Friday, January 16, 2015

SHE MADE THE VIKINGS COME ALIVE - Ottilie Adalina Liljencrantz

Last week I told you the story of Gustave Adolph Mathias Liljencrantz, a noted civil engineer who started his career in Sweden and then emigrated to Chicago.  I mentioned when writing about Gustave that he had a famous daughter who I would be writing about this week, and so here is the story of Ottilie Adalina Liljencrantz.
Ottilie Adalina Liljencrantz was born January 19, 1876 in Chicago to Gustave Adolph Mathias Liljencrantz (1842-1927) and Adalina Charlotte, nee Hall (1845-1915).  Ottilie was their only child. When she was born, the family was living at 69 (now 529 W.) Grant Place in Chicago:

529 W. Grant Place, Chicago

The 1880 US Census shows the family still living at the Grant Place address.  Gustave listed his occupation as "US Surveyor."  Adaline's mother Harriet Hall was also living with the Liljencrantz family.  She listed her occupation as "Help of Home," and four year old "Ollie" was listed as being "At Home."

The 1890 US Census for Chicago is lost, but the City Directory of the time shows the Liljencrantz family living at 3808 Johnson Court (now 3808 S. Vincennes, Chicago).  The site was formerly occupied by part of the Ida B. Wells Homes; now it is a vacant lot.

The first time the name Ottilie Liljencrantz appeared in the newspaper was on April 25, 1894 when the Chicago Daily Tribune reported on a marionette show she staged in her home:

This was followed up on January 20, 1895 by a Tribune story reporting that Ottilie Liljencrantz was staging her own play "In Fairyland" at the Carleton Club as a benefit for the Home for Destitute Crippled Children in Chicago:

The 1900 US Census shows the family living in the same place, although it is now referred to as 3808 Elmwood Place.  Fifty-seven year old Gustave lists his occupation as "Assistant US Engineer." The other members of the family are fifty-five year old Adaline,  twenty-two year old Ottilie, and Adaline's mother, eighty-two year old Harriet Hall.  No occupation is listed for Ottilie.

We don't know specifically when Ottilie Liljencrantz started to write stories, but we do know that her first novel, The Thrall of Leif the Lucky: a Story of Viking Days was published by the A.C. McClurg & Co., Chicago in March of 1902 when Ottilie was only twenty-six years old.

The publishing of her first novel got a writeup in the Chicago Daily Tribune of March 11, 1902:

Reviews of the book were mixed.  Here is one from the Chicago Tribune literary critic from March 15, 1902:

In their Christmas advertisements for 1902, Ottilie's publishers A.C. McClurg & Company called The Thrall of Leif the Lucky "The most beautiful book of fiction for the year."

McClurg must have been satisfied with the book's performance, because in May of 1903 they published Ottilie's second novel, The Ward of King Canute: a Romance of the Danish Conquest. Here's an ad from the Tribune on May 2, 1903 that lists some of the critics' comments:

For her third novel, Ottilie Liljencrantz decided to change publishers. Her book The Vinland Champions was published in November of 1904 by D. Appleton & Company, New York.

In all, Ottilie Liljencrantz published five novels (one posthumously), all historical fiction about the days of the Vikings:

Every year saw the novels of Ottilie Liljencrantz grow in popularity.  By mid-1905, A.C. McClurg & Co. was reporting that The Ward of King Canute had just gone its second edition, and The Thrall of Leif the Lucky was in its eighth edition!

With the increased popularity of her books, came increased fame for Ottilie Liljencrantz.  On November 24, 1905, the New York Times reported that Miss Liljencrantz was one of the authors invited to the upcoming dinner at Delmonico's given by George Harvey to celebrate the seventieth birthday of Mark Twain.

In February of 1906, Ottilie's new publisher Harpers announced the release of her next novel, Randvar the Songsmith: A Tale of Norumbega:

As with her other books, the reviews were mixed, but by now she had built up quite a following, so sales of Randvar were brisk.

The 1910 US Census hinted at problems in the Liljencrantz household. First of all, the family has moved.  Their new address is 627 E. Groveland Park in Chicago:

627 East Groveland Park, Chicago

Sixty-eight year old Gustave Liljencrantz lists his occupation as "Civil Engineer."  For some reason Ottilie's mother Adaline is not listed as living in the household.  Thirty-four year old Ottilie is listed, as well as Adaline's mother, ninety-two year old Harriet Hall.  Also listed are twenty-two year old Violet Meyer, a nurse, and sixteen year old Bessie Pienski, a live-in servant.

The nurse must have been there to take care of Ottilie, because she passed away on October 7, 1910.  Readers of the Chicago Daily Tribune of  October 8, 1910 saw the following:

Here is Ottilie Liljencrantz' death certificate:

She died at the Streeter Hospital, 2646 Calumet Avenue in Chicago:

The cause of death was uterine cancer complicated by cancer of the liver.  The newspaper article about her death mentioned an operation two weeks previously; the death certificate said she had been hospitalized for eighteen days.   The death certificate said she was to be buried at Oakwoods Cemetery but we know that she is interred in the mausoleum at Rosehill Cemetery:

Ottilie Liljencrantz's popularity continued after she was gone.  On November 6, 1911, one year after her death, the A.C. McClurg publishing company brought out a volume of Ottilie's short stories which they titled A Viking's Love: and Other Tales of the North:

In November of 1928, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios released 'The Viking' an all Technicolor production based on The Thrall of Leif the Lucky starring Donald Crisp and Pauline Starke.  Here is the New York Times' review of 'The Viking:

The Internet has given new life to the literary works of Ottilie Liljencrantz. Virtually all of her works are available to read online, and a whole new generation of readers are being captivated by her tales of Viking days through Kindle or Goodreads or Project Gutenberg.  

Here is just one of the 5-star reviews for The Ward of King Canute:

Awesome!  This is a great work of fiction. Liljencrantz's writing evokes a bygone era and really illustrates the life of Canute and his army during the Danish conquest. This book is filled with many colorful characters, but King Canute, Elfgiva of Northampton, and Randalin really stand out.

It is wonderful that through the miracle of the Internet, Ottilie Liljencrantz lives on, more than one hundred years after her untimely death.

Ottilie Adalina Liljencrantz - she made the Vikings come alive.  May she rest in peace.

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