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Duluth's Viking ship might finally get a new home

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news Duluth, 55802
Duluth Minnesota 424 W. First St. 55802

The replica Viking ship that was displayed for decades in Duluth’s Leif Erikson Park could finally have a suitable home by the end of this year.

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A site near the park for the 42-foot vessel to go on permanent, sheltered display probