Henrik Brustad - Barnum & Bailey Circus Giant (June 2010)

Program at our June 26, 2010 Meeting


By Karen Serum

Wait ‘til you hear about my famous great uncle! And he was indeed famous!

Not for being a writer or composer or an artist. He was a giant in size as well as reputation. I have newspaper articles and photos which show him not so much to be the giant, as the men shown with him to be midgets, and a monument exists in his honor on the island of Ytteroy, his birthplace, near Trondheim.

He traveled around the world with the Barnum & Bailey Circus, and I have copies of lithographs from the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, advertising him as “Wottaman Brustad, The Great Norwegian Giant.”

He died in 1899 at the age of 55, so obviously I never got to meet him. I grew up hearing stories about “Onkel Henrik” from my father and aunts, and was thrilled to see further evidence of his fame when I visited Ytteroy myself. I hope you will enjoy hearing about him and some of his adventures.

About Karen Serum

Karen Brustad Serum of Lake Anna , Louisa County, Virginia, (near Richmond) was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, the daughter of Alma Lund from Ellsworth, Wisconsin and Karl Brustad, who had emigrated from Trondheim. Alma’s parents had emigrated from Tylldalen in Osterdalen, Norway.

Karen grew up primarily in Minneapolis and graduated from John Marshall High School , then earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Education at St. Cloud State College, St. Cloud , Minnesota .

As a young girl, Karen had the good fortune to live for two years with her maternal great grandmother in Tylldalen, and attended school there. She has visited Norway several times since, and though “Gammelmor” and the "tantes og onkels" (grandma, aunts and uncles) have long since died, she says arriving in Tylldalen always feels like coming home. One of her great uncles was Henrik Brustad, the 7'5" Norwegian giant, who is the subject of her presentation at the lodge's June 26 program.

After graduating from St. Cloud she married Martin Serum, a career Army guy, and they lived on Okinawa, in Massachusetts, and finally since 1967, in Virginia . Karen began her teaching career in an eight-grades-in-one-room school in rural Minnesota, and continued in the Department of Defense (American) schools on Okinawa, then Massachusetts and finally in Annandale, Virginia.

When they moved to Lake Anna she went to work as a social worker with Spotsylvania County , retiring from there in 2008. Martin died in 2006 and was buried in the National Cemetery in Arlington , Virginia . They have three children and six grandchildren.

Karen has always been a singer, joining church and community choirs wherever she’s lived. Her longest affiliation (since 1969) has been with the Potomac Harmony Chorus of Sweet Adelines, located in Arlington , Virginia . Sweet Adelines is an International singing organization for women.

Karen's other leisure activities include handcrafts of all kinds, puzzles, golf, and reading. She first joined Washington Lodge in 1998, and reactivated her participation in lodge events in 2009.