17 Jun 2021

RANDOM Times •

To survive, you must tell stories…(“,)

Malte Stierngranat: the man who did what he wanted

5 min read

Locals in Sweden have a nickname for the eccentric nobleman who built himself a pyramid tomb in the middle of the south highlands:
“Mannen som gjorde vad som föll honom in”.
Literally: “The man who did what he wanted.”
The curious character certainly carried around a lot of names.
His name was Georg Malte Gustav August Liewen Stierngranat, and was born in 1871 on an estate called Nobynäs, outside of the small city of Aneby.
Because he was the oldest son, he was expected to stick around the manor house and take over the family farm.

But Malte, as he was known, had other plans.

As a young boy, Malte had only a grammar-school education that he had gained in the nearby city of Linköping. During his teenage and young adult years, he lived a life of privilege but his parents tended to spend more than they earned from the cash rents on their estate farms, and they sometimes had to sell off parcels of land in order to make ends meet.
Malte wanted to travel to America as a young man but lacked the cash to do so. So in the spring of 1898 he visited each of the Nobynäs tenant farms to personally collect the rent payments for the year from each of the farmers and, with cash in his pocket, he set off for America. His stated goal was to marry rich.
“I will go to America and get hold of a rich lady, it does not matter what she looks like, well it does not matter if the nose sits in the neck,” he said.
He did it.
There he managed to acquire the title of “engineer”, an expertise he would claim throughout his life (with little evidence that he actually studied engineering). At various times in his life, he claimed to be both a mechanical and a civil engineer but, in any case, he ended up in Indianapolis, Indiana building the city’s waterworks. That same year, he worked on a similar project for the waterworks in Washington, D.C.
He eventually tired of his supposed engineering profession, and an art restoration work took him to the upper Midwest.

He settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and he also found himself a rich wife, Anna Marie Vietor Dahlman. She was the daughter of Senator Anthony Dahlman, a wealthy real estate magnate, and they married in November, 1905.
She was Swedish herself, and with Marie by his side Malte talked himself into the society pages, a reputation as an expert art restorer, and even an invitation to the White House from President Roosevelt.
His next-door neighbor was none other than the recently retired General Arthur MacArthur. General MacArthur coined the phrase “On, Wisconsin” and was the father of General Douglas MacArthur of World War II. MacArthur was a close friend with President Theodore Roosevelt, and he invited Malte to join him in visits to the White House. Roosevelt, quite taken with Malte, even gave him a silver-clad walking cane that Malte carried with him throughout his life.

In 1908, Malte and his wife Marie set off for Europe on the ship RMS Caronia.
They were traveling with the “Lodge of Artists”, a wealthy group of art patrons from Milwaukee. One evening on board ship, the club sponsored a dinner followed by entertainment and an art auction, with Guglielmo Marconi (you know, the guy that invented the radio) being the successful bidder on some of the art works. The same ship, the Caronia, was in the North Atlantic on April 14, 1912 and sent the first ice warning to RMS Titanic using, of course, Marconi’s own invention to do so!
Either way Malte and Marie traveled the world, visiting Africa, South America and Australia, and Malte continued accepting commissions to restore artwork, even working on a Rembrandt at one point.

When in 1910, Malte and Marie back to home in Sweden, together with their new baby daughter Ulrika, Malte’s parents having been forced to sell Nobynäs.
Like a Swedish Downton Abbey, using his wife’s fortune he was able to save some of the old estate, including the Castle Stjärne. Malte called his reclaimed home Stjärneborg – Castle of the Stars, in honor of the old castle, which he restored along with several other buildings on the property.
While his new little mansion was under construction, Malte was delighted to learn that Fifth Olympic Games was to be held in Stockholm in the summer of 1912.
As someone with significant American connections, he was named to be one of the “hosts” for the American athletes. He was to help greet the athletes as they arrived in the country, help provide for their accommodations and to generally show them a good time while they stayed in Stockholm.
For his efforts, he was rewarded with the honor of leading the American team into the stadium for the opening ceremonies.

Malte got even more eccentric the years that followed. He also created a small museum (that you can still visit today), and even a personal train station (that, unfortunately, was torn down in 1965).
Malte and Marie’s marriage didn’t stand the test of time, and they divorced in 1930.
He remarried and continued to create a legacy for himself throughout Sweden, but when also the second marriage ended he went back to Stjärneborg.
There he completed one final engineering feat: as over the years he became obsessed with his own death, and inspired by a visit to the Gaza pyramids of Egypt, he commissioned the construction of a burial pyramid near his property with the intention that he and his family would be interred there.
He lived for several more years, continuing in his eccentric ways and alternating between his beloved Stjärneborg and Stockholm, where eventually died in 1960 at the age of 88.
His wishes were honored and he is buried at the pyramid near Stjärneborg alongside his first wife Marie and his two sons. He instructed that his beloved Roosevelt cane remain with him in the pyramid.
And so, Malte Stierngranat carried his eccentric spirit also into the afterlife.
Until the very end, he remained a man who did what he wanted.