Women of the Northwest

A voice from the past: Alli Forsstrom Regatta's 14th Queen

July 11, 2023 Jan Johnson Episode 72
Women of the Northwest
A voice from the past: Alli Forsstrom Regatta's 14th Queen
Show Notes Transcript


I thought it would be fun to “interview” a woman from the past….

Since this is the middle of July and Regatta season in Astoria, we’ll listen to Lauri Serafin talk about Alli Forsstrom,

the 14th Regatta queen. You’ll see some differences in how things work now with the court, as opposed to how it was in the beginning.

I’ve also included clips from Melissa Grothe’s interview, episode # 19, another Regatta queen, where she tells some of what goes into making a queen and the benefits of being in the court.

You can find out more on Lauri’s website where you can see photos and read an article on  Alli’s life as well as follow along with Lauri and her husband’s remodeling journey of the Forsstrom house.

If you think you have an interesting story or know someone you think would be a great interview, send me a message on my website- jan-johnson.com. 


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Find me on my website: jan-johnson.com

[00:00] Jan: You.

[00:02] Jan: Are you looking for an inspiring listen, something to motivate you? You've come to the right place. I'm Jan Johnson, your host. Welcome to Women of the Northwest, where we have conversations with ordinary women leading extraordinary lives, women telling their stories and sharing their passions. Motivating, inspiring, compelling you. Welcome to episode number 70. Glad to have you here. I thought it would be fun to interview a woman from the past. Since this is the middle of July and regatta season is in Astoria. We'll listen to Lori Seraphin talk about Allie Forsstrom, the 14th regatta queen. You'll see some differences in how things work now with the court as opposed to how it was in the beginning. I've also included clips from Melissa Grothe's interview. Episode number 19, another Regatta Queen, where she tells some of what goes into making a queen and the benefits of being in the court. You can find out more on Lori's website, where you can see photos and read an article on Allie's life, as well as follow along with Lori and her husband's remodeling journey of the Forsstrum house. The link is in the show notes, and it is theforestromhouse.com theforsstromhouse.com. And let's get started. Hello, Lori.

[01:36] Jan: So Alli Forsstrom was one of the first queens that was in the regatta. And so, Laurie, tell us all about that and how do you came up with that information?

[01:51] Lauri: I'm a little intrigued and sometimes bordering on obsessed trying to research Alli Forsstrom. The Forsstrom house is the way it is today because of Alli Forestrom. She spearheaded the renovation of the 1894 one story Victorian house into this two story modified American foursquare that you see today. And she enjoyed spending the good doctor's money and did a lot of really nice things to the house and made a lot of really good selections that survived today. As a genealogist and historian, I wanted to find out all I could about Dr. Alli Forsstrom. I find her a little more interesting and also has been much more challenging to research because women are harder to research. There's less about them. It's just one of those things. And she also didn't have any children. Oftentimes someone's legacy is passed down through children. So I've had to go through lateral means to try to find information, and I'm still working those. I've actually have information on a number of her friends that I will be working on during the next rainy season.

[03:20] Jan: Not when you can be outside doing things.

[03:23] Lauri: So I did find out that Alli Forsstrom came to the United States arriving in the Port of Boston in the fall of 1906. She was fair complexion, five four. She had $12 in her pocket, and she came with two girlfriends that were about the same age from Finland. So she didn't come here with family. She came here alone.

[03:51] Jan: So she kind of had a little gumption to her.

[03:54] Lauri: Totally. Yeah, she had some sprung. And clearly she had some ambitions. But where she was between the fall of 19 six and the spring of 19 nine at the time of her marriage to Dr. Forsstrom and Astoria? I do not know where she was.

[04:10] Jan: I cannot no records of anything that you can find.

[04:13] Lauri: I do know that she was probably married during that time because her marriage to Dr. Forsstrom was a second marriage. Okay, so she was widowed or divorced, but where she was, I cannot find it.

