Throwback Thursday: Anna Viola Olson

Algot Olson was a carpenter.  He moved from Sweden with his family to Montauk in the 1920s, presumably to work for Carl Fisher.  His wife was born Anna Johannsen (Americanized to Johanson).  The Olson family had a strong presence in the community, and were stalwart members of the Montauk Community Church.

This beautifully printed baptismal record of Anna Viola Olson, who went by her middle name of Viola, testifies to her birth on February 3, 1927.  She was baptized exactly two years later, on February 3, 1929.  An elaborately printed piece with text in gold ink, this tiny church publication is decorated with lithographed cherubs holding garlands of roses.   Adding aesthetic value to buildings and objects – even to baptismal programs – is a hallmark of this period in which Carl Fisher spared no expense to elevate the merely “middle ground” to elegant high-end.

The Olson family solidly represents the Scandinavian influx of immigrants into Montauk, although we normally associate the Swedes and Norwegians who came to this area with the fishing industry.  The four Olson children, sons Bertil and Rune, and daughters Kerstin and Viola, appeared often in the East Hampton Star.  Viola loved to perform in musicals and operas, frequently singing the lead.  Her sister Kerstin was the seamstress, getting credit from various costume departments.  Both girls were involved in the Montauk USO Junior Hostesses during World War II.

While still teenagers, the brothers were sent to fight in World War II.  It was a shock when Bertil, a gunner in the Air Force, was shot down over Germany.   On October 28, 1943, his handsome MIA photo appeared on the front page of the Star, directly above a caption bearing the tragic news of his disappearance.  

“Life goes on, I forget just why….” poet Edna St. Vincent Millay trenchantly observed.  With the grim years of the war behind them, Rune, Kerstin, and Viola Olson did go on, and with gusto.  They got married and gave their parents grandchildren.  They became involved with their communities, and pursued hobbies and passions.  In fact, Viola was a terrific bowler.  On March 29, 1973, the Star reported that Viola had saved the day with a high score of 180/453, enabling “a shut-out win over the third-place Four Roses” in the Hampton’s Ladies League bowling teams.   Viola appeared again in 2003, in the September 25th edition, hale and healthy in a high school reunion color photograph that included some of her 1946 East Hampton High School classmates.   Smiling and rosy-cheeked, she was 75 years old, an older version of the cherubs on her baptismal certificate.   “Count the roses, not the thorns,” Canadian philosopher Matshona Dhliwayo has said.  Agreed.

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