Saturday, 3 May 2014

The Trail to Vargamäe

I made a wonderful new discovery a few months ago. One day I was scouring the internet, as I often do, in search of my great grandfathers photographs when I came across a book mentioning his name. I was completely unaware of the existence of this book so naturally I ordered it straight away. When it arrived I discovered the book was about Estonian writer Anton Hansen Tammsaare, the village of Albu and mentions Arthur and the events surrounding his death. What a find! My great grandfather Arthur lived in Albu Parish for five years before he died and obviously had an association with the Hansen family and Tammsaare farm.

After discovering my great grandfather's photograph in this book I then made a few enquiries. Since 1958 the Tammsaare farm (birthplace of A.H Tammsaare) had been converted into a museum in honour of his life and work. I hoped by contacting the administration of this museum, they might have other photograph of Arthur's in their collection. The information I then received was very interesting indeed!

Albu is a small community and it didn't take long for word to spread that I was searching for information on Arthur. An elderly woman stepped forward, she lives next door to the Tammsaare farm and is related to the Hansen family via marriage. This woman, Liivi, revealed she remembered Arthur quite well from her childhood. As the town photographer, she said he was invited to all the parties, celebrations and gathering that took place in the community. The above photo was taken by Arthur. Liivi is the young in the white dress on the left and the man on the top right is Ilmar, the man who wrote the book which prompted this search. 

After learning this news, of course I couldn't wait to meet Liivi. She is one of the few people I know who remembers Arthur.  Last week I was in Estonia, at the top of my to do list, was to visit Albu.

It was wonderful meeting Liivi. She opened my world with her wealth of information. She reminised in saying Arthur was a very friendly and respectable man, everyone liked him. He also had a nickname around town she told me, everyone called him "Härra viisteist-kuusteist" (Mr 15 16). This name came about due to the exposure time of operating old cameras. Liivi said Arthur used to remove the cap off the camera, count quitely to himself then say viiteist kuusteist out loud when the time came to take the photo. It was when people heard these two numbers, they knew to sit very still in order for the photo to be taken. Liivi had several of Arthur's photos in her collection which she kindly let me copy.  The photo of us above, was taken outside the same door used by Arthur in his photo nearly 70 years ago.

Another wonderful discovery was made inside the Tammsaare museum bookshop. This book not only contains one of Arthur's photographs on the cover but also six others inside. I was beside myself with joy!

Three pages from the book.

Out of curosity, on the morning I drove to Albu, I did a quick search on Geni to see whether there was any connection between me and Anton Hansen Tammsaare in my family tree. To my great surprise, I discovered he is a distant blood relative, from his mother's side. We are fifth cousins, thrice removed!

While at the museum I had a good talk with the lady who runs it. She brought out the family history scrolls of the Hansen family and we traced the tree together. She was also very kind and gave me a book about A.H.Tammsaare written in English. There are not many of them around! I have already started building up my Tammsaare collection and this book makes an excellent addition.

Back in Tallinn I visited the other A.H.Tammsaare museum. This is where he lived with his wife and children until his death in 1940. Everything  here has been preserved beautifully. I am particularly fond of his study.

The museum was actually closed on the day I went to visit but once it came to light that I was related and had an additional connection through Arthur's work, I was granted a private tour. I was truly grateful by this act of kindness as I was flying back to Munich later that afternoon. What made this visit truly work while was the discovery of another one of Arthur's photographs in this museum. I wasn't expecting to find one here but utterly thrilled that I did!