Family Photo Odyssey: Sjur Ingebrigtsen Brekke


We spent a couple hours scanning in some family pictures from albums that Kate and my mom put together from the big mountain of family snapshots that had accumulated for decades and decades. A lot of what we’re scanning is stuff from our own lives, scenes and experiences that the images recall vividly and instantly.

And then there’s the photo above. That’s my dad’s father, Sjur Ingebrigtsen Brekke. who passed on long before I was born. A note on the reverse in my grandmother’s handwriting says, “Lake Michigan, July 31, 1911.” (Maybe such inscriptions are passe, but if you want your own virtual mountain of digital snaps to be a little more intelligible to your posterity, leave some hint of who, what, when, where, etc.)

This man has always been an enigma. Here he is at age 35, ten years before my dad’s arrival in the world. He died a little more than ten years after that event, at age 55. I haven’t seen a picture in which he actually cracks a smile–at least not in any sense I’d recognize. Here he looks a bit put off by whoever it was talked him into coming out to the dunes in his suit. He was a Lutheran pastor in Muskegon at the time, and maybe that was the official beach uniform of his calling. (By all accounts, which means what my dad has told us, he was a kind and gentle soul and a reserved and quiet one, too.)

The photo’s composition is curious, too. Here we are in a picturesque stretch of the Michigan dunes, and the picture is framed in a way that directs attention to the smoke-emitting building in the background. (Later researches showed that the building in the background was the Muskegon waterworks. That building andthe dunes in the distance are no more.)

Below: A picture of Sjur at age 26, a little more relaxed looking, about the time he was completing his studies to become a minister.


4 Replies to “Family Photo Odyssey: Sjur Ingebrigtsen Brekke”

  1. Dan, from just looking at the photo, before I even read what you wrote, I recognized those dunes as being somewhere around Muskegon. I lived there for five years (’84-89). I bet that house is still be there. Pretty sure the industrial place is gone. Could have been anything from a foundry to a papermill to a powerhouse to… the list goes on forever. At that time, Muskegon was booming with all kinds of industry.
    I recall you mentioning a Lutheran connection a few times, but had no idea how close the connection was. I wonder if he went to seminary in Springfield.

  2. Marie, I was hoping someone would see that and offer some idea about where it is. All I know is that my grandparents and an orphaned nephew they were raising were up in Muskegon for a couple years in the 1910-1911 time frame.
    The Lutheran connection is strong: My grandfather attended a couple seminaries I know of. One in Red Wing, Minnesota, and one on Sheffield Avenue, just north of Addison Street, in Chicago. There was a Lutheran seminary on the eastern half of the Wrigley Field site before the ballpark was built there in 1914, and my dad has one of Sjur’s calling cards that gives that as his address.

  3. Not the swimming type it seems. Goes back to his days in Norway I reckon. He looks rather serious as well. We would have been in the water right off. Maybe we swam at those very beaches. That may be in Muskegon. I seem to remember Pop saying they took an overnight ferry to Muskegon when he was little.

  4. Of course it is Muskegon…it might help if I read the entire post *before* I started to comment…

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