mama told me not to look but I peeked anyway. At times we traveled at night on a bus or train. Other times we spent safely away in caves or underground passages. We had to sleep sitting up because the quarters were so small and cramped. There must have been fifteen or twenty of us fleeing. There were various nationalities, adults, and children. It was imperative the children not squeal, cry or make noise of any kind whatsoever. I slept with my head in Mama’s lap. I don’t think she slept much at all during this trip.

“At our final stop on land which was along the shore line, we had to wait a couple of days for our ‘connection’ to Petsamo.

“While waiting we saw four German troop transport ships sunk by the British.

“Every morning I had trouble buckling my beautiful new shoes. First because they were new. Secondly because I slept in such a cramped position my feet were swollen. When the day finally came and we had to move quickly so as not to be discovered, I was not able to fasten one shoe. Everyone was standing and having to wait as I struggled with my shoe. ‘Just leave her here!’ a grumpy man growled. Mama grabbed me by the arm and pushed me onto the bus. I held my shoe on by my toes and clumped along.

“We arrived at a tiny fishing boat. It was a long way down below the wharf. We had to descend on a tall rickety old wooden ladder. Most of the children were small enough to be carried, but I had to climb down by myself. The rungs of the ladder were very far apart for my little legs to reach. I didn’t dare whimper, but I was afraid I might fall into the ocean and they would leave without me.

“Mama was on board before me and was reaching up to help when suddenly my shoe went tumbling into the ocean. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t dare make a sound. I bit my lip and continued down the ladder and into Mama’s arms. “Don’t cry, she said, “We will find you other pretty shoes in America.”

“It didn’t take us long to reach the army transport ship American Legion.”

If Hitler only knew. Hidden on board the American Legion, Sweden sent along a 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun mounting which became the prototype for thousands of such guns built for the U.S. Navy during World War II.

From the time Gunhild first had obtained passage to this moment this short list of events transpired.

May 15, Holland surrendered to Germany. May 28, Belgium surrendered to Germany. June 3rd, Norway surrendered to Germany. June 14, German troops marched through Paris.

“I don’t remember exactly when we set sail for America, but it was few days after July 28, 1940.”

By August 8th, the Battle for Britain began. This meant The American Legion was headed though areas mined by Germany in her blockade of Britain. The U.S. was still a declared neutral and expected safe passage under international rules. But Hitler repeatedly demonstrated his regard for international law long ago. This was at best a risky voyage.

Norway’s Crown Princess Martha’s children were among the playmates Greta encountered on board. “I was permitted to play with the young prince from time to time. I believe he was a year younger than I.”

“There were many people on board fleeing Europe. About 897 of them were American citizens. There were no more children’s life jackets so mine was adult size. It hung down nearly to my ankles. It was overcrowded with people. Some had to share beds. Mama and I were fortunate. We had our own room with bunk beds. I slept on top and when the ocean became rough, I usually awoke on the floor the next morning.

“We had to attend life boat drills twice a day. A double lookout was on duty 24 hours a day and the captain himself spent many a 24 hour stint on bridge until we passed the mine fields. We had lessons in “plane spotting,” identifying the various insignias on the planes which were constantly flying over us. When we saw an enemy plane we were told to fall flat on the deck where ever we were. The children became very adept at it and it became a game to see who could go down the fastest.

“The Germans radioed continuous mine warnings. Then some really bad weather lasted 3 days. Since we had limited freight, the ship bobbed up and down like a cork. I remember seeing huge walls of water taller than the ship on each side of us as we dropped down only to suddenly shoot back up again. Many people were seasick. The infirmary was so crowded there were often two people in a bed. We all had typhoid injections which also made people sick. Mama was one of them. She was in the infirmary for many days. I believed she didn’t care one way or another if she lived or died. She hardly responded when I came to visit. I wandered the ship alone for several days exploring here and there. One day a black man who worked in the kitchen saw me wandering around inquired what I was doing there all alone. I told him about my mother being ill. He asked me if I had been eating regularly, which I hadn’t. I told him I had eaten some peanuts earlier but that was all. Every day until Mama was well, he searched me out and brought food.

