A dead man asks spiritists for help

Laugavegur 37

In this new millennium, Laugavegur has become subject to renovations and modernization. Many of the houses are more than a 100 years old and the city plans to tear down some of them and rebuild others. This is not very popular with all Icelanders, as many like to preserve the history and feel the spirit of their ancestors as they walk down the streets. 

To save these homes from being demolished, several houses throughout the city have been saved through the protection laws. Laugavegur 37 is one of these houses. A few houses have been saved by being removed and relocated to the Árbæjar museum.

Laugavegur 37 was the home of Lilja Kristjánsdóttir (1874-1954). It had been her home pretty much ever since she and Árni got married in 1897. The couple had four children together, but only one of them made it into adulthood. Their daughter, Kristjana (1903-1986 ) who is in the picture, was the only survivor and grew up to marry Níels Carlsson (1897-1984). They lived at Laugavegur 37, also. Kristjana was still living at the address until the day she died.


Árni Jónsson, Lilja Kristjánsdóttir and their daughter Kristjana Þ. Árnadóttir. Photo by Pétur Brynjólfsson

Lilja was an avid spiritist and would often hold séances at their house. She was also a member of the Independent Order of Good Templar (I.O.G.T). The Good Templar society appeared to be a popular organization among spiritists. Earlier posts on the poet Einar Kvaran mention his son, Sigurður, who died from Tuberculosis. You can read the blogs that mention him here and here. Even at his young age, he joined the Good Templar and appeared with Lilja in a Good Templar photograph in 1904. He died a year later in 1905.

Lilja is in the middle row to the far left. Sigurður, Einar Kvaran´s oldest son, is the young gentleman in the bottom row. Source

Lilja Kristjánsdóttir had been a widow since 1931 and had only one surviving child who was now an adult. Perhaps the loss of three children was one of the reasons she sought spiritism and the understanding of what goes on in the afterlife.

The medium at the time was Hafsteinn Björnsson, the same medium from previous posts which you can read here, here, here and here. In the earlier blog-post I mentioned his spirit-guide, Finna. There was another man, who later became Hafsteinn's spirit-guide, would constantly appear during séances and ask for his leg. When the sitters asked him who he was, he refused to tell them. He'd answer that his name was Jón Jónsson (John Doe) or Maður Mannson (Man Manson). He couldn't understand why they were so hung up on knowing who he was, it shouldn't matter. After multiple appearances, the sitters were annoyed and tired of him showing up and asking for his leg.

Then in the fall of 1938 during a séance at Lilja's home, a handful of people were invited to join the circle. Among them were her daughter, Kristjana and her husband Níels. The new guests at the meeting was Níels' cousin, Lúðvík Guðmundsson (1889-1968) and his wife, Jórunn Guðmundsdóttir (1890-1949), who were living at Vesturgata 56.

The meeting started as all séances with singing of psalms. Hafsteinn entered a trance state. During their communication with the other side, the spirit-being calling himself Jón Jónsson came through yet again. This time, instead of ranting and raving about his leg, he couldn't stop talking about how fortunate he was to meet Lúðvík. Hafsteinn, the medium, had never met Lúðvík before and had no idea who the man was.

Lúðvík had no idea who this spirit-being was and why he felt so lucky to meet him or what he wanted from him. Lúðvík wanted to know who he was. The spirit refused to tell him, but he ensured Lúðvík that he knew where his leg was, because it was in his house in Sandgerði.


Laugavegur 37. In the back of the building is the guesthouse Luna.


Now Lúðvík demanded to know who this man was in his earthly life, so he could figure out what this was all about. Still, the spirit refused to tell him and kept demanding his leg back. Now both Níels and Lúðvík were tired of playing games and gave him the ultimatum to either tell them who he was or they'd ignore his wishes. The spirit-being became furious and disappeared for quite some time.

The next time the spirit-being came back, he agreed to tell them who he was. He said his name was Runólfur Runólfsson (1828-1879). (In future séances he's often referred to as Runki). He was walking home drunk from Keflavík late one night and was drunk. On the way home he stopped by at  Sveinbjörn Þórðarson (1817-1893) in Sandgerði for some refreshments.

After Runólfur had stopped by at Sveinbjörn's house, he was ready to get back home. The weather was bad, so Sveinbjörn and his family insisted on walking with him. This upset Runólfur and he told them he wasn't going anywhere unless he was going alone. He only lived about 15 minutes away. The family let him be and off he went by himself.

As Runólfur was walking home, he wasn't dressed for the stormy weather and quickly became soaking wet. He went inside Kambinn (a crest) and sat down underneath a cliff called Flankastaða Cliff. This cliff is near non-existent today. Runólfur grabbed his bottle and drank until he fell asleep. While he lay asleep under the cliff, the floods came and flushed him out into the ocean. This was in October 1879, but his body didn't wash up on shore until January 1880. At the time of his death, Runólfur was living with Guðrún Bjarnadóttir and they had two boys and one daughter named Guðrún María and lived at Klappakot (Kólga).

Dogs and ravens were first to find his body and they tore it to shreds. Finally, when his remains were found by people, they were collected and buried in Útskála Cemetery. Unfortunately, they hadn't been able to find his thigh bone, so it was never buried with the rest of his body. Runólfur explained that his femur had been pulled back into the ocean, only to wash up on shore some time later in Sandgerði. Ever since, it had been traveling from place to place, but was now at Lúðvík's house in Sandgerði.

There are a few historical events that can be tied to this story, so bear with me as I take a detour to  Sandgerði located right outside Keflavík.

