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Axel Edman: founder of Edman Apartments

DCN Correspondent

Axel A. Edman was born on June 6, 1867. He died on Dec. 7, 1946. I know this because it says so on his gravestone. Of course, it was going to take more than a gravestone to learn who Axel was.

My journey started, of all places, on Google. I searched the name and didn’t find anything about Axel himself. I did find a message board where a Mr. Dale Edman had inquired about the genealogy of Axel. He had been researching the Edman family, so I sent him an email. He quickly responded to my email. Dale is a distant ancestor of Axel’s. Because Axel’s family was an offshoot of his, Dale had only limited research on Axel, which he graciously shared with me.

Axel August Edman was born in Stornäs, Sweden. His family immigrated to the United States, via Norway, on Jan. 7, 1884, aboard the ship Thingvalla. Axel’s family initially came to St. Paul via the rail. Eventually, Axel and his brother, Carl, wound up in Duluth. Unfortunately, that’s where Dale’s research stopped, but I had a wonderful starting point.

All the online resources did was verify the death date on his headstone, so I went back to the graveyard. There I learned that his home address was 2717 E 5th St., and that he died due to a cerebral hemorrhage. There was also a woman, Elizabeth Edman Swanson, listed with him. Another good start, but still not complete.

I then sought an obituary. After some long searching, I found Axel’s death report in the Dec. 9 edition of the Duluth News Tibune. Axel died on Dec. 7 from injuries received in a car crash on Nov. 15.

Axel had lived in Duluth for 60 years, so he must have come to Duluth within years of his family’s arrival in the US. He was a member of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, as well as a few other organizations that I’ve never heard of. Axel was survived by his wife, Elizabeth, which confirmed the cemetery report. Using the death date given to me at the cemetery, I was able to find her obituary.

Elizabeth died almost 30 years after Axel, and between then must have remarried, as she was listed as Elizabeth Edman Swanson. The most interesting part of her obituary was that she was said to be owner and operator of Edman Apartments. This was interesting because Axel’s obituary said he had been “in the real estate business for 25 years.? This lead brought me to the Northeast Minnesota Historical Society’s collection of Duluth directories, where it came together.

Axel Edman was listed as a bartender until 1926, which was the same year Edman Apartments first shows up, located at 1731 E Superior St. Presumably, Axel opened the apartments with his wife that year. The building can still be seen today, marked by a large EDMAN engraving over the front door. This appears to have been his occupation until his death.

Axel’s obituary doesn’t list any children, and Elizabeth’s only lists stepchildren, presumably from Charles Swanson, so it seems that Axel never had any kids.

Elizabeth Edman remains as a widow in the directories for another four years until she appears in 1951 as the wife of Charles Swanson. Apparently, Elizabeth remarried sometime from 1950-51, but continued living at the same residence where she and Axel had lived on Fifth Street, just with a new man. She ran Edman Apartments all the while until she went to a nursing home.

With further time and research I could find when and where Edman Apartments definitely opened and if Axel had any other real estate endeavors. As it appears, those apartments were his main undertaking. I could also learn when Axel married Elizabeth and more about Axel’s brother, Carl. For now, this is what I have.

This biographical sketch was written for the Research for Reporters class at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Each student in the class went to a cemetery in Duluth, got a name from a grave marker, and then used a variety of primary and secondary sources to find out as much as possible about the person.