Washington D.C.

The construction of Washington D.C. began in 1791 and as befits the capital of the United States of America, it is a city of stately avenues, squares and public monuments. The greatest monument of them all is perhaps the U.S. Capitol, that was completed in 1865. The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library and the Smithsonian Institution has more than 70 million catalogued items in a dozen separate museums. Every president except for George Washington has lived in the White House. According to census there are only 3,013 inhabitants in the capital with a Swedish ancestry.

The portrait of George Washington that his contemporaries felt was the best in “truthfulness and accuracy” was painted in 1794 by Adolf Ulric Wertmller (1715 - 1811), a Swede. He was a relative of Alexander Roslin, who was the greatest portrait painter of his time, and a student of the sculptor and draftsman Johan Tobias Sergel. The original portrait of Washington hangs in the Metropolitan in New York, but you can see a replica in the White House. Wertmller initially stayed in the U.S. for two years. He later returned to get married and buy a farm in the Delaware Valley on Naaman’s Creek in what had once been the New Sweden colony. The artist’s breakthrough had come when the Swedish ambassador in Paris had bought his Ariadne in Naxos, that can now be seen at the National Gallery in Stock-holm together with his Dana and the Golden Rain that was donated to the Swedish museum by its American owner because the nudity in it was considered to be pornographic and it was consequently rejected by American museums. The Swedish ambassador who had bought Wertmller’s painting was Gustaf Philip Creutz who together with Benjamin Franklin had signed the historic treaty of friendship and commerce between Sweden and the United States of America in 1783. It is interesting to note that the two countries had about the same population of three million at the time, although the United States only included its white citizens in its population figures.

The Locals
“It’s more open here than in New York,” says Lisa Nilsson who works with trade at the Swe-dish Embassy in Washington after a few years in New York. Lisa (right) is a young economist mentored in economist Barbro Ehnbom’s BBB (Barbro’s Best and Brightest) furthering outstanding young women.

Although he is number 3 in ranking in the U.S. after the President and the Vice President, Chief Justice William Rehnquist has been able to enroll in art classes at the local high school and browse in the video store without anybody recognizing him. He visited his stergtland roots when he was the Swedish American of the Year in 1993. Rehnquist’s predecessor Chief Justice Earl Warren also had a Swedish ancestry and Chief Justice Warren Burger had a Swedish connection through his wife, whose maiden name was Stromberg.

There are plenty of other Swedish Americans who have served in the capital like Mary Anderson (1872-1964) who was born in a small farm near Lidkping and for 25 years was the head of the Women’s Bureau in the Department of Labor.

The most powerful Swedish lobbyist in the capital is Peder Bonde from the Wallenberg’s Investor. The count fell in love with the head of the Swedish American Historical Museum in Philadelphia when he led the corporate side of the New Sweden 350 Year Jubilee in 1994 and now makes Washington D.C. home for his new family.

House of Sweden
“The transparency of the building will reflect Sweden’s desire for openness and dialogue in the most important capital in the world,” said Ambassador Jan Eliasson at the groundbreaking for the new embassy in April last year. The modernistic glass box, with private residences on the two top floors, will be inaugurated in June 2006 and will provide the embassy with a conference center with exhibition areas and an auditorium. You can follow the progress in the construction at www.houseofswedendc. com. Designed by Wingardh Architects of Sweden, the Embassy will become an in-stant landmark, attractively situated on the banks of the Potomac River just north of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and next to the Washington Harbour. Part of a development of Lano Armado Harbourside, the building “is a glass construction, which is encompassed by an intricate belt of wood character. The combination of an exterior cladding of screened glass with a layer of wood veneer on glass sheets behind give the building a modern, Scandinavian touch,” say the architects Gert Wingrdh and Tomas Hansen.

By the time the new Embassy is inaugurated Jan Eliasson will no longer be the Ambassador. The career diplomat who was appointed as Sweden’s representative at the United Nations in 1988 and later served as Deputy Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs to the UN and Deputy Under-Secretary for Asian and African Affairs, will lead the UN’s 60th General Assembly. The new Ambassador is rumored to be Gunnar Lund with a past as Assistant Minister of Finance.

At the turn of the last century, the Smithsonian Institution mounted the greatest Viking exhibition ever with special bearing on the Vikings’ presence in North America. Between 1948 and 1953, the Museum also exhibited the controversial Kensington Stone claiming that the Vikings got as far as Minnesota. At the National Museum of American History there are often Swedish-American exhibits and at the National Air and Space Museum you can actually see Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, the first aircraft flown solo across the Atlantic. The National Museum of Women in the Arts has recently hosted an exhibition about Hot Nordic Female Designers with many fine Swedish examples like Vivianna Torun Blow-Hbe’s bangle watch.

