Author: Harald Berg Kildahl, class of 1895
Manuscript transcription: Elise Ytterboe, ca. 1939
Transcriber: Mark Forsberg, class of 2008
Collection: NAHA Agnes Kitteslby Papers (Courtesy of St. Olaf College)
My recollections of St. Olaf go back 461 miles North West of Northfield.
It was way back in the eighties  that I left my father’s house in North Dakota. I want to emphasize the word “left,” because in spite he knew me so well, he still kept me at home, and it was a voluntary act on my part that I left home and came to St. Olaf College. It was no Sunday job to sever the home ties and set out upon a long journey into the cold world especially for me. I was still at the tender age of 23 and I was not used to wander any farther from home than the nearest town, which was two miles away.
At the St. Paul Union Depot I fell in with one like myself, only more so. He was headed my way too and his name was Ed e.t.c. [possibly Sinkler, class of 1894]. My contemporaries all know what e.t.c. represents. I put it this way so as not to get too personal. Besides he is bigger than I and still alive. We both felt better for meeting, as this was his first trip too. We found we had some traits in common, which further enhanced the good feeling. Neither of dared to trust the railroad company with any of our numerous luggage. We therefore carried on all with us, and as this was done up in several “kolli” as they call them in Norway. We had all we could do to keep cool and collected. You can imagine then the great feeling of relief from hunger we both experienced of getting acquainted, because one could then stand guard over the combined treasure while the other went to the nearest bakery and bought some doughnuts with which to concertedly appease our hunger. Ed had waited longer than I did in consequence was more in need of relief. At any rate I always have a sneaking idea that he got away with one more doughnut than I did, but I never brought it up against him because he was as I said before, bigger than I was. Time hung lengthy on us and I was beginning to fear we would have to spend another nickel for doughnuts, when the train for Northfield was finally called. We lost no time in shouldering our numerous baggage and made for the train as fast as we could force a wide enough passage in the crowd. The gate man said, “Why didn’t you bring all your household goods with you?” We told him that was all we had.
Arriving at Northfield we of course asked where “the College” was. Somebody pointed to a large stone building with a tower on across the river. We got a hold of a stick on which we threaded as many bundles as it would hold. This we carried between us and a carpet bag in the outer hand. We began to realize then that in union there is strength. We were just going to start down the street when a man with a wooden leg came over to us and said he would take our baggage over to the college for 25 cents. We had heard so much about satchel thieves, pick-pockets, and confidence men that, after a silent inspection of the man, and ocular consultation, we told him we were poor and would try to help ourselves. It is queer how great minds run together. We confided to each other later that we had greatest suspicion. The wooden leg was only a sham to win our sympathy after getting rid of the wooden-legged man we counted our “kolli” and started across the river. While crossing the bridge someone remarked with a smile; “Pretty heavy load, that, for the bridge.” We looked around to see the load, but we could not see any.
We met so many people on the square and they all seemed so very happy. They smiled and laughed when they met us, so we very naturally came to the conclusion that Northfield was a very happy town.
We stopped outside the post office to rest and inquire the way to the college. We soon became the center of attraction for a number of young men and women. They told us we were very fortunate in meeting as they were students and they would show us the way, that if we had let them know that we were coming they would have met us at the train. We shook hands with them and thanked them. They laughed and seemed happy—they insisted on relieving us of some of our luggage which they distributed among themselves, but they let us carry what we had on the stick between us. We told them we hated to give them so much trouble, but they seemed to take it good naturedly, and told us we would have plenty of opportunity to do the same for other students. New students were generally received that way. They talked very loudly and took plenty time making arrangement for the walk up to the college so that, by the time they were ready to start it seemed to us that the greater part of the population of Northfield was present. Finally they formed a line with some in front and some behind us. They sang some songs or gave a yell all the way, which was new to us. We asked them why they were so happy and gay. They said that all the people of Northfield felt that way when they saw new students coming to town. We felt they were making too much stew over our arrival. Finally we came to a large meadow with several large buildings on it. They told us that was the college and left us and our luggage on the front steps and told us to knock at the door. We counted our luggage and thanked them and they smiled.
We knocked at the door until our knuckles were sore, we had about made up our minds that there was nobody at home, when a young lady came out. She looked at us and said peddlers always come to the back door. We thought they used “peddlers” for new students, so we shouldered our luggage again and walked around to the other side of the house and knocked at the back door.
Finally a woman came to the other door and told us that they did not need anything. We asked her if she was the owner’s wife. She said, “What owner?”
We told her “The owner of the college.”
“What do you want to see the owner of the college for,” she said.
We told her we wanted to go to school there and wanted to see the owner. This seemed to make her happy. She laughed and told us to come in. She took us thru the kitchen and then to a large sitting room and told us to sit down and she would try to find the owner. We brought the luggage in and sat there. Very soon a number of girls went by the door every one looked in and laughed. They certainly were a happy lot.
Finally an elderly lady came in and shook hands with us. We told her it was a fair day. She said it was. We said it was a mighty fair meadow she had in front of her house and asked if they had gotten in the hay without it getting wet. She smiled and asked if we had come to go to school. We said we had and wanted to arrange for rooms, but we were poor and would like to have one room together. She told us that was “Gridley Hall” and that all the rooms were taken and that we had better go across the meadow to another stone building and that we would find the owner there. We shook hands with her and said we were sorry to have troubled her. We asked her if we could leave some of our luggage with her while we went to see the owner. She consented so we picked up what we could conveniently carry and started off for the other building. When we went the hall and front steps were filled up with girls all laughing and happy. We left with a feeling of regret that we could not get a room there.
In the other building we found a tall man with a long beard who looked very kindly at us. We asked him where we could find the owner. He smiled and said he was not the owner but the president and in the owner’s place. It happened that I had seen the picture of Pres. Mohn and this man did not look like that picture, so I asked him if he had raised that beard lately. He said he had it for some years. I asked him if his name was Mohn? “No,” he said. “Do you want to see Prof. Mohn?” We told him we had heard that was the owner’s name. “Well,” he said, “you are on the wrong place, this is Carleton College while you are looking for St. Olaf College. We told him that was what we were looking for, and we did not know there was any other college. He smiled and pointed out to us St. Olaf College which we finally found with all our luggage.
I have often thought of it since, what the result of it might have been if I had not been fortunate enough to have seen the picture of Prof. Mohn, and a shudder runs up my and down my spine as I think of how near St. Olaf came to missing it that time back in the ‘80s.