[04:26] Jan: Yeah.

[04:28] Lauri: So she appears on the scene in Astoria in 1909. Her marriage record lists her occupation as a clerk. Her name is Allie. Ingeborg Lauren. Probably Lorinen. And she shortened the Finnish name because Lorinen is on her immigration papers to Boston.

[04:50] Jan: Yeah.

[04:51] Lauri: I have a strange suspicion that she was a clerk at owl drug, which was owned by Theodore Lauren.

[05:02] Jan: Okay.

[05:04] Lauri: And guess who practice is in the second floor of that building? Yeah. Makes a lot of sense to me. I can't prove it.

[05:15] Jan: Right.

[05:16] Lauri: But I have a suspicion. And there is a connection between the Lauren family and the Forsstroms. They do a lot together socially. They vacation together in seaside. Their names are in the paper as staying there at the same time.

[05:31] Jan: Yeah, makes sense.

[05:33] Lauri: Just a feeling.

[05:34] Jan: Yeah.

[05:35] Lauri: They're also friends with the film and family that owns a furniture store. So Allie and doctor get married in March of 1909, and the same month, Dr. Forsstrom buys this house from captain Khan, the first captain of the light ship Columbia.

[05:54] Jan: Right. Okay.

[05:56] Lauri: And there's not much I can't find much about their early years as a married couple other than some photographs from the Feldman family in 1911. The forestroms. Go to Portland. I think Allie is wanting to live in the big city.

[06:15] Jan: Okay.

[06:15] Lauri: She clearly likes Portland. She goes there a lot. In the old newspapers, there's mentions of who's staying at what hotel and where they're from.

[06:25] Jan: Yeah, she's here a lot. Yeah.

[06:29] Lauri: So she clearly likes Portland. Portland. They took out a building permit at 23rd and Irving in Portland in 1911. He had a practice in the new selling building in Portland in 1911, and during that time, the Feldman family was renting this house. Okay, so that's the connection between the Feldman family and the Forsstroms.

[06:54] Jan: Okay. All right.

[06:56] Lauri: The Forsstroms stayed in Portland for about a year and a half. I don't think the practice was as successful as he had hoped because of the lack of Finnish population in Portland. He advertises himself as a Finnish physician and surgeon.

[07:16] Jan: Yeah.

[07:17] Lauri: So back to Astoria.

[07:22] Jan: That's who he wanted to market himself to.

[07:26] Lauri: So back to Astoria, late 1911, 1912. They become naturalized citizens here in town. And then she gets this wild hair. That according to a family that she wanted to be regatta queen.

[07:42] Jan: How old was she then?

[07:44] Lauri: She was born in 1886. So at the time she was regatta queen, she was about 28.

[07:50] Jan: Okay. Yeah.

[07:54] Lauri: So older than the regatta queens of today.

[07:57] Jan: Right.

[07:58] Lauri: This is at a time where regatta queens were more socially prominent individuals and not young high school women.

[08:07] Jan: Yeah.

[08:07] Lauri: So that tradition has changed a lot.

[08:10] Jan: Which is probably a good thing. It broadens the scope.

[08:16] Lauri: The elections for regatta queen were different than today. It was not a scholarship program. It was a fundraiser.

[08:25] Jan: Okay. For what?

[08:27] Lauri: You would buy votes.

[08:28] Jan: And what was the fundings?

[08:31] Lauri: It went to the regatta.

[08:32] Jan: Oh, just to the regatta. Okay.

[08:34] Lauri: So if you bought $500 worth of furniture at Feldman Furniture, you would get 500 votes.

[08:42] Jan: Okay.

[08:44] Lauri: That's a lot of vote.

[08:45] Jan: Yeah.

[08:46] Lauri: I've heard varying stories because what was.

[08:48] Jan: The size of the community here at that time?

[08:50] Lauri: I don't know. Yeah, I'm sure it was between five and 10,000 because the population surged in World War II. Almost 20, the family told me.