An incident arose on board that perhaps predicted the scene in Humphrey Bogart’s Casablanca where groups of German soldiers singing were drowned out by French voices at Rick’s Cafe. “A group of Nazis and Norwegians on board got into a heated situation which was skillfully handled by Captain Torning. He simply told them to behave or he wouldn’t allow them to land in the United States.”

It was raining that day of August 28, 1940 as the American Legion entered New York harbor. “When people saw the Statue of Liberty they came out on deck to cry and laugh, and to cry and laugh some more. A record of the Star Spangled Banner was played; all the Americans began to sing. As we walked down the gangplank and went ashore, hundreds of passengers got on their knees to kiss the ground.”

“Home at Last! Mama continued being interviewed by various newspapers for days after.

“I had to relearn English. I couldn’t understand a word my cousins were saying to me at our first family reunion celebrating our homecoming. I started school that same Fall, I still couldn’t speak English very well. It soon came back to me with the help of my very patient teacher, Mrs. Repath.”

Greta had a dream to return to Marstrand one day. However raising 4 children, working and dealing with the day to day that stretched into years and decades, that dream was always elusive.

In 2005 Greta proposed the idea of going to Sweden and Marstrand to her nephews, Sam and myself–sons of Bill, Greta’s older brother. In May and June of 2006 we made that trip.

Next–Marstrand Return and Reunion.

Dan Soderberg Photography

Marstrand 9. Midsommer to Christmas, 1939.

“It was a beautiful spring and early summer. The cherry trees were in fragrant bloom along with all the rest of the fruit trees.”

Gunhild and August prepared the house for the summer guests.

By July Marstrand was in high season as the town was filled with tourists. Gunhild spent mornings attending to guests. Then typically she spent afternoons with Greta at the beach swimming. By 5 P.M. they were back home for dinner. Greta went to bed around 8 P.M. Then Gunhild went out again.

“Sometimes she’d go for a walk or listen to music somewhere. There was a two day celebration where Mama danced for the whole two days with some of her old friends.” This was an event to raise money for road improvements.

The celebration of the summer solstice in Sweden is called Midsommer. This holiday rivals if not surpasses Christmas in popularity. The third Friday in June starts the holiday and is celebrated all weekend long. Swedes head to the countryside in droves to commune with nature, participate in celebrations of food, drink and dance. Special emphasis is on drinking in many instances. Swedes remaining in cities have parties lasting all weekend. Much anticipation and preparation is devoted to Midsommer. It is much the “talk of the town” weeks and days prior.

Greta enjoyed Midsommer in a most traditional way. She was adorned in a Swedish costume and danced around the Majstång, a May pole.

As the summer progressed Greta lost all track of English in her mind. She thought and spoke only in Swedish. And she became a strong swimmer. Once when Gunhild swam far from shore Greta swam right behind her waving to the boats along the way. Gunhild happened to look back and was surprised. “I thought she would faint right there in the water,” said Greta. “She knew there was no sense in wasting her breath in telling me not to go. But I had to promise to wear a swim ring.” It wasn’t long before the swim ring was discarded entirely. “I could swim a long distance and not be tired.”

The enjoyment of those activities only in some degree ameliorated a heavier burden constantly weighing on Gunhild. The sadness she felt having been separated so long and so far from her family in Los Angeles. Bill graduated from High School and was on the precipice of adulthood. Gunhild missed all of Bill’s football games, his track meets, meeting the girls he dated, and his graduation ceremony. The passing of that time with so many events left her feeling forgotten about. And missing her husband Keith.


With each passing day a way out of Sweden became more difficult. The Oceans brimmed with naval traffic. Warships and U-Boats. Line companies kept more of their vessels in port. With fewer ships carrying mail, a letter was more difficult to send. Nothing direct. Routes only found U.S. ports eventually.

“We should like to get started for California the last of August if not before. You see, the fall storms are very bad. They start in September and last through Christmas. Winter weather is not very pleasant to make a trip with a child,” Wrote Gunhild. She requested $200 by August 5th.

$200 in 1939 was no small amount of money for Keith and his policeman’s salary. He was loath to borrow money. Now he had to. The time taken to network his friends and family for loans went well beyond August 5th.
In the mean while Germany invaded Poland on September first. Two days later A German U-boat torpedoed a British liner en route from Liverpool to Montreal. Of 1,400 passengers 112 were killed, including 28 Americans. This marked the beginning of World War II.

