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The Swedes

January 3, 1997 |

Dear Mr. Keillor:

The other day, out driving the countryside between Longmont and Boulder, Colorado, I happened upon an old Lutheran church on the side of the road. Apparently, it was the place of worship for a community called Ryysby, founded in 1868. As I walked around the burial yard, I noticed all the headstones were the same. Then I walked over to the church and looked in the window. Inside was a plain white interior with white walls and white seating amid a simple biblical quotation in Swedish on the wall. Seeing this, I looked back out the rear window of the church at the graves behind, and, taking it all it in, came to this question: is it possible all these people died of boredom?
Your friend,
Bronson H.

Dear Bronson,

The Swedes, like other good Scandinavians, would not go in for fancy tombstones, thinking it a waste of money and a form of tasteless ostentation. The great robber barons of New York, however, designed fabulous Egyptian and Grecian tombs for themselves, each one bigger than the next, surrounded by granite figures of weeping maidens and sorrowing angels, their hearts breaking at the thought that Jay Gould had shuffled off his mortal coil. I guess I'd prefer the little cemetery that you saw. Those folks had faith that death was a door they would walk through and find something far better. I don't think Jay Gould was so sure of that, so he tried to make himself a monument people would admire. It's in Woodlawn Cemetery in New York and one could wish he had had a little less money to spend on it.

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