Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands). Of all the Westman Islands, Heimaey is the only one inhabited by humans.
Where there are people, there will be a desire for learning. In 1860, the official Heimaey population was 499 of which 30% were illiterate. This was concerning for a nation filled with poets, authors and playwrights.
In June 1862 Heimaey received its very first library. They called it Lestrarfélag Vestmannaeyja (Westman Island's Reading Association). It's founders were Bjarni Einar Magnússon the father of Dr. Guðmundur Scheving, the Althingman Rev. Brynjólfur Jónsson and the knight of the Order of Dannebrog Johan P.T. Bryde.
It was decided to have the library in Bjarni's house, Landlyst on Strandveg 43b. This was a great start for the island's educational system. By 1880 Heimaey had 557 residents and in 1884 only 12% were illiterate.
Possibly the oldest photo in existence of the house Landlyst on Strandveg 43b. The house was built in 1848 and stayed at this location until the year 1992 when it was torn town and fell under protection laws.
Fast forward to 1918 when Westman Islands were granted market place rights. The library now became a city library. The poor conditions of the library building had resulted in mildew-covered books and almost destroying the entire collection.
Professor and author Hallgrímur Jónasson was concerned about the condition and the future of their library, so in 1924 he prepared for its resurrection. He began by cleaning the books and creating proper storage for them. He worked hard all that summer and finally by October, 1924 it was ready for reopening.
As the main librarian, Hallgrímur took very good care of the library. He was always looking for ways to make it a better and improved library. Thanks to his hard work, the library received financial support and today it has grown into a large and much improved library with its own Facebook page here.
In addition to his library duties, Hallgrímur was also teacher at the elementary school and at the junior high school. When he moved to Reykjavík in 1931, he became a teacher at the Iceland College of Education and worked as an editor for several newspapers.
In 1992 when Landlyst fell under the protection laws, it was moved to Skansinn were it still stands today in its original image.
For several years, Hallgrímur served as the chairman for Ferðafélag Íslands (Iceland Touring Association).He was quite fascinated with traveling and wrote books, articles and poems about the topic.
In 1985, Hallgrímur added his stories to an audio collection where the oral history of the Icelandic people is being collected. Several of the stories talk about strange occurrences throughout his life. These recordings can be found here. The stories I will be sharing in this blog were not recorded in this collection.
Hallgrímur had questioned and tested Guðrún on multiple occasions. He was finally convinced that she was a true medium and decided to publicly share his experiences with her and Friðrik. He was careful in the way he expressed himself, making sure to keep it matter-of-factly just like he observed it. If there was any room for doubt, he made sure the reader was aware of it, allowing anyone who so desired the opportunity to poke holes without damaging his statements.
Hallgrímur Jónasson (1894-1991) was married to Elísabet Valgerður Ingvarsdóttir (1898-1976).
Dr. Kolka was not pleased with Hallgrímur. In fact, he found his views on the matter pathetic. He openly complained that patients were being taken from him. This greatly affected his pay check. He also stressed the dangers of seeking mediumistic healing rather than medicinal help from a doctor. Although several people claimed to have been healed by Guðrún and Friðrik, Dr. Kolka rejected these claims and was convinced it was nonsense. Unfortunately, he didn't take the opportunity to visit with these people to see how they were doing or to hear their stories.
Guðrún wasn't trying to steal Dr. Kolka's patients from him. In fact, she never offered her help to anyone. It was always the patients who approached her asking for help. Friðrik refused to help those who were being seen by a physician as he found it impossible to help them. Therefore, those who sought Guðrún's help did not seek Dr. Kolka's help.
On Wednesday, April 22nd, 1925, a public meeting was held to discuss the matters of otherworldly healings. Dr. Páll Kolka got up on the podium. He was deeply troubled with the whole matter and showed great concern that people were seeking medical help by way of superstition. To think that dead people could heal them was absurd. This was nothing more than a superstition from ancient times and shouldn't be trusted. These miracle stories that were going around were not real.
Hallgrímur and Elísabet with presumably their two children.
The following Sunday, a follow-up meeting was held with a focus on those who believed in the mediumistic healings. Hallgrímur was in charge of planning this meeting. This time, the supporters of mediumistic healings would get their chance to speak up.
Hallgrímur was the first one to speak. On the Wednesday meeting, Dr. Kolka had claimed the miracle stories were all fake. Well, Hallgrímur disagreed. He seen Guðrún performing the healing practices and felt certain they were quite real. He had watched her fall into a trance. Sometimes the patients would be completely healed and other times the patients would only be relieved of some of the symptoms. There were even times where Friðrik would not be able to help at all. and healed the sick or relieved some of their sufferings.
He pulled out a paper and read out loud four written testimonies of witnesses who had been present at her healings. With that Hallgrímur ended his speech and Sheriff Kristján Linnet took over. He was known to mingle in the spiritist circle and was well familiar with otherworldly phenomenon.
As the last speaker of evening, Dr. Kolka got the final word. He asked those who believed in these healings if they were willing to take responsibility for not seeking the help of a physician when a person was seriously ill.
Páll Valdimar Guðmundsson Kolka (1895-1971). He was a physician in Westman Islands from 1920-1934.