The Poland crisis changed everything in Sweden. There was national mobilization. 70,000 reserves were called up. The size of her army doubled almost over night with volunteers signing up.

The Swedish government distributed pamphlets requesting people buy and store extra food. They suggested which foods were best to store, and how to best do that. A Royal Evacuation Commission arranged housing and stockpiled food in the countryside in the event of city evacuation.

“The young people of about fifteen years of age were organized into youth groups for various jobs like watching for enemy planes or boats. Sometimes a youth rode his bicycle just to scout around looking for something unusual. I suppose there were other jobs, but those were the ones I knew about, ” Said Greta. In fact there was a citizens corps of nearly 45,000 organized to scan the skies around the clock for enemy aircraft. Some 600,000 volunteered as air raid wardens. These were people who patrolled the streets during blackouts and to ensure no light was visible. They were also trained in first aid, firefighting, in dousing incendiary bombs with sandbags.

Swedes volunteered in droves to support the armed forces in many other ways. One group collected money for “The Neutrality Watch.” Funds went to buy marching boots, warm sweaters and skis for mountain troops. In Marstrand a group of ladies knit mittens and scarves for the soldiers. Gunhild was among the participants.

At Marstrand Harbor three big fishing boats from Poland sought refuge. An English submarine collided with a Swedish fishing vessel outside the island. German warships were off of Denmark.

“On our way back from fishing one night with some of Mama’s friends, we saw far out on the ocean ten or more warships. It was too dark to make out whose ships they were. They moved in close and were hiding. The next day all boats were prohibited from maneuvering in the bay. No more fishing trips!!!

“Fifty big boats were torpedoed at one time and many people died,” recalled Greta. To disrupt the flow of goods to Britain, German U-Boat captains had a “shoot first and ask questions later” policy. “I know at this time there was some sort of resistance group or underground forces at work because suddenly Nazi-U boats were being ‘mysteriously’ blown up. Railroads too. I heard my mother talk about it in hushed tones to grandfather August. Bodies of soldiers and horses washed up on our shores from time to time as a result of those activities.”

There was a lot of talk about ocean mines used to protect Swedish territory and neutrality. And how that was dangerous for passenger ships to pass through. The price of tickets increased two fold. Even with money in hand for a ticket, there were few ships venturing out.

“The talk was of war, war, war, and more war! It was really scary. We did not feel safe at all any more,” said Greta. “Mama was so worried that she had trouble sleeping at night.”

Word came through the American Consulate; all foreigners were ordered to leave. They sent people around to find American citizens to obtain their names and U.S. addresses. Gunhild and Greta were stuck. A distraught Gunhild wrote to Keith suggesting ways to raise money. “The power to return us in in your hands, as soon as you are able to get the money together.”

“Another fifty boats were sunk off our island. Half of them were Swedish. We saw one of the Swedish ships en route to England torpedoed by the Germans before our very eyes as we watched from Carlstens Fortress,” Greta recollected.

It was in the midst of these stressful events when Greta decided to incorporate experimenting with fire into her doll play.

“Grandfather forgot to watch me when I decided to build a bonfire for my dolls. I went into the house looking for something to ignite the wood I had gathered. I rummaged through Mama’s desk and came upon some piles of papers to use. I found matches in the kitchen and walked back up the hill. I placed the dolls in position around the place where I lit the fire.

“I had a roaring fire. It illuminated the surrounding trees and hills brightly. I stood for a minute admiring my handiwork when suddenly out of nowhere I was grabbed from behind and lifted into the air. Three men all dressed in brown emerged from I don’t know where. One man quickly extinguished the fire with shovels of dirt. Another man held me tight in his arms. The third man started questioning me. I was so frightened that all I did was wail at the top of my lungs. They took me to Grandfather who quickly sent a man to retrieve my mother who came running as fast as she could. When she saw me she commanded me to be quiet. I stopped wailing at once. She was very stern and angry. ‘Didn’t I know we were close to war? That what I did was dangerous?’ I didn’t dare look at her or raise my head. The men thought I was signaling some one in Norway or Denmark with my fire. They even thought for a moment we were spies. Fortunately the papers were of little importance.”

Matters went from all that to worse when August had a stroke. And it was Christmas time.

