Ladies’ Hall Elm

Jeff M. Sauve

For several decades, the hollow elm near Ladies’ Hall provided a wonderful photographic setting for the St. Olaf community. In the college’s early years, the tree’s cavity was burned to prevent further decay and was tended as an integral part of the campus landscape.

Professor Ole G. Felland, an avid amateur photographer, often posed his family and friends in the cavity, where he also staged a self-portrait. Located on the brow of the hill near present day-Holland Hall, the tree offered a temporary respite from the world as well as a secretive place to muse upon a verse or two (see below).

Although little is written about the tree, it apparently was removed by dynamite a few months after Holland Hall was dedicated on June 5, 1925.

Georgina Dieson Hegland noted in her book, As It Was in The Beginning (1950), that “Professor Felland was on hand with his camera to take a last picture [August 18, 1925, see images]. For him it was the occasion of losing an old friend, and he feelingly spoke out: ‘Who would take down that tree should be put in jail.’ The thoughtful John Berntsen [head of facility and grounds] lovingly put aside several big chunks suitable for making Norse kubbe stoler.” (A kubbe stoler is a chair carved from a large section of log, common in Norway in the 19th century.)

Frida Bue-Homnes ’02 wrote the following poem, which was published in the college annual, The Viking (1913-1914-1915):

The Ladies’ Hall Elm

Stately and tall it stands,
A veteran guard on the hill-crest.
Bearing the marks of time
Yet showing a spirit unbroken:
Keeping a silent watch
O’er the paths converging beneath it.
Shielding from trespassing eyes
The time honored hall of the maidens.

Ah, the tales it might tell
Were its murmurings comprehended
Stories of wilderness times
When Indians roamed on the hillside;
Stories of sugar camp days
When the frolicsome youths of the village
Feasted on sweets of the maple
Cooled in a lingering snow drift.

Decades have passed since then,
And bevies of fair young maidens,
Merry or grave have passed
‘Neath the eye of this sentinel watchful
And to each as she passed
The Elm tree has murmured its greetings,
Whispering gently of rest
In the shade of its wide spreading branches.

Long be thy life, O Elm,
And may future Manitou Maidens,
Though in more sumptuous halls
Their merry young lives be sheltered,
Love and revere thee as we
Who mid tears and its laughters
Dwelt in the dear old Hall
Which thou hast so faithfully guarded.