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Meet the Turnblads

Learn / Meet the Turnblads

You’ve heard about the Turnblad Mansion, but who were the Turnblads?

Perhaps you could say the Turnblads were a private family. They didn’t leave behind any memoirs or many original documents from their lives.

Swan and Christina Turnblad both immigrated to the United States from Sweden as children, in 1868 and 1876 respectively. During this period, nearly 54,000 Swedes left Sweden, and many of them settled in the Upper Midwest of the United States. The two married in 1883 and their only child Lillian was born in 1884 – a first generation American.

Swan emerged from modest means to become owner of the Svenska Amerikanska Posten, the largest Swedish-language newspaper in the U.S. Eventually, the family commissioned local architects to custom design the magnificent Turnblad Mansion as their residence on Park Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The building was to include a carriage house for Swan to park his Waverly Electric car.

The Turnblad Family

The Turnblad Family

Swan, Christina and Lillian Turnblad lived for only a short while in their Mansion before donating it to the organization that would become the American Swedish Institute.

It has been said that in 1929, upon touring the Salon after the Mansion was donated, Lillian remarked: “This is the second time I walked through this door since the building was built.”^

It is thought that the family’s hobbies, and love for travel and art, helped inform many of the home’s unique designs and hand-crafted features. Lillian even left a firsthand mark of her own in the form of flowers painted on the walls of what was thought to be her bedroom on the Mansion’s third floor. These were only recently discovered by ASI staff.

Not much is known about the 20 years the family owned the Mansion, and it is believed their apartment above the Svenska Amerikanska Posten in downtown Minneapolis remained their main residence.

Christina died in 1929 and Swan in 1933. Following her father’s death, Lillian only remained involved with the American Swedish Institute for a few years before her own death in 1943. All three graves can be found in the Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis, MN.

While some mystery remains, you can learn more about the Turnblad family, their Mansion and their indelible mark on Swedish-American history by visiting the American Swedish Institute.

^Oral History given by Emil Berglund, Turnblad Family Records, M-0001, American Swedish Institute.