The man Runólfur stopped for refreshments at, was Sveinbjörn Þórðarson. The house he lived in wasn't just any house. It was the oldest house in Sandgerði and Sveinbjörn built it himself in 1881 out of wood from the shipwrecked Jamestown. Jamestown was a brand new ship. It was scheduled to leave Maine, U.S.A. in November 1880 with lumber to Liverpool, England. The ship had a rocky start from the very beginning when four crew members jumped ship before leaving the harbor. It only went down hill from there. Long story short, they were caught in awful storms and after several weeks, they were rescued by the steamer, Ethiopia. The newly built Jamestown was left behind to drift out into oblivion.

With the Jamestown crew (27 total) safely in Glasgow, Scotland, their ship continued drifting until the evening of June 25, 1881, when it stranded in Hafnir, Iceland. It must have felt like a blessing from the gods to wake up to a ship carrying the highest quality timber at their doorsteps. It had been about a 1000 years since the Vikings practically deforested Iceland, so timber was a very valuable possession.

Before auctioning off the wood, the residents who helped salvage it, split 1/3 of it among themselves. Among the participants was Sveinbjörn Þórðarson. With his share of the timber, he built Sandgerði's first house, Efra-Sandgerði (Upper-Sandgerði). Needless to say, soon after many homes in the area were built from that wood. Today, the Lyon's Club uses the house and they take very good care of it.

The oldest house in Sandgerði, built in 1881. Efri-Sandgerði and the pond Kettlingatjörn (Kitten Pond). Source

Sveinbjörn had two sons, Jón and Einar. Jón was a diligent captain, just like his father. For some reason, Sveinbjörn felt it necessary to keep pushing the boys to go further out into the ocean, even to the point where the waters were known to be quite hazardous. One day after Sveinbjörn had been nagging incessantly in a quite angry manner, Jón had had enough and called on his brother, Einar, and other men to go out to seas. As they had barely set sail, Sveinbjörn stopped the men and told them they were crazy for going out in this weather and made them turn back around.

Another night the weather looked like it was going to be very stormy, so the brothers decided to stay home. In the morning when Sveinbjörn woke up, the weather was just fine. He then noticed his two sons asleep in their beds and was furious. In the years to come, Sveinbjörn looked back on these events with great regret and sadness. He was certain he drove his son to his death. In 1892, Jón drowned and the year after, in 1893, Sveinbjörn died. Einar took over the house and the three boats they owned.

Then it so happened that two human skulls were found on the beach in Sandgerði. Someone decided to collect them and bring them home. Nobody knew who the skulls belonged to, but they assumed they were of drowned sailors. Some suspected one of them was Jón Sveinbjörnsson. Nobody really cared about these skulls or what happened to them, so for the longest time they were kept in a storage area. Eventually people forgot all about them. 

Then all of a sudden, those known to have lucid dreams, started having trouble sleeping and claimed strange things were happening around them. Those who were clairvoyant claimed to be approached by two men complaining about the poor treatment of their skulls. These dead men asked very respectfully if their heads could be put in a peaceful place which overlooked the ocean. In return, they promised that as long as their heads were allowed to look out towards the ocean in peace, they would make sure that no boat would perish or accidents occur in Hamarssund.

The two dead men kept repeating their wish and it came to the point they started visiting people not just in their sleep, but while awake as well. Many ghost stories have been told about the skulls since. The house the skulls were stored in was later the house of Loftur Loftsson, an important figure in Sandgerði's history. Then Loftur sold the house to Lúðvík Guðmundsson, the man at the séance on Laugavegur 37. When Lúðvík purchased the house, it came with a set of human skulls.

I believe the house Lúðvík Guðmundsson owned and where the bones were kept is the half-covered house on the left.

Sailors would often stay at the house and many of them told stories of ghosts. One of the sailors had callously tossed the skulls to the side. The following night, he was met by the two ghosts. They beat him to the point that he woke up with bruises on his face. The sailor ran off and never returned. After this horrifying incident, Lúðvík took the skulls and put them in a glass case facing the ocean. While in town, he struck a conversation with a fellow resident about the skulls. Then man then told him he wondered if there were more bones in the house.

The skulls overlooking the ocean. Source


Lúðvík thought nothing more of the conversation or the potential for other bones being in the house. But now when Runólfur was talking about his thigh bone being in the house, the conversation came back to him.

Lúðvík went back to Sandgerði and started talking to some of the older residents. Some of them remembered a femur roaming around, but knew nothing more about the matter. One of the older men seemed to recall the carpenter who helped build the northern part of the house had put the leg in the wall thinking it would stop it from wandering around.

In 1940, Lúðvík headed over to visit Helgi, a man living in the north-east part of the house. After sharing his story, Helgi told him that he knew of this rumor and  believed it was hidden within the walls in his room. The men decided to tear a hole in the wall and sure enough, the leg was in there. It was a very long femur. This would have been expected since Runólfur was about 6'6" (198 cm) tall.

Lúðvík took the femur and had a fancy coffin built for it. Some time later, the femur was put to rest with the rest of his remains in the cemetery. The femur received a funeral service equal to any other funeral service. The priest gave a sermon and the church choir sang. A lot of people gathered at the funeral, both from Sandgerði and Reykjavík. Among the guests were Níels, his wife Kristjana, Lilja and Gíslína Kvaran (Einar Kvaran's wife). After the funeral service, they went to the priest's house for coffee.

The séance following the service, they were all gathered again at Lilja's house on Laugavegur 37. Runólfur appeared once again, but this time he thanked them for what they had done. He said he had been present at the service and described it in every detail, up to every cake assortment at the Priest's house.



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