[09:04] Jan: Oh, yeah.

[09:05] Lauri: You spent, like, $4,000 getting her elected regatta queen. And the voting was really neck and neck. It was published in the paper on an almost daily basis. And the day the voting was done, he must have refurnished the house. And so she was regatta queen, and it was like, nine days before regatta, and so she went to Portland to find her maids and get her gowns.

[09:39] Jan: So not anything local then?

[09:41] Lauri: Very little local.

[09:42] Jan: And how did that go over?

[09:43] Lauri: I don't think it did. I think that was one social faux paw that she made, because the next year regatta queen, Tyne Roman, made a big deal about how she was going to do all of her shopping locally. I see.

[10:01] Jan: Yeah. Give an indication that there was a little curve there.

[10:06] Lauri: I think there was a little pushback.

[10:14] Jan: Do you know what it was other than being a social thing? Do you know more about what it was like for the court at that time? I mean, that was pretty sure. It's not like now where they know way ahead of time and they're going around.

[10:31] Lauri: I think it was just a social thing.

[10:35] Jan: Kind of a thing. Yeah.

[10:36] Lauri: I do find evidence in the newspapers of the day that there would be a trade fair, and local queens from various community organizations would go and do PR.

[10:50] Jan: Right. Some kind of thing like that.

[10:52] Lauri: And like Allie went to Rose festival and was on Afloat. Same things they do now.

[10:58] Jan: But.

[11:00] Lauri: It's society.

[11:02] Jan: Yeah. Look at me, because I'm one of the in people. Right.

[11:10] Lauri: And most of the photographs I have of Allie are taken during this time during her workout. Queen she's in the newspapers up and down the Columbia River. She's pretty easy to find during this period. During this period of time.

[11:24] Jan: So what else do you know about her?

[11:27] Lauri: Two years ago in the Cumtux, there was a real interesting article, the Memoirs of Paul Feldman.

[11:32] Jan: And the Cumtux is a quarterly publication.

[11:38] Lauri: Of the Clatsop County Historical.

[11:40] Jan: Thank you. Those are the words I was looking for. Thank you.

[11:44] Lauri: This is what got me going about. I really need to find out more about her because I think she was very ambitious and very good at goal directed behavior. And that's a good thing. I think. Often women are that's not something that's.

[12:00] Jan: Prized and not so much in that period of time as well.

[12:06] Lauri: Right. And I think it would make a great historical novel putting that in there. So in the article, it says, Forsstrom was a highly successful physician and surgeon. He made a fortune practicing his profession among the Finnish. His wife, Allie spent it. She spent money like it was water. She owned a Stutz Bearcat, very spicy sports car. She had horses, she had their house rebuilt. She had the rooms plastered specific colors and then had the walls, papered. She put on recitals in her home. She was a soprano.

[12:45] Jan: She sang. Okay.

[12:48] Lauri: And she starred herself before her guests. Once she decided she wanted to be queen of the Astoria Regatta, the votes were derived from purchases of merchants. Dr. Forsstrom spent thousands getting her elected a devoted husband. Oh, very much so. And she was 20 years his junior.

[13:10] Jan: Yeah.

[13:11] Lauri: Dr. Forsstrom liked his wife young.

[13:13] Jan: Yeah.

[13:14] Lauri: So recently I was doing some plaster repair in the music room, and I found her colored plaster. Oh, it was green.

[13:22] Jan: Really? Yes.

[13:24] Lauri: It was so interesting, and I made the connection to it.

[13:27] Jan: What shade of green?

[13:28] Lauri: It was kind of the green of the View room, which is why the view room is that green.

[13:36] Jan: But it's almost a bluish green then.

[13:39] Lauri: Well, yeah, I would call it craftsman green. Yeah. Alli Forestrom liked green, and a lot of there was a lot of green in the house. And this light green trim in the View Room isn't a replica of Allie Forsstrom green.

