Haldor Johan Hanson was born on June 24, 1856, in Fuse (near Bergen), Norway to Hans H Lammenaes and Herborg H. (Lønningdahl). He emigrated in 1865, at the age of nine, to Grand Mound, Iowa, where his parents farmed. Hanson enrolled at Luther College, graduating in 1883. He married Antonila Ytterboe in 1887 (died in 1912).
After graduation from Luther, Hanson studied at the Chicago Conservatory from 1883-1884. He then taught at Willmar Seminary (academy) in Willmar, Minnesota, 1885-1887, before returning to Luther College to teach music and mathematics from 1888-1890. When called upon, he also taught Latin and Norwegian. Hanson joined a small group of faculty to establish the Decorah School of Music in 1889 (he served as principal), which was incorporated into the College after one year. When Hanson left Luther in 1891, he again studied music but this time in Weimar, Germany, from 1891-1892. In 1892 he arranged a work called “Harpetoner” published by B. Anundsen in Decorah.
After returning to Luther College in 1894, he was appointed as the first professor of music in 1895. He continued to serve on the faculty until 1904 and was in charge of the band until that time. His own instrument of expertise was the violin. Hanson served as organizer and conductor of the Luther College choirs from 1882-1883. He greatly expanded the musical activities at the College, organizing the Decorah Choral Union in 1889 in which town and college musical forces collaborated. A result was that he directed the first oratorio performed at Luther College, Haydn’s “Creation,” in 1890.
In 1895 Hanson started the Luther College Musical Union which was an amalgamation of band, choir, orchestra and the glee club into one student organization. The purpose of the group was to “establish a closer relation between the different musical organizations, and thus, by joint effort, promote the interests of each organization composing it.” Several college histories comment that Hanson’s return to Luther marked the beginning of strong growth in the music program.
In October 1895, Hanson was placed in charge of the museum at Luther College where he served as Curator from 1896-1902. He immediately began gathering books, newspapers, and objects about the Norwegians in America for the museum. Former Norwegian-American Museum director Marion Nelson commented that Hanson, and his successor Knut Gjerset, “shared a comprehensive and democratic approach to building the museum collection.” After his resignation as Curator, Hanson devoted himself to teaching music at Luther.
Ultimately Hanson resigned his appointment at Luther in 1904 in part because of his disagreement with the narrow platform planned for the College by President Christian Keyser Preus. Preus wrote a position paper (in Norwegian) entitled “In What Direction and Toward What Goal Should Luther College Be Developed to Best Serve the Synod?” which Marion Nelson characterized as stressing theological preparation over liberal education.
After leaving Luther, Hanson moved to Chicago where he became a book and music dealer, publisher and author. He assumed the position of proprietor of the Northern Book and Music Company which published the monthly Norwegian-American magazine, Idun: Tidsskrift for Literatur, Musik, etc. Hanson served as its editor during the magazine’s run from 1908-1910. The magazine printed articles on the arts and also listed new and second-hand books on Scandinavia and Scandinavian subjects which the Northern Book & Music Company offered for sale. The company also sold musical scores and musical instruments and strings “at bottom prices.”
Among Hanson’s other activities after leaving Luther, was his service on the editorial staff of the Norwegian-American newspaper, Skandinaven. In 1904 he compiled a 135 page index to Maanedstidende and Kirketidende, covering March 1855-December 1902. He wrote an article published in Symra in 1907 entitled “Nogle norske ord og udtryk I den nyere engelske literature.” The first edition of an English-Norwegian-Danish dictionary compiled by Hanson was published by the John Anderson Publishing Company in 1909 and reprinted in several subsequent editions. In 1916, he composed a “Cantata for Christmas-tide” and formulated the “Norsk-Amerikansk Julebog” in 1921. He also translated a poem by Ibsen called “Terje Vigen” which was published in 1929 by the Northern Book & Music Company.
After Hanson’s death on December 14, 1929, his library collection of approximately 3,000 items of Norwegian Americana was donated to the Luther College Library. Arrangements to secure the donation for Luther College had been made about five years prior to his death by Prof. Karl T. Jacobsen, head librarian, and J.C.M. Hanson, Luther alumnus and librarian at the University of Chicago. A handwritten alphabetical list of the books and periodicals is located in the Luther College Archives along with two boxes of catalog cards recording how the materials were cataloged.
A bookplate, specially designed by Eldred J. Nesset, ’36, which reads “Luther College Library Haldor Hanson Collection of Norwegian Americana,” was pasted inside the front cover of each book. It contains an image of Yggdrasil, the giant ash or yew tree at the center of the world in Norwegian mythology, which represents the tree of knowledge. It also includes an inscription in Old Norse from verse 19 of the Eddic poem, Voluspa (Prophesy of the Seeress), found in the Codex Regius manuscript, ca. 1270. In translation the inscription says, “Ash I know standing, named Yggdrasil, a lofty tree, laved with limpid water.”
According to college records, the collection was intended to be housed in a room in Koren Library dedicated to Norwegian Americana and cataloged as a special collection. Toward that end, it was cataloged according to an idiosyncratic classification system utilizing the letter “Y” (not used in the Library of Congress classification system) to distinguish the materials from other items in the library. The arrangement is summarized here:
Materials with spine labels showing this “Y” classification are evident in the Rare Book Room and DEPO collections. The Hanson collection has now been interspersed throughout Preus Library shelved with the rest of the books and periodicals and cataloged according to the conventions of the Library of Congress classification system. Items in the collection can be found by searching on the title phrase “Halvor Hanson Collection” in WorldCat Local.
Ref: College Chips, December 17, 1929, January 15, 1930, April 23, 1930; Luther College Faculty, Luther College Through Sixty Years, 1861-1921. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1922; Nelson, David T., Luther College, 1861-1961. Decorah, IA: Luther college Press, 1961; Nelson, Marion J., Material Culture and People’s Art Among the Norwegians in America. Northfield, MN: The Norwegian-American Historical Association, 1994; Norlie, Olaf M., History of the Norwegian People in America. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1925; Haldor J. Hanson Personal Papers, Luther College Archives, RG 15.