Lyndell’s Bakery, the long-standing Ball Square establishment, has been serving cakes, donuts and other treats since 1887. Across four owners and over one hundred years of operation, the store remains mostly unchanged with its decor recalling a bygone era of American life and its pastries made each day according to antique recipes. Amid changing storefronts, new neighbors and a growing community, Lyndell’s has been a well-loved Somerville tradition.
Birger C. Lindahl was born in Sweden in 1866. Upon arriving in the United States in 1882, he began using the Americanized spelling Lyndell. On May 5th, 1887, the same year he founded the bakery, Birger married Mary Emma Allen, an American whose father was from Maine and mother from Ireland, at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boston. Eight years later, on October 11th, 1895, Mary gave birth to the couple’s only son: Allen August Lyndell, named for Mary’s family and Birger’s father August. The Lyndell family moved around for several years, to Boston, Newton and Malden, before settling down in Somerville’s Powderhouse Square, just a short walk from the bakery. Around this time, in 1904, the Lyndells made a cross-Atlantic trip to Sweden, presumably to introduce Mary and Allen to Birger’s relatives there. In a time before commercial air travel, this was no easy jaunt. Their return passage to the United States required them to sail from Gothenburg, on Sweden’s Western coast, to Liverpool, England and from there to traverse the Atlantic Ocean aboard the SS Cretic to Boston. A few years before, in 1901, the Lyndells made a much shorter trip from Dudley Square to Sullivan Square as passengers on the Boston Elevated Railway’s inaugural ride along that route. Seventy-five years later, Allen was one of a dozen or so surviving passengers invited to ride the first Orange line train from Sullivan Square down to North Station.
Birger and Mary were both greatly involved in their civic community. He served as a member of the New England Bakers Association as well as several fraternal societies in the area, including the Somerville Lodge of Freemasons. She was deeply committed to veteran’s causes and served as Secretary of the American War Mothers of Massachusetts and as President of the Welfare Association of the 101st Engineers, the Massachusetts National Guard battalion to which their son Allen belonged during World War I. In 1937, Birger and Mary celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary in the gold room of the elegant Hotel Kenmore in Boston. Befitting their many connections and commitments, the large party had over one hundred guests, including Somerville Mayor Leslie E. Knox. On August 22nd, 1944, Birger Lyndell died at age 80. Almost exactly one year later, Mary Lyndell, Birger’s wife for over fifty-seven years, died at age 84.
Birger Lyndell sold his bakery to Eugene and Albert Klemm, a pair of German-born brothers, in 1932. Both Klemm brothers came to the business with considerable experience. Eugene had been living with his sister Maria and her husband Frank Favorat in Malden. Frank owned Nelson’s Bakery in Malden and employed Eugene as a baker. Around the same time, Albert was living in Lynn with their uncle Carl and his family. Carl owned Klemm’s Bakery in Lynn where Albert learned his craft. After purchasing Lyndell’s, both brothers moved to Somerville: Albert with his wife Erica and Eugene with his wife Clara and their daughter Louise. In 1972, the Klemms sold the bakery to Herman and Janet Kett, two long-time Lyndell’s employees. Eugene hired Herman in 1959 and sponsored his immigration to the United States. Herman, 24 years old at the time, had been a baker’s apprentice in Germany and found the job through a neighbor there – Eugene and Albert Klemm’s mother. Janet had grown up across the street from Lyndell’s and began working there at age 14. She and Herman met at the store and later married. Under the Ketts’ management, the Klemm family continued to be involved with the bakery. Eugene continued to keep the books and helped out during the holidays. Walter Klemm, Eugene and Albert’s nephew, has been Lyndell’s master baker for over thirty years, and has worked for the Ketts as well as the store’s current owners.
When Lyndell’s current owners purchased the bakery in 2000, they also bought the store’s collection of hundred-year-old recipes. Included among the pies and strudels are Lyndell’s moons, which have become one of the bakery’s featured items. A moon, a disc of golden yellow cake frosted with white buttercream on one half and chocolate on the other, is similar to New York City’s famous black and white cookies but with a lighter base – more of a fluffy, moist cake than a dense, crumbly cookie – and creamier frosting, rather than the stiff fondant that tops the black and white. Moons are popular throughout upstate New York and New England and Hemstrought’s Bakery in Utica, N. Y. is sometimes attributed with inventing the treat. Lyndell’s says it has been handmaking moons for over one hundred year, which puts Hemstrought’s, opened in 1925, claim into question. One theory suggests that both moons and black and white cookies are American descendants of a German cookie, one with a similar base but frosted entirely in white. That cookie is, however, commonly known as an “amerikaner” (“American”) in Germany, which leads to a chicken-and-egg situation: did Germans bring the cookie to America, or did Americans bring the cookie to Germany? Both answers may be true, with German and Jewish immigrants first bringing the recipe to the United States in the 1800s and the cookies later becoming so popular with American servicemen in WWII, who were reminded of sweets they had eaten at home, that amerikaners were named in their honor.