Surnames: BJORBACK, FOSLER, GARBER, HAGEMAN, IMIG, VOGT
Landmarks: ENTERING CITY OF SEWARD
WELCOME TO SEWARD SIGN
SEWARD TOWN SQUARE
SEWARD, 4TH OF JULY CITY & STATE FAIR & SEWARD, ALASKA SIGNS
SEWARD CITY HALL
J. ZIMMERER BUILDING (1886)
Thursday, August 9, 2001, late morning
My brother Brian and I proceeded down Highway 34 toward Seward in high spirits, buoyed by our good fortune at having already stumbled upon one very old and enchanting German Lutheran cemetery and church.
Up ahead, the long stretches of cornfields gave way to clusters of clean white buildings with gray sloping roofs, bordering a dark green sea of well-grown trees. "We must be getting close to Seward," I said hopefully. Sure enough, our rental car lifted over a gentle hill and found another small green road sign, bearing the message, "SEWARD 5,641." Boy, I thought, it really IS still a small town.
ENTERING CITY OF SEWARD SIGN
More camera-clicking, more locals passing in pick-ups surely saying to each other in wonder, "Did you see that, Martha? Tourists taking pictures of the Seward sign!" I turned to my right and took another photo of the wide, dry fields leading to Seward:
VIEW TO RIGHT OF CITY OF SEWARD SIGN
The next day, I would learn from my mother's first cousin Eleanor (FOSLER) VOGT that Eleanor's sister LaVerne (FOSLER) GARBER BJORBACK owned land not far from the right of this picture. I also now easily recognize the reassuring top of the Seward County Courthouse barely visible on the horizon to the right of the sign, and also the Seward water tower near it.
Yet another, much larger sign greeted us from the left, festooned with Rotary and Kiwanis Club emblems and such, and proclaiming,
Nebraska's July 4th City!
Home of Concordia University
Christmas Light Display Thanksgiving-Dec. 26th"
WELCOME TO SEWARD SIGN: far shot close-up
Naturally, we ran over to photograph the sign planted next to what we thought was a short, funny-colored cornfield. Later that day an accommodating retired farmer would patiently explain to us cityfolk that it was not corn but milo, "Makes good pig feed, and doesn't need a lot of water in this drought."
We glided into town, and after six short blocks landed at the town square, which I recognized immediately thanks to photos taken by my 3rd cousin Eve Brokaw Adams. I instantly transformed into a kid in a genealogical candy shop, my wide-open eyes greedily taking in the scene: the stately 1905-vintage Seward County Courthouse lording over the center of the square, the charming old buildings surrounding it, the ancient-looking red brickwork that still lined a surprising number of the streets. The sidewalks bustled pleasantly with regular folk (half of whom I was just sure must be my long-lost cousins) going about their business and shopping at an outdoor farmers' market.
On the southwest corner of the Courthouse lawn three signs caught my eye. The first was a Nebraska historical marker proudly proclaiming Seward to be the "4th of July City" and explaining why. "SEWARD COUNTY FAIR AUG. 9TH-12TH," the second one announced. The third and most curious sign was a green highway sign mounted casually on a stoplight post, "SEWARD, ALASKA, 4135 MILES," with an arrow pointing to the northwest.
COURTHOUSE SIGNS: SEWARD, 4TH OF JULY CITY / STATE FAIR / SEWARD, ALASKA
[MANY more PHOTO at bottom of this page!]
Our Seward, it turns out, and the one in Alaska were named after the same great American, Civil War Secretary of State William H. Seward. "On March 30, 1867, Secretary of State William H. Seward signed an agreement with Baron Edouard Stoeckl, the Russian Minister to the United States. The agreement, widely referred to as 'Seward's Folly' (and 'Seward's Icebox') ceded possession of the vast territory of Alaska to the United States for the sum of $7.2 million. Few citizens of the U. S. could fathom what possible use or interest the 586,000 square miles of land would have for their country. In a speech given at Sitka on August 12, 1868, however, Secretary Seward claimed he did not doubt 'that the political society to be constituted here, first as a Territory, and ultimately as a state or many States, will prove a worthy constituency of the Republic.'" [The preceding is from Eric Gislason, "A Brief History of Alaska Statehood (1867-1959)" ]
Meanwhile, finding a place to park in downtown Seward was no problem at all; we parallel-parked half a block from the square. As I scrambled out of the car, I marveled at how right Debra of Bakersfield on our Seward-list had been in her bon-voyage email to me the day before: "Seward is still the small town it was 20 years ago; in fact, they have only added a few new stores on the outskirts of town. You can still go downtown and have lunch when the whistle blows for the townspeople to have their lunch in the local cafe. It's really weird, it kind of makes you feel like you're in another era of time." Yes, it really does, and I love it!
It was almost noon, and our stomachs were growling, so Brian and I were listening for that whistle and wondering which cafe blew it. We started eyeing the Corner Cafe as a likely target. But I was also famished for Seward cousins and for directions to the cemeteries and such, so I prowled the streets like an uncaged mountain lion, looking for a place to buy a map of Seward.
Spotting a combination convenience and gas store, I strode in confidently and asked to buy a map of Seward. "I don't think they make one," the lady said, in a nice way. Taken somewhat aback by this, I regrouped and blurted out, "Well, have you ever heard of anyone named HAGEMAN or IMIG? She replied, "Hageman, no, but Imig, yes, I know of Imigs -- there are a lot of them living around here."
"Really? A lot?" I broke into a grin; I needed to hear that even more than I needed a map of Seward, or lunch. I could feel fireworks exploding inside me; now I could relate to Seward being called the "4th of July City." My middle name, also my brother's, is IMIG, taken from our mother's maiden name. All of our lives we had never met anyone other than members of our immediate family who had ever even HEARD of the name Imig.
For the past three years, I had been working hard to connect with other Imig researchers all over the country, learning about our family's epic immigration to America from Germany in a cattle-boat in 1858. I had even met one family of four Imig descendants (no longer named Imig) when they visited San Jose last Thanksgiving. But to be in a town where people on the street had heard of the name, and actually knew Imigs?? Now that was really something!
Seward was feeling more like home to me all the time. Now, if that darn lunch whistle would just hurry up and blow...
[Coming next: Return to Seward Diary, August 2001: "Meeting Cousins on the Street!"]
Alice Imig Stipak, a grateful granddaughter of Seward