Dr. Kolka's disapproval of Hallgrímur didn't fade after this. In fact, On August 27th, 1925, he sat down and wrote a letter that was published Reykjavik's newspaper, Morgunblaðið. The letter was clearly written in anger and frustration towards Hallgrímur. The doctor accused him of mixing faith with healing. Dr. Kolka would never dream of mixing religion with medicine like that. In an indirect way he refereed to Hallgrímur as a crazy person who had something wrong with his brain.
In order to explain what was really going on, Dr. Kolka used the world projection. It was in fact not actual healing taking place, like Hallgrímur seemed to insinuate, but more a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. He diagnosed the mediumistic healing-phenomenon as hysteria. The fact that Hallgrímur had been publishing the insignificant stories of the patients who sought help from Guðrún was irresponsible.
In reaction to the stories that Hallgrímur wrote, Dr. Kolka stated that if these people were truly healed, then there would also be a medical or scientific explanation to it.
As far as I know, Hallgrímur never sought help from Guðrún or Friðrik for himself. When he first heard about her, he was skeptic, then he became a witness and eventually a believer.
In 1929 while Hallgrímur was living at Kirkjuvegur 86, a couple of foreign visitors came to stay with the town's Sheriff Krisján Linnet for a couple of days. The visitors were Florizel v. Reuter (1890-1985) and his mom Grace Reuter.
Florizel von Reuter (1890-1985) was a child prodigy. Very early on he became a profound violin player, a composer and violin teacher. In addition, he was also known for his psychical and mediumistic abilities. He had his first big concert when he was 10 years old in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. In the 1920s Grace Reuter began performing automatic writing, which started of Florizel´s involvement with spiritism. Stereoscopic.Co|
Kristján lived at Tindastóll on Sólhlíð 17. The purpose of their trip to the small island was to hold a concert and also talk about spiritual matters. Both Florizel and Grace were mediums. Einar H. Kvaran (see blog here, here, here and here) kept them company and they all stayed with Kristján.
The Reuters second evening in Westman Islands, they told Kristján to invite some friends over for a seance. He invited Hallgrímur. Present at the séance were Kristján, Jóhanna, Einar H. Kvaran and Hallgrímur. It was in the middle of the day and bright outside. The six of them sat down at a small table in a private office.
They began the séance by placing their fingers on the table. Suddenly they heard loud raps or crackling sounds in the table. It didn't sound anything like as if something was banging on the table, but sounded like it was coming from inside the wood in the table. It reminded Kristján of a sound a fire makes, but in reality wasn't like that either or any other sound he had heard before.
The house on the left with the flag. It was built in 1926 and was used as the Sheriff's offices and on the bottom floor was where Kristján lived with his family.
Kristján wanted to make sure that none of them were making the sound and suggested they remove their hands from the table. They all let go of the table, but there it was again, the same crackling sound. Kristján wasn't quite convinced yet and suggested they all moved far away from the table. So they did. It was now evident that no one was touching the table. The crackling sound was still there, but not as loud. Kristján, in Icelandic, asked the otherworldly contact to reveal his name by using the crackling sound whenever he said the letters in his name. The crackling stopped.
Then Kristján began citing the alphabet very slowly. When he got to the letter P, they heard that same crackling sound as if it was coming from inside the wood of the table. Kristján started citing the alphabet again to get the next letter. Eventually they had the name of the otherworldly contact. Kristján knew this individual. He hadn't heard from him since a séance with Indriði Indriðason.
Júlíus Kristján Linnet (1881-1958) and his wife Jóhanna Eyjólfa Ólafía Seymore Júlíusdóttir (1890-1968). Together they had six children. Jóhanna had a daughter from a previous marriage. Children from left: Hans Ragnar, Henrik Adolf, Margrét Mjallhvít (from previous marriage), Anna Kristín, Elísabet Lilja, Stefán Karl and Bjarni Eggert Eyjólfur. Photo is taken ca. 1939.
Grace Reuter told Hallgrímur that his father (who passed away in 1906) was trying to communicate and wanted to prove to him that it was really him. He was going to give him two proofs. The only person who could confirm what he was about to hear, was his mother, Þórey Magnúsdóttir. At the time, she was living with her daughter and husband in Ísafjörður.
The first proof of his father's otherworldly existence was that he had gone by two names. His other name was Jósep. He never used that name and no one but Þórey knew about it. The second thing was that he was going to show the medium something. Then the medium started describing in his own words what Hallgrímur's father was showing him.
Florizel saw his father as a young man and had gotten himself on top of a wild animal that he was wrestling with on the field. Finally the animal was able to throw him off. He fell face down into gravel and broke his nose. His broken nose was crooked and leaning more towards one cheek. It straightened with time and before long it was very difficult to even notice that anything had happened to it.
Later, Hallgrímur asked his mother about these two things. She confirmed them both. She told him that his father had never liked the name Jósep and therefore never told anyone. The wild animal was a fiery wild colt that his father had just started taming. The colt managed to throw him off and he landed on moss covered gravel and broke his nose. There was no doctor in the area so they tried their best to straighten the crooked nose, which they managed to do quite well. This whole ordeal was considered uneventful and never really mentioned again.
The Reuter's had never been to Iceland before and after hearing his mother's confirmation, Hallgrímur was convinced that it was indeed his father making himself known to him.
Next week we will look at what the stories were that Dr. Kolka was so upset with Hallgrímur published.
Hallgrímur's house on Kirkjuvegur 86 as it |
looked in 2007. Daniel Steingrímsson