Father: Hans Peter Neilsen
Born: December 28, 1863 Simmerboelle Parish Langeland, Denmark
Died: June 17, 1925 Near Eagle Grove, Iowa Age 61
Parents: Andreas & Marie Nielsen
Mother: Josephine Mary Christiansen “Mary”
Born: September 12, 1869 Fodslette Parish, Svendborg County Langeland
Died: January 18, 1955 Minneapolis, Minnesota Age 85
Parents: Frederik & Marin Christiansen
Married: February 23, 1893 for 32 years
Buried: Woolstock Cemetery north of Woolstock, Iowa.
Nielsen Family Plot next to the road.
Hans Nielsen was born on the Danish island of Langeland. He was baptized at home on January 30, 1864. As a youth he would earn money by working on a fishing boat. The boys that worked these boats often had the responsibility of climbing the main pole to pull up or take down the sails. On a few occasions during stormy weather the unfortunate lad performing this task would be blown overboard and lost.
Hans also did most of the hard work around the home as his father died a few months before Hans’ fifth birthday. Those were hard times for the country as Denmark had in 1864 lost the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein during a war with Prussia and Austria. This amounted to a loss of 1/3 of Denmark’s land and population, not to mention the casualties suffered. Hans’ father died from a wound he received while fighting in one of the battles.
Hans continued to live with his mother and was confirmed in the Simmerboelle Parish of the Lutheran Church on April 28, 1878. A few years later, about the time of his eighteenth birthday, he packed his possessions and left for America, never to return.
There were many reasons for his departure. An older sister, Mrs. Al Smith, was already living in America a few miles northwest of the town of Eagle Grove, Iowa. Her letters back home painted a picture of a country of opportunity with plenty of available and rich farmland. Such descriptions could not have failed to excite the imagination and ambitions of a young, intelligent man looking to make a better future for himself.
A second reason was the condition of Denmark. After two centuries of gradual decline, the 1864 war left its’ fortunes at an all time low. Although the country would eventually reorganize itself, Bismarck’s unified Germany to the south prevented further territorial growth and proved to be an almost constant military threat.
With such good reasons to leave it still must have been a difficult decision. Hans never saw his mother again, and as he bid her farewell this could not have helped but be on his mind.
The trip over to America lasted four weeks and was replete with the usual nineteenth century hardships. Sea sickness was rampant amongst the passengers, many of whom had never set foot on a ship before. The story passed down from Hans is that sharks would follow the boats, somehow knowing that the dead had to be buried at sea before arrival in America. When this happened, the flimsy coffins would be torn to pieces along with the body inside.
Like most immigrants of the time, Hans was processed through Ellis Island upon his arrival in the U.S. and immediately began his long train journey to Eagle Grove. It must have been an awe inspiring ride for the newcomer as the car rolled through endless towns and mile upon mile of open fields.
Hans’ first night in Eagle Grove was spent in a hotel, most likely the Occidental. The following morning he struck out in the direction of his sister’s farm. This was springtime in the early 1880s and a storm had caused the Boone river to flood out the makeshift bridge. Tying his suitcase behind his back, Hans swam across. Once on the other side, he began stopping at farmhouses and repeating the name “Smith” since he did not know much English. This finally led him to the Al Smith farm and a happy reunion with his sister.
Mary was also from Langeland, but met Hans in America. Her talented brother Richard came over first, then saved up enough money so that his parents and the rest of the family could follow. They settled in the town of Sioux City, Iowa and later some of them moved to Eagle Grove.
At the time he met Mary, Hans was doing hired hand work with an eye towards purchasing a farm and starting a family. The fact that Mary was not only Danish but from the same island undoubtedly encouraged the courtship, and the two were married in 1893.
The first child born to them was named Andrew, presumably after Hans’ father Andreas. One summer afternoon while lying down, Mary dreamed that something had happened to Andrew. This premonition proved sadly true as a search finally uncovered the boy’s body in a horse tank where he had drowned. Three other children also died as infants and all of them are buried in the Woolstock Cemetery next to their parents.