[13:55] Jan: Okay. Yeah.

[13:59] Lauri: So this is what got me started, and I found their divorce papers. It looks like Allie left Dr. Forsstrom in January of 1925. There was an uncontested divorce in the summer of 26, and there was no requirements for him to pay Allimony, support, anything.

[14:21] Jan: So maybe no impropriety or any doesn't seem evident.

[14:27] Lauri: I was hoping for some real juicy gossip because it's divorced and you'd have his side and her side.

[14:33] Jan: Yeah.

[14:34] Lauri: I don't even think she was here. It looks like they tried to serve her the divorce papers and couldn't find her. Oh, she was on the east coast.

[14:44] Jan: Okay.

[14:46] Lauri: I wish I could figure this out. She ended up in Lower Manhattan. She resided in an apartment complex between Washington and Union Square.

[14:58] Jan: Okay.

[14:58] Lauri: Very close to the NYC college campus. In fact, they've taken over that little part of town. I have found mentions of her in the newspapers. Once there was a fire in her apartment building, and her apartment was destroyed by fire. She had some superficial burns that she was treated and released for. And it says that her occupation is Singer, and this is 1927.

[15:33] Jan: Okay.

[15:34] Lauri: Says Singer, age 28. Well, she's clearly trying to reinvent herself because she's not 28.

[15:40] Jan: Right.

[15:41] Lauri: She's closer to 40 at this time.

[15:44] Jan: Interesting.

[15:45] Lauri: Yeah. So she's living in a very bohemian part town. I mean, jazz artists. This is very cool. Part of New York to be in in the then in the 1930s census, she's in Tuxedo Park. And I was trying to determine, well, how is she financing this?

[16:06] Jan: Yeah.

[16:06] Lauri: Well, the family told me that even though the divorce decree did not require support, he sent $250 a month. That's a lot. Yes. At that time, until the time of her death in 1935. She died relatively young.

[16:26] Jan: Yeah. Interesting. How do you do your research? How do you figure out you see something in Comet where somebody's done a little research or something in there.

[16:38] Lauri: Where do you go? I've been doing genealogy research since I was 16 years old, and it's so much easier now because you have my first stop is ancestry.com.

[16:52] Jan: Okay.

[16:54] Lauri: Looking for records. I don't rely on other people's research. I always go to primary sources. Most of my research on the forest rooms from the newspaper.

[17:03] Jan: Okay.

[17:04] Lauri: Because that is information of records. And it's one thing if you're researching your house and it's owned by a fisherman, but if you own a house that's owned by a doctor, the lawyer, the mayor, county treasure someone, it's golden.

[17:25] Jan: Yeah.

[17:26] Lauri: And there's a lot of different ways to research newspapers. Here in Astoria, there's a card catalog of indexed subjects from the Daily Astorian, and it's different configurations of names. It seems like they change their name every so often. I subscribe to a newspaper service, online newspapers.com. That's genealogy bank.

[17:51] Jan: Okay.

[17:53] Lauri: And then there's historic Oregon newspapers. That is run by University of Oregon.

[18:01] Jan: That can be a little bit of a rabbit hole. Just like, who, we're just going to keep one thing leads to it.

[18:07] Lauri: So when I find something locally, I can go to the microfilm, down to the library and look it up. But the challenge of newspapers is indexing, and more and more is being digitized and indexed, so it's easy to find, so you don't have to start it.

[18:24] Jan: Yes. Interesting.

[18:27] Lauri: And actually go through the pages and look, you know where to go.

[18:31] Jan: Yeah.

[18:31] Lauri: Speeds the whole process up.

[18:33] Jan: Very interesting.