“He recovered nicely so we planned something joyous for him to remember.” said Greta. It seemed this would be their last Christmas together, so Gunhild pulled out all the stops in preparing a Christmas feast for the ages.

“In spite of all the shortages Mama managed, with her ‘connections,’ to come up with a nice fat goose, a small pig and some fish.”
Gunhild went to work on the goose, plucking the feathers. “Mama was very adept at plucking feathers off of fowl. She had much experience as a girl in Alma’s kitchen. Mama certainly could cook. I was continually amazed at how she could take a little bit of nothing and turn it into a grand feast.”

Also on the menu were chestnuts, lingonberries, and rice pudding with rich cream, milk and cinnamon. The pudding contained a single almond which brought luck to the person receiving that serving. There was also a soft fish soaked in brine called lutefisk. It was served with a white sauce seasoned with white pepper.

The spread for a grand evening and Christmas Eve dinner was set. “No one had mentioned a Christmas tree, so I never asked about one. I was happy to just be allowed to stay up for the festivities that night.”

Those festivities began at Marstrand Lutheran Church. In the early darkness of the wintry evening, all dressed in their warmest best church clothes, they descended the long walk way to the street below. There they found a surprise arranged by August. A horse drawn sleigh. The horse was adorned with ribbons and holly. The reins were decorated with jingle bells, which in fact jingled when the horse trotted.

“The church was light and appeared golden inside from soft candlelight. The candles were placed here and there around the sides of the church and from two Christmas trees placed on each side of the altar. This church was never dark like some churches, but it almost seemed celestial that night from its lightness and the airy feeling it gave. The trees were decorated with gold and white ornaments. There were no strings of lights then. Real candles were used. They had an ethereal glow and sent flickering shadows dancing along the wall like Christmas spirits making merry,” said Greta.

“There was a lot of singing and a very uplifting sermon,” noted Gunhild. Greta thought about all the good food back at the house. “I was getting hungry and looking forward to the ride home in the sleigh.”

“After church we piled into the sleigh again. Grandfather August picked up the reins and clucked to the horse. When we reached the house we found it very strange to see all the lights burning brightly. Smoke rose from the chimney. I stared in disbelief. Before church there were only two lights on and no fire. After the long walk up to the house the sight upon peeking in the door was of the tallest fattest Christmas tree I had ever seen. It was decorated with ornaments, but mostly with candy. Some were made of marzipan and others with frosting sugar which were shapes and scenes of the Nativity. But most wonderful were the candles! From top to bottom the entire tree was covered with hundreds of small candles in metal holders clipped on.”

Greta pondered how this dramatic transformation was possible. “We were all at church. No one left. And there were dozens and dozens of presents under the tree for everyone. For me there was only one explanation. Santa Claus!

“All of us were together this evening. Mama, Grandfather August, Gunnar and his parents, me, and our closest and most beloved friends and neighbors who were able to be with us. Who knew what the next year would bring. For the time being all thoughts of the impending war were forgotten.”

Next–Blitzkrieg, Blockade, and Escape.

Dan Soderberg Photography

Marstrand 8, Visit to Stockholm

“Stockholm was a very cosmopolitan city even in those days. Mama was eager for me to see as much as we could,” as Greta recalled.

Stockholms slott (Parliament. The lion stands before the Royal Palace), 1690-1704
“We visited the place where the king ‘lived.’ All I remember is a very huge building with lots of massive carved furniture and lots of red velvet.”

“We saw the opera house which was also immense and we admired the architecture which was very old.” Opera House (Operan, 1887) in this photo behind/through the Viking boat mast.

Nationalmuseum (National Museum), 1846

“The museum was very interesting to me as I loved to hear stories about Vikings. This museum held many artifacts from that time.”

The old street car today delivers limited service. Linking central hotel and shopping areas with DjurgÃ¥rden where many of Stockholm’s important museums and cultural sites are located. Tunnelbanan, the Stockholm subway, moves people nowadays. The first installment of Tunnelbanan was in place during Gunhild and Greta’s visit. The main period of construction, however, began in 1944.
“There were little street cars taking people here and there around town. We rode on them many times. There were also horse drawn carts, too.”

