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Välkommen to Swedish Day
Geneva festival teaches about history, food and fun
By Mark Foster | Daily Herald Correspondent

Participants dance around the maypole to start the 97th Annual Swedish Day in Geneva Sunday.


John Starks | Staff Photographer

Ray Nilson, a native of Norway who now lives in Des Plaines, plays the accordion at the 97th Annual Swedish Day in Geneva Sunday.


John Starks | Staff Photographer

Three girls wearing traditional Swedish clothing watch as the maypole is raised Sunday during the 97th Annual Swedish Day in Geneva.


John Starks | Staff Photographer

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Published: 6/16/2008 12:11 AM

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About the only time in her life that Marguerite Karl has missed the annual Swedish Day celebration at Geneva's Good Templar Park was when she went to Sweden to see the real thing.

"This is very authentic," the St. Charles woman said of Sunday's festival, which featured dozens of people dressed in traditional Swedish attire dancing around a flower-covered maypole.

Karl was resplendent in a finely woven wool dress of blue and yellow, Sweden's national colors. It was embroidered with daisies and finished with bodice closures and decorative pins made of hammered silver.

Later, Karl led the Swedish American Children's Choir in traditional songs, all part of the Swedish culture on display at the park, which has hosted the celebration since 1925.

Visitors feasted on Swedish meatballs and other Scandinavian fare, marveled at an historic Viking ship and visited the quaint cottages that dot the park.

Also wearing traditional Swedish garb was Haley Hanson, 14, of St. Charles who was crowned the Midsummer Celebration Queen. She's of Swedish heritage and sings in the Swedish American Children's Choir.

Located on Geneva's East Side Drive, the 66-acre park is owned and operated by several area chapters of the Order of Good Templars, a temperance group founded in 1851 in New York and had great influence in Scandinavian countries.

The annual "Midsommer" celebration in Chicago had become so successful that in 1924, several Good Templar lodges banded together to buy the land in Geneva to have a permanent home for their festival.

By the 1930s, members of the Good Templars were building "stugas," Swedish for cabins or cottages, on the sprawling, wooded property.

At Sunday's festival, visitors were able to tour inside several of the 51 tiny cottages, each privately owned by individual members of the Good Templars, who take a vow of abstinence from alcohol.

As usual, the Viking ship, Raven, was a major attraction as visitors admired the 76-foot-long ship's graceful lines and unique history. It sailed across the Atlantic Ocean 115 years ago to assert that it was the Norsemen who had arrived first in America, centuries before Christopher Columbus.

After a trip through the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes, the Raven arrived at Chicago's Lake Michigan shore July 12, 1893, when the World's Fair was under way.

The ship remained in Chicago before finding a home at Good Templar Park about a dozen years ago.

This year, visitors to the festival could see that efforts are being made to protect the wooden ship and learned about restoration plans. After the ship appeared on last year's list of the 10 Most Endangered Places in Illinois, American Express awarded a $52,000 grant to repair and preserve the ship's wooden timbers.

"The main thing is that there are a lot of local groups involved and working together," said Roy Roe, of West Chicago, a member of the Good Templars.

The giant tent that has afforded the ship minimal protection has been repaired, improved and extended. Soon, work will be done to better stabilize the vessel, which sits on a cradle of steel girders.