Late 1930’s summer in colour

This was another surprise when we first saw the standard 8 films; some of it is in colour, and quite early, too. This is a pre-WWII sequence showing my great-grandparents and my grandmother at their summer house in Bredsand.

They have lunch or dinner in the garden. My great-grandmother Gerda does gymnastics and smells the roses in beach pajamas, great-grandpa Einar or possibly his friend Henning sternly tells the dog Tollie to stay out of the flowerbed, and then the grown-ups go for a picnic by boat with another friend of Einar’s, IP, with wife and daughter. My grandmother is in her late teens and stays behind with a friend. I think my grandma is the girl in the yellow bathing suit playing badminton later on, but it’s hard to tell. There are a couple of boys playing with toy trains who may be my grandma’s cousins, a male friend of hers in a stunning bathing suit and a short end sequence featuring a tightrope walker. It’s summertime in Sundsvall in the late 1930’s.

My great-grandmother wears two different beach pajamas in these films, one of them has a lot of screen time here, and by the late 1930’s she was in her mid-40’s. I always assumed that beach pajamas were worn by fashion-forward young women in the 1930’s, not middle-aged women in provincial Swedish towns, but clearly they were. Great-grandma was affluent and comes off as quite stylish in all of these films, but she is not that young here, and I really enjoy seeing that. Women were expected to dress their age to a much higher degree in those days than we are today, but clearly, there were options to retiring into conservative old lady styles – at least if you had the kind of money and leisure available to these people.

The large, merrily patterned bathrobes also show up an awful lot in these films. Einar seems to have spent a lot of spare time around the summer house wearing a bathrobe and Panama hat; it’s one of two summer leisure uniforms worn by these men over and over. The other one is worn for fishing, hunting and hiking, and we’ll get to that later.

Einar was self-made, he grew up as a penniless orphan with relatives who didn’t want him, became an electrician around WWI, founded an electrical appliances store with a partner and made money. Gerda came from a middle-class background, her father was a sea captain, she had two sisters who never married and worked as switchboard operators for the national telephone company their entire adult lives. Einar and Gerda were sort of nouveau riche, and they seem to have been determined to enjoy the good life they had built for themselves. My grandmother was a spoilt only child who adored her parents.

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Kesudalen, around 1950

It’s weird how surprising it is that things sometimes look almost exactly the same 70 years later. This is the first time Kesudalen shows up in the 8mm films, and for some reason it felt very surreal that it hasn’t changed more than that when I saw it the first time.

It’s rather wonderful too. And, of course, the potty makes an appearance. Some day I’ll make a complete collection of all the potty jokes on these 14 rolls of film.

On the 8mm films

I will try to produce lighter content that 1000-word posts on World War I too, I promise. More of this, for example; this spring my mother had 14 rolls of 8mm film digitalized, filmed by her father, her maternal grandfather and a friend of his between 1935 and 1952.

Not all the films were dated, but some were, and the rest can be inferred. The Standard 8mm format and the first 8mm film camera was released by Kodak in 1932, so 1935 is early on. My great-grandfather was an electrician and ran a successful electrical appliances store, he was something of an early adopter in his day and may have bought it to try it out for the firm. The guy who digitalized these said that they broke his earlier record twice; the oldest films he had digitalized before these were from 1939, two of these were dated 1935 and 1937.

It was incredibly exciting to watch them for the first time. They had been sitting in a bag in the cellar for years and years, and none of the people who had seen it are alive today. My great-grandmother died in 1953, when my mom was seven, and great-grandfather passed only four years later in 1957, so she doesn’t remember very much of them. We hadn’t the faintest idea of what the films would contain or how they would have held up.

So this was surreal, to say the least. The first one, dated 1935, contains footage of my great-grandparents and friends on a bike vacation in Germany, the Netherlands and possibly France or Belgium. This is the Wuppertal Schwebebahn, an electric suspension railway that opened in 1901. It is still in use.