1867, Norrland, Sweden

May 22. At 11.30 AM it was 1 degree below freezing and a north-easterly wind. The trail markers still stand upright in the marsh, and the snow is 1 1/2 ells deep.

May 25: Cold wind and no thaw, the snow good for sleighing, snow depth 1 1/4 ells. On May 24 we drove on landfast ice and no trail marker had thawed loose.

June 1: Drove across the ice, good sleighing.

On June 17 the marsh was free of ice and in the evening a hard storm blew up and heavy rain.

June 19: Let the cows out. Snow in the forest, no leaves, no bilberry sprigs, nor grass.

– Zakarias Wallmark, Kvarnriset in Burträsk, summer of 1867

1867 was Storsvagåret, The Great Weak Year, when summer never came to the North. The night of the 17th of July later became known as Halshuggarnatten: Beheading Night.

We woke at around three, and it was so cold. The whole forest and all the bushes were thick with hoarfrost, and the hay pasture was white as snow. But when the sun rose high enough over the tree tops that it spread some light and warmth, then a gust of wind came and set everything in rocking motion. Then all the hoarfrost on the grass became as thousands of quivering diamonds, and icicles came loose from the tree branches. They fell on top of each other and they shimmered and jingled like the sound of unearthly strings. But when the sun had acted on everything for a while, then nothing was green but the pine forest and some thick-stalked flowers with their flower cups hanging toward the ground. All else was grey and broken.
– Josefina Eliasson

People froze and starved. They slaughtered their livestock if they had any, boiled the tar from their boots and ate the leather, made bread from chopped hay and tree bark, their bellies swelling because they couldn’t digest it. When people died, however, it wasn’t usually from starvation itself but the diseases that their bodies could no longer fight off. Especially the one they called black fever, or hunger typhus. Some people killed themselves in desperation.

In 1867, the south of Sweden exported more grain than ever before.


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