Local Swedish Icon Actually Italian

Ever since its inception in 1952, the Hjalmar Marklund Annex to the Central Branch of the Municipal Public Library has been a point of pride for the city’s library system, and one of the United States’ leading collections of Swedish-American art and literature. Occupying the entire fourth floor (with the exception of the Pal Hutley Forbidden Books Vault) and containing thousands of volumes, important artworks and sculptures, photographs and sheet music, the so-called Marklund Collection – named after the famed yachtsman, financier, and philanthropist who moved to the city just after the Second World War – has long been a selling point to researchers, ethnographers, and tourists from Scandinavia.

Unfortunately, recent revelations about Hjalmar Marklund have put the entire future of the collection in jeopardy, and could presage a long and difficult series of lawsuits.

Three months ago, while researching a biography of Hjalmar Marklund, local journalist Peg Boatwright (author of He-Brews: How the Jewish Community Helped End Prohibition) made a stunning discovery. By going through birth and travel records, and piecing together identity documents that had been sealed since the war, she learned that Marklund was not, in fact, Swedish at all, but rather an Italian named Eugenio Zanzotto. As a young Communist, he fled his homeland in 1922, fearing persecution at the hands of the Fascists, and settled in Sweden, where he made a fortune and rode out WWII thanks to the nation’s neutrality. Moving to the United States, he retained the assumed identity in hopes of evading questions about his past during the post-war Red Scare. Since he never married (his status as a lifelong bachelor made him a frequent target of jibes from local wags, and there was a longstanding rumor that he was romantically involved with the famous jockey Loxey Pederewski), the ruse was never discovered until Boatwright learned the truth.

The revelation that the city’s most prominent Scandinavian-Americans, and the owner of one of the largest and richest collections of Swediana in the country, was in fact born in Trento, Italy, has caused shockwaves in local society, and cast grave doubts about the future of the Hjalmar Marklund Annex. The initial suggestion, by library administrator Monty Daniels, that the collection – which contains, among other things, a full collection of Pippi Longstocking books, a set of first editions of August Strindberg plays, the world’s largest collection of Johan Tobias Sergel sculptures and the original outfits worn by ABBA on the occasion of their Eurovision Song Contest win – simply be renamed the Eugenio Zanzotto Annex was dismissed as “silly” by the Library’s board of directors.

Other suggestions made at a public meeting held two weeks ago included swapping the entire collection for New York’s Campanella Collection of Italiana; attempting to expand the collection to include the works of Italo-Swedish artists, if any can be found; and forgetting the whole thing and pretending it never happened. Although a number of lawsuits have already been filed, a recent poll in the Journal-Clarion indicates that the issue may not be as divisive as it seems on the surface: fully 46% of those polled were unable to distinguish between Sweden and Italy, and 18% believed they were in the same country.
– Leonard Pierce

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