Buffalo Bill

I know of very few personal belongings of my great-grandfather, Karl Andersen.  He was born in Grimstad, Norway in the 1850s, a second or third son of the family.  Karl became a ship’s carpenter and ended up in Elizabeth, New Jersey in the 1870s or 1880s.  My mother, Helen Anderson Doherty, told me about his beautifully carved sea chest, his massive canopied oak bed, and his Buffalo Bill photo.  She said he “loved Buffalo Bill.”

What was it about Buffalo Bill and his show, “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World” that so fired up the imagination or admiration of this Norwegian sailor and captain?  I’ll never know, but I can take a few guesses:

-The “Wild West” was a new world for him, one he might have loved to see, explore or even settle in.  He may have found it exciting to see Sioux warriors, cowboys, soldiers and horseback riding.

-Buffalo Bill had been a Union soldier in the U.S. Civil War.  Karl Andersen and his wife, Johanna, knew Civil War veterans. The fact that he had served and fought meant something to him.

-Buffalo Bill’s show was fun, exciting entertainment and fantasy; a break from the grimy, tough wharfs and sea life in Elizabethport, N.J.

After Karl Andersen died in 1930, his possessions were given away or lost.  I wish I had the sea chest, but I’m happy to have ended up with his photo card of Buffalo Bill.  As far as I know, besides a few photos, this is the sole relic of his life.

Here is a YouTube video of Buffalo Bill’s 1898 parade in Newark, New Jersey filmed by Thomas Edison.  Was Karl Andersen watching?


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By Karen