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THE COFFIN SHIPS: Death on the Ocean Crossing and One Family’s Story – Presented by Glenn Borreson

April 22, 2017 @ 2:00 pm


Imagine yourself a child boarding a ship in Norway with your family, only to arrive weeks later in an American port city without your mother: she died on the ocean crossing and was buried at sea. What does that mean for you and your family? Will you have a home again? Can America still be “the golden land of opportunity?” This program is about the Norwegian immigrant experience crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a “coffin ship,” and specifically the story of one of Glenn’s ancestor families and their struggle to begin a new life in America.

Glenn’s ancestors came from the Telemark area and eventually settled in Ettrick. They felt life in America would be more promising than what they had in Norway. Torger and Bergit Johnson left with their four children. They left knowing they’d probably never see their friends and relatives again. They joined the other poor people on the voyage in steerage, where living conditions were cramped and hot. Families brought their own food and prepared their own meals. The average trip took 53 days (seven and one half weeks).

Glenn Borreson is a retired Lutheran pastor, ordained in 1971 in North Beaver Creek Lutheran Church, rural Ettrick, Wisconsin. A graduate of Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, and Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota, he has served congregations in Decorah, Iowa, and South Wayne, Elroy, Mauston, and Holmen, Wisconsin. After he retired, he began researching his family history, a move that led to preparing and presenting programs on his Norwegian-American heritage. The Wisconsin Magazine of History published his article on the history of ski jumping in western Wisconsin, and his book on Trempealeau County ski jumping, Look Out Below, came off the press the summer of 2016. He also enjoys woodworking and reads too many mysteries. He and his wife Mary live in Holmen, Wisconsin.



April 22, 2017
2:00 pm


277 W. Main Street
Stoughton, WI 53589 United States
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(608) 873-7567