At the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg is prominently honoured in the exhibit on those who rescued Jews during World War II. The street where the museum is located is also named after this great Swedish hero.

With an embassy (501 M Street, N.W., Suite 900, 202-467 2600, www.swedenabroad.com), Ikea store ( 2901 Potomac Mills Circle, Woodbridge, 703-494-4532), a Swedish once-a-week school (www. theswedishschool.org, 703-938-3549) and many Swedish-related organizations, Swedes have an easy time being Swedish in Washington D.C. The Swedish-American Cultural Union (202-338-9246) organizes lunch events with prominent guests to keep members in touch with Swedish current events. The local chapter of the American Scandinavian Foundation (703-734-0319) does the same for Nordic issues. The Vasa Lodge Drott (301-215-7375) has welcomed local Swedes since 1910 while the Swedish-speaking women’s organization SWEA (703-716-8448) has had a phenomenal growth since it set up a chapter here in 1981.

Every once in a while there is a picture of a beaming Swedish prime minister visiting the President of the United States in the White House. There were, however, no big smiles when Olof Palme visited the US in 1970 soon after becoming Sweden’s Prime Minister. President Nixon was upset about Palme’s criticism about the Vietnam War and wrote “let us completely ignore the visit” in the margin of Henry Kissinger’s memo regarding it. Expressen’s former US correspondent, Staffan Thorsell, who has written the recently published book Sverige i Vita Huset, notes that 22 seconds, of a conversation at the Oval Office about a speech Palme made about the war a year later, have been deleted from the tape recording. The deletion was attributed to “national security” but in light of the fact that Nixon called Palme “that Swedish asshole” the 22 seconds could also be full of profanities.

Just months before Palme made his most critical speech about the Vietnam War, Nixon, Kissinger and George Bush Senior together with William Rogers who was the Secretary of State, had been discussing a hijacking of a plane that had taken place in Sweden when the President suddenly exclaimed “I wish they had taken the prime minister!” On the tape, only one of the assembled laughs at this joke and that is George Bush.
Apart from this there are only 37 references to Sweden in the 14 900 conversations recorded during the period Richard Nixon taped all the goings-on in the Oval Office for posterity.

The Augustana Synod bought the impressive church at the corner of New Hampshire Avenue and U Street NW from the Episcopelians in 1939. Right now the Swedish Lutheran Church is being renovated at a cost of $1.5 million (donations are welcome to Augustana Lutheran Church, 2100 New Hampshire Ave N.W., Washington D.C. 20009-6507) so it is not as accessible as usual. Once a month Pastor Jan Kesker from the Church of Sweden in New York leads the sermon in Swedish and this is always followed by coffee with a Swedish touch in the basement (703-847-0940). There is no longer any julotta, but the St Lucia festival has become a large event that has sometimes featured a black Lucia. The dynamic pastor Clarence Nelson who led the Augustana parish from 1946 made this the first non-Roman Catholic Church in D.C. to accept black worshippers.

Over at Sixteenth Street you can visit the Gothic-style “Swedenborgian” Church of the Holy City and the Swedenborg Information Center where you can find out everything about the world-famous Swedish scientist, scholar, inventor and prophet Emanuel Swedenborg who never managed to get any followers in his home country.

The Swedish Ame-rican Chamber of Commerce of the United States was founded in 1906 in New York and is the oldest such organization abroad. There are today 19 regional chambers, with a total of about 2 500 members. The umbrella organization SACC-USA (www.sacc-usa. org, 703-836-6560) is located in Washington, D.C. or rather, to be exact, in a cute house in Alexandria, where the Executive Director Gunilla Girardo oversees services to the Chambers as well as the very successful Entrepreneurial Days, like the latest one last summer in Vxj. On April 20-22, it is time for the 9th E -Days in Washington, where the core businesses are in aerospace, bio-tech, defence, e-learning, network security, new media, satellite communications, telecommunications and wireless. There are, furthermore, 127 R&D firms and 168 embassies. Apart from its seminars and networking, SACC-USA has become very successful with its Business Match-making Service where it pre-schedules some 450 business meetings, at no extra cost, to enable businesses to find partners, legal advice, consultants, agents and distributors in Sweden or the U.S.

Visitors to the Rotunda in the Capitol building are always taken by surprise when they come upon a life-size bronze sculpture of the “first president of the United States”. This is because the sculpture does not depict George Washington but the Swedish descendant John Hanson. The United States declared its independence in 1776 and the new country was formed on March 1, 1781, with the adoption of the Articles of the Confederation. John Hanson was chosen unanimously as the first “President of the United States in Congress Assembled”. One of the voting congressmen was George Washington himself who later wrote “I congratulate Your Excellency on your appointment to fill the most important seat in the United States.” Washington’s own turn was to come eight years later, in 1789, with the new constitution. To this day there are many who wonder why Hanson’s role has been so diminished by history.

