NEW SWEDEN, Maine — There is no doubt that the Swedish culture is still alive in Maine’s Swedish Colony in Aroostook County.
Signs in the colony are written in both English and Swedish, many families still fly the Swedish flag in their yards, and children learn Swedish songs and dances every spring for the annual MidSommar celebration.
When the colony was established in northern Maine in the 1870s, the Swedish language was predominant. But as families saw the need for their children to become more Americanized, English became the language of choice in most households. Over the years, the language began to die off, and only about 30 residents in the colony still speak Swedish today.
Several years ago, Brenda Nasberg Jepson, a Madawaska Lake resident and filmmaker who owns Crown of Maine Productions, decided she had to do something to preserve what was left of the language before it was lost forever.
That led to the production of “Old Maine Swedish Farms,” a half-hour DVD capturing the history of Maine’s Swedish Colony through the area’s Swedish speakers. It premiered earlier this month at the Caribou Craft Fair. Jepson is the film’s producer-director.
Produced by Crown of Maine, the DVD features six residents of the Maine Swedish Colony recounting their stories of growing up on area farms.
Introduced in English, the interviews are conducted in Swedish by Maine Swedish Colony’s Scandinavian scholar, Dan Olson. Subtitles for the interviews are provided in English, while the numerous dialects spoken by the last of the Swedish speakers are featured on the soundtrack.
Historic photos, provided by storytellers from the farms where they grew up, bring alive the ways of the Maine Swedish farms.
“I am Swedish on both sides, but I didn’t grow up in the Swedish Colony,” Jepson said Saturday. “But the Swedish influence of the first settlers can still be felt here, especially when you hear the language spoken. I really felt it was important to capture on the film the dialects that are spoken by the residents here. Some of these dialects have all but died out in Sweden, so it is nice to get them on film.”
With Jepson running the camera and Olson conducting the interviews, those featured on the film talked about growing up on farms in the area, their traditions, good and bad times, and celebrating their culture in Aroostook County.
“Their stories were amazing,” said Jepson. “Since we began filming, a few of the people we talked to have passed away, so it means a lot to have them recorded forever on DVD.”
One of those subjects was Floyd Jepson, Jepson’s father-in-law, who died in 2008. Brenda Jepson said that from the interview she learned a lot about her father-in-law that she hadn’t known previously. She is also proud of the photography in the film.
“All of the photographs that are shown are unique to the person being interviewed,” she said Saturday. “We didn’t have to show generic photos. The photos are of that person and their family on their old homesteads.”
The film debuted at the Caribou Craft Fair earlier this month, and Jepson said viewers were excited to see it when they got a glimpse of the show while visiting the booth operated by Crown of Maine.
“Some were so engrossed they stood there and watched the entire DVD,” she said. “I am so glad to have been able to do this, and that this will be around for future generations for years to come.”
The DVD may be purchased at www.crownofmaineproductions.com and soon will be available in stores throughout The County.