[18:35] Lauri: She dies in 1935. There's not a lot of information on her death certificate. Her parents aren't listed. Her place of birth isn't listed. Her age isn't listed. But she died of chronic carditis. She's buried in an unmarked grave in central Long Island, and it looks like she continued her ways of spending money. Well, Bustrom gave her $250 a month. Her estate was worth after her funeral expenses and burial expenses was worth about $277. And in 1937, that went to the state of to the city of New York. Because she didn't have a knee.

[19:22] Jan: Right.

[19:22] Lauri: She didn't have any kids, and there.

[19:23] Jan: Wasn't and apparently wasn't married again.

[19:26] Lauri: Correct. And she went by Allie Forsstrom in New York, and she sang on the radio. Radio was in its infancy, and you could be on the radio as an artist for 15 minutes at a time, and it was in the paper, and I can see that she's singing on the radio. I have no idea what she's saying. I'd like to figure that out.

[19:47] Jan: I know. Wouldn't it be fun to find a recording?

[19:49] Lauri: Well, yes, and it is early radio. I need to work that I haven't really worked on that. And one of my goals in the next few years is to actually purchase her a grave marker.

[20:01] Jan: That would be cool.

[20:02] Lauri: In Long Island.

[20:03] Jan: Yeah. How do you determine which spot, if we're going to?

[20:08] Lauri: Well, the lot in the section number are documented.

[20:12] Jan: Okay.

[20:13] Lauri: And I know the cemetery she's in, and I know the location. So I went to find a grave. It's a website for people researching cemeteries, and there's a guardian angel for this cemetery. And I wrote to her online, and it's like, could you take a picture of this? I think it's unmarked. And she said, yes, it is. And she sent me a picture of the spot and where it is relative to other spots to confirm my suspicion.

[20:42] Jan: Yeah.

[20:43] Lauri: And so it wouldn't be a big stretch, but I did put her history and find a grave and photographs of her forgot a queen and her dates of date of birth.

[20:55] Jan: Fascinating.

[20:56] Lauri: So next time I'm in New York, I'll have to make a trek out there.

[21:00] Jan: Exactly. Oh, that would be so neat. Yeah. And it kind of just finish your story.

[21:08] Lauri: Yeah. In my mind, I think it would be a great historical fiction novel. I think there's a lot of fun stuff in there. But I am not an author. I would not be the person to write it.

[21:26] Jan: But you would be the one for.

[21:28] Lauri: Them to go to the research for it. I've done the research.

[21:31] Jan: All right. Well, thank you, Laurie, you said the girls speak. Tell me about that.

[21:43] Melissa: So they are all given speech topics that usually connect somehow to the region and our history or connect to the theme of the festival for the year. And then they research, write their own speeches, and then start presenting them. They get to present them, of course, to our regatta board, which is fun to see, basically, their first ever presentation, because then they'll do those same speeches on coronation night, on the first night of regatta, and that is part of their score for who becomes the queen. It comes down to getting a larger scholarship because you end up serving more time with regatta. And so it's fun to see them go from beginning to end. But then there's the in between, where they have to practice somewhere, and practicing to the bathroom mirror isn't as effective as practicing in front of group the speeches and host our court in order to let them present their speeches.

[22:43] Jan: And you had a chance to listen to Lori Seraphin's podcast. She was the Forsstrom house queen.

[22:50] Melissa: Allie Forsstrom. Oh, I know. Yeah. I manage the Regatta social media, and we follow Laurie on social media so we could keep up with the progress on the house and because of that awesome tie to Regatta. So it's just been fun. Yeah, and Lori has been good about giving us some likes and thumbs up on things that we post, too, which I appreciate, and sending us photos when we were looking for historical photos of past courts or past regatta queens. And so, yeah, super fun. It's been a fun adventure.

[23:43] Jan: As usual. Thanks for listening. You are greatly appreciated. If you think you have an interesting story or you know someone you think would be a great interview, send me a message on my website. Janjohnson.com. Janjohnson.com. If you enjoyed this or other episodes, be sure to tell a friend the that's all for now. I look forward to joining you next time in your car or your home or on a walk.