Despite these experiences, Hans and Mary remained compassionate people as evidenced by their adoption of 9 year old Eric Anderson. Eric’s parents were dead, and he had been living with an aunt who was caring for him largely out of a sense of responsibility. One day in town while waiting for Mary to finish shopping, Hans ran across the boy, and after hearing his story was moved enough to offer him a home with the Nielsens.
Hans was a thoughtful, easy going, humorous man with a shrewd business sense. He did his best to treat each child fairly, encouraging them in their interests such as music and even taught some of them to waltz outside. He also believed in getting as much education as soon as possible, reasoning that the cost could only go up. (How true!)
Mary was a hard working woman and a versatile cook. One of her favorite ingredients was kale, which is a kind of cabbage from which she would make soup. She also had a talent for being a handy, neat housekeeper and the children were always well dressed, as was she. Being somewhat quick-tempered, it was probably a challenge keeping all the kids in line.
One time, one of the daughters wanted to purchase a dress, but Mary felt it was too expensive. After what was probably a rather spirited disagreement, the daughter saw her father Hans hiding in the spare bedroom, gesturing to her. There, he clandestinely gave her the money for the outfit.
Since both parents were from Denmark, the family conversations were in Danish and a few of the children retained this as a second language. It was particularly amusing when the family spoke on the phone. All the farmers in the area were on a single line back then, so an incoming call would cause the phone to ring in a number of homes. If the call was for the Nielsens, they would answer, then switch to Danish to have a bit of privacy. One could then hear the sounds of all the neighbors hanging up!
As Hans grew older, he began to have heart troubles, or ‘spells’ as they were called in those days. On one occasion, he grew sick while coming back from town and had to stay at a neighbor’s home until he felt better. His health grew gradually worse until he passed away in 1925. His skill with numbers and finance is evidenced by the possessions and property he was able to leave to his family.
Mary found living alone on the farm to be like a “prison”, so a few years after her husband passed away, she moved to Eagle Grove. Her modest house was (and still is) located just south of the post office. Her son Morse took over farming the home place.
Mary outlived her husband by almost thirty years. Longevity ran on her side of the family. Always recognizable with her red hair, she spoke in a careful manner with a distinct accent. Later in life she joined the Church of the Christian Scientist and became a staunch believer in a person’s ability to heal themselves without medicine. If one had a headache in her home, they had to be careful not to let Mary see them taking any aspirin!
In her mid 80s, Mary moved to Minneapolis to live her remaining months with her daughter Helen, passing away from cancer of the pancreas in early 1955.
Children of Hans & Mary Nielsen Andrew Nielsen Born: November 10, 1893Died: Summer of 1895 Drowned in a horse tank. Hilda Nielsen Born: July 20, 1895Died: July 30, 1898 Died of spinal meningitis. Luella Ann Nielsen – Housewife Born: July 18, 1897Died: July 17, 1972 Alice Louise Nielsen – Housewife Born: October 21, 1899Died: Late Summer, 1992 Blanche Josephine Nielsen – Housewife Born: December 27, 1901Died: June 7, 1962 Blanche and her husband were killed in an automobile accident at the highway intersection south of Blairsburg, Iowa. Harold Richard Nielsen – Farmer Born: February 1, 1904Died: November 24, 1967 Morse Frederick Nielsen – Farmer Born: July 5, 1906Died: February 7, 1995 Lillian (Lilly) Nielsen Born: July 24, 1908Died: July 28, 1908 Helen Carrie Nielsen – Housewife Born: October 9, 1909Died: November 16, 1979 Raymond Albert Nielsen – Accountant, Traveler Born: January 28, 1911Died: 1983 Ray’s first wife died a few years after they were married, leaving Ray with an infant daughter who was raised by Ray’s sister Helen. After retiring at a relatively young age, Ray spent most of his life (with his second wife) travelling the U.S. in a motor home. Edward Nielsen Born: April 25, 1912Died: August, 1912