What happened: Olle i Skratthult barnstormed through Minnesota with his vaudeville troupe, packing in the crowds who loved to laugh at the comic Swedish bumpkin.
When: Early June 1920.
The Willmar Tribune was pleased with his performance, which raised $301 for the local fire department. After the obligatory nods to the singers and dancers, the reviewer said "Ollie, as usual, was the biggest fun-maker. His stunts included a new one, illustrated by colored charts." (Perhaps the forerunner of PowerPoint comedy?)
Olle who? Hjalmar Peterson was his real name. "Olle i Skratthult" meant "Olle from Laughtersville. He came to America at the age of 20, settled in Willmar, and worked as a bricklayer until he decided to try a career on stage. Swedish Vaudeville — two words you don't see together anymore — was a big draw in the Upper Midwest, bringing old-country culture to the immigrants in their native tongue. Hjalmar was the biggest star the genre ever saw.
Swedish "Hee Haw": With his messy haystack hairdo, a blacked-out tooth and a simple cloth hat, Ollie seemed straight out of "Hee Haw," the corny country show. His rustic gags and songs were both funny and sentimental.
Since he only worked in Swedish, his career declined as the number of Swedish speakers declined, and his references and wordplay fell on deaf ears. By the mid 1930s, he had stopped touring, and ran a bar in Michigan. Twenty years later, he returned to the stage, this time as a gospel singer for the Salvation Army.
He died in Minneapolis in 1960, mostly forgotten.
What remains: He may have been forgotten, but his jokes and songs aren't gone. Just search for "Olle i Skratthult" on YouTube, and there he is — alive again, and singing for the grateful Swedes.