John Hanson (1721-1783) was born on the Mulberry Grove Farm in Maryland, across the Potomac River from Mount Vernon. The tobacco and maize farm with some hundred black slaves had been established by Hanson’s grandfather, with the same name, who had arrived to the New Sweden colony at the age of 13 and moved to Maryland when he was 23. His father had, according to family history, fallen at the battle of Ltzen along with Sweden’s hero king Gustavus Adolphus, but the family's Swedish ancestry has never been proved.

As a youngster, John Hanson studied the classics and then, like the sons of many other well-to-do colonial families, got his education in England. He was elected to the Provincial Legislature of Maryland in 1775 and two years later he became a member of Congress where he distinguished himself as a brilliant administrator. As the first president, Hanson ordered all foreign troops and all foreign flags off American soil. Within a year, he had established the first Treasury Department, the first Secretary of War, the first Foreign Affairs Depart-ment, a post office, a national bank and, above all, managed to calm down the unpaid troops and hold the country together. He established the Great Seal of the United States, which all presidents have since used, and he proclaimed Thanksgiving Day that we have celebrated ever since. Quite a legacy for an “unknown” president. There is a bust of John Hanson at the Gloria Dei in Philadelphia and a monument at his birthplace. The U.S. 50 highway from Washington to Annapolis has been named the John Hanson Highway and his birthday, April 14, has been declared John Hanson Day in Maryland. The John Hanson Society did succeed in getting a six-cent stamp issued in Hanson’s honour in 1972, but he must be worth a greater honour than that.

A grandson of John Hanson became a US senator and a nephew was among the signatories of the Declaration of Independence. Another signatory was Benjamin Harrison who also had a Swedish ancestry and whose son William Harrison became the ninth president, and whose namesake and grandson was elected the 23rd president of the U.S.

Mamie Eisenhower
The White House staff thought she was strict and demanding, but American women loved her youthful “Mamie style” and even copied her “Mamie bangs”. Mamie Eisenhower (1896-1979) was one of the most popular first ladies the country has had, and her personality and sparkling blue eyes became, just like her husband’s wide smile, the trademark of the Eisenhower administration between 1953 and 1961. Mamie met Lieutenant Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower when her family wintered in San Antonio. After her marriage her pampered life was replaced by that of an army wife and before the Eisenhower family made the big move to the White House they had moved a full 27 times. Although they entertained more than any presidential couple before them, the Eisenhowers were a disappointment to the Washington cocktail circle because the couple so obviously preferred to spend their evenings quietly at home. There were persistent rumours that Mamie was a heavy drinker. This was because she so often stumbled, but as a matter of fact this was because of an imbalance caused by an inner ear problem. After the presidency, the Eisenhowers retired to the “dream house” that Mamie had designed on their farm in Gettysburg. They also visited Sweden, “the country my wife proudly points to as the birthplace of her maternal grandparents”. Carl and Marie Carlson came from the province of Halland. The couple emigrated to America in 1868, probably driven away from Sweden by crop failures. They started what became the Carl Carlson and Sons Milling Co in Boone, Iowa.

When Count Wilhelm Wachtmeister took over as Sweden’s Ambassador to the United States in 1974, relations between the two countries were at a historic low point. It took a lot of diplomatic tact from Ambassador Wachtmeister and a whole lot of networking by his wife, Countess Ulla Wachtmeister, to turn things around. Wilhelm Wachtmeister retired in 1989 not only as one of the most popular and long-serving Swedish ambassadors ever but also as doyen of the Washington diplomatic corps.

For many years afterwards, the Wachtmeisters, who were nicknamed “Team Sweden”, stayed on in a townhouse in Washington where Ulla pursued her painting and Wilhelm played tennis with ex-President Bush Senior. The Wachtmeisters have now returned to Sweden and their estate Vans in the south, where Wilhelm grew up.

Ulla’s paintings are a feast for the eyes with their bright joyous colours, shapes and patterns and they have been exhibited all over the world. “Ulla Wachtmeister is a tall, slender, elegant and beautiful Swedish woman with a restrained, polite, and aristocratic bearing. Yet her paintings - bold, outgoing and innocent - are about the other Ulla Wachtmeister, the inner life and personal world of a woman who has lived most of her life in the public’s eye,” writes one critic.

From the January 2005 issue and Swedish Press