Above is a relief map/sculpture is of Stockholm Harbor about the time Gunhild and Greta were there. Bottom photo is a view toward that area depicted above. Nordiska Museet (Nordic Museum), 1889. left, rear. Vasamuseet (Vasa Museum), 1987, Center/Front (Behind red “light house” boat).

“We visited several parks, also, and I fed the pigeons.”

“The parks had numerous beautiful trees. We selected one particularly tall and shady one under which we sat and ate our lunch.”

Stockholm Market

“Most of the time we stayed at Aunt Margit’s with her husband, my uncle, and my cousins. Their apartment was outside the city. They ran a store which sold candy, fruit, flowers and vegetables.

“We took trips to the suburbs and visited other cousins of Mama’s. I remember visiting a farm with lots of animals; sheep, cows pigs and chickens. I was allowed to gather the eggs and feed the chickens. There was one particularly nasty rooster which would fly at me and scratch my legs until I finally climbed up on a woodpile to escape. I would cry in terror until I was rescued.”

Guessing this may be Margit in Stockholm. The city boasts of as many civic statues as the U.S. has of Starbucks.

Art is a valued aspect of the city plan.

A sight Gunhild and Greta would have seen in Stockholm. These old phone booths. If one examines the Marstrand post cards carefully, this style of phone booth was in Marstrand as well.

By September of 1939 Swedes all took to bicycles when gasoline was rationed. Today large numbers of all Scandinavians utilize bicycles for routine travel.

In Marstrand one day Gunhild recognized a visitor. King Gustav V’s brother Eugene. He was an artist. This was his home in Stockholm. Today it is open to the public as a fine art museum.

The lion statue guards Parliament Building on the left. The spire is Riddarholmen Church, Stockholm’s only remaining medieval building from 1280.

Gunhild and Greta were in Stockholm for a month. But their path was less rosy after an outbreak of scarlet fever.

“Mama was anxious to leave Stockholm, but when we returned to Marstrand, it was already hit with 8 cases.”

Sunset in Stockholm

Next: Midsommer to Christmas


Marstrand, Part 7; Adventures On Ice.

In the midst of Winter that early part of 1939, Gunhild had more than fulfilled her Swedish family duty. She was homesick and ready to plan their return home. She wrote to Keith and asked for fare money. As soon as feasible.

She also described to Keith some of Marstrand’s famous boat races. Norway’s Crown Prince Olav participated in one.

That year Gunhild and Greta also went boat racing.
“We didn’t win, but it was very exciting. When the race was over, everyone was all wet from the stormy conditions. The ocean was so rough and wild it was hard to dock. I received a severe injury to my leg trying to disembark,” Said Greta.

Greta’s fifth birthday was in February. Gunhild threw a little party attended by Greta’s friends. They ate cake and candy along with servings of coffee and tea.

One rainy day in February Gunhild commented they hadn’t seen the sun in months. “When it isn’t raining, it is cloudy and gray.”

It seemed no matter if it was winter or not, if the opportunity presented itself for them to go swimming, they did.

Greta recalled, “In February, there were ice floes breaking up in the ocean. I tried sitting on those chunks of ice. Talk about a frozen behind!!! Our bodies became numb from the cold, and quite blue, I might add. But the feel of our blood surging through our vessels was exhilarating. One really felt alive.”

“When it wasn’t raining, we went for long walks.”

If one simply walks, it takes about an hour to go around the island. But with so many interesting rock formations, delicate plants or flowers, and vantage points to enjoy, it takes longer.

“It was still very cold but the air was clear and crisp. I don’t think I have ever again found the air so pure and energizing. Marstrand was so beautiful, unspoiled and healthy.”

“I explored the rocks and looked for shells and tiny creatures trapped by the tide among the crevices. It was a whole different world there. I discovered many types of strange creatures. Some were in shells. Others were creepy, crawly, slithery things. Some had strange colors. Others had no color, and were transparent. I was fascinated.”

“It felt so good to breathe the fresh air. Such a smell!!! Tainted with ocean salty smells. There was nothing like being at the North Sea.”

Marstrand Wildlife

“After days of glorious clear weather it again stormed with the wind crackling around the house. It moaned like someone in great pain.

“When we went out in the snow or very cold weather, we ate a thick slice of dark bread spread with bacon drippings saved in a jar by the stove. As disgusting as it sounds, it was quite delicious. It gave us a lot of calories to burn and kept us warm as we ran around in the snow. Another trick I learned when I went out in the cold was to put hot boiled potatoes in my pockets to keep my hands and body warm. Then later when they were cool I ate them when I was hungry.

“At Mama’s friend’s house we made a toffee with nuts . When it was boiling hot we dropped dabs of it in the snow from a wooden spoon. Within seconds the dabs were hard and cool. We either ate it or put it in a dish for later. But was most wonderful when still warm.

“When it was frozen all around the island, there were skating parties. Groups skated around the island and ended up at someone’s house for hot coffee and glögg.”

Glögg, meaning “to burn,” “to mull,” or “glow,” is a Scandinavian beverage typically associated with winter, but especially the Christmas season. It is made with combination of red wine and akvavit (a beverage distilled from potato or grain. It may be flavored with caraway seeds, anise, dill, or coriander). Added to the mix are raisins, slivered almonds, diced bits of dried or candied fruit. Recipes vary. But the festive part comes when everyone gathers around to watch the lighting of the glögg. Sugar cubes in a cone strainer are dipped into the mixture then lifted back up. A lighted match to the alcohol-drenched sugar gently ignites a flame. Thus the burn, the mull, the glow or “glögg.” The glowing sugar is mixed into the kettle of combined ingredients, and the glögg is ready to serve.

“It warmed you to your toes,” said Greta.

“These parties were a Swedish feast. Smorgasbord, they called it. Fruit soups, roast pig, goose, fish, meatballs and

Boats around the island were locked in place when the ocean froze. Owners could walk to their boat, cut a hole in the ice, and extract it for storing elsewhere. The sight of the hole and the fresh skin of ice intrigued Greta. But this was forbidden territory. Gunhild specifically instructed Greta not to play there. But five or six playmates didn’t have this restriction. When she told them she couldn’t go, they goaded her along by calling her names. “Scaredy Cat,” “Chicken,” “Mama’s Girl.” She didn’t stand for that and ventured out.

Before long Greta encountered the sight of her fascination. A freshly cut boat hole. It drew her over to inspect its icy glaze. Her application of just one booted foot to the surface was enough to plunge her into the wintry ocean. Her once warm clothes and mittens turned instantly cold and heavy. Fortunately her fingers found the edge of the thick ice.

“I was too shocked to panic. I didn’t even cry out. When the children realized I was missing, they came back to find me. There I was peering up at them. My only thought then was how angry Mama would be. The oldest boy, maybe 10 or 12 years old, shook his head and reached into the water and pulled me out. I stood on the ice shivering cold and motionless. ‘I better walk you home,’ said the boy.”

When Gunhild appeared at the door and saw Greta standing there in her stiff frozen snowsuit, the only words uttered in reference to the miss hap were the boy’s. ‘She fell into the water.’

“Mama didn’t scream. Mama didn’t yell. Mama didn’t spank me. Not a word was ever discussed with me concerning the incident.” Instead Greta received the warm blanket treatment. A brisk massage for her cold limbs. Hot tea. Then off to bed warmed up with hot water bottles.

There was a unique day in March every year for the Palm family. Gunhild and August shared the same birthday, March 12. Particularly noteworthy of that year, August was 70. Gunhild planned a special party. A farmer came to the house and took her order for a select leg of veal.

Birthday party for Gunhild and August. Greta, Gunhild and August left side. Greta’s best friend Gunnar and his parents, right side. After the feast other guests arrived for cake and coffee.

In March 1939 Germany annexed the remainder of Czechoslovakia. Suddenly all eyes were on Poland. Gunhild wrote that Hitler considered banning tobacco and coffee in Sweden. “What would the Swedish people do without their coffee?” It was just a reminder that Hitler hadn’t and wouldn’t forget about Sweden.
The heightened political tensions led to a call for to all foreigners in Sweden to fill out forms and be counted. Gunhild and Greta complied.

Gunhild seemed to become a bit restless with the quiet life in Marstrand. “It is very quiet here so I think I long for noisy places. I haven’t been in a car since July 11.” She anticipated a visit to Stockholm since Margit’s visit to Marstrand in December. When the funds finally arrived from California, they were off to Stockholm.

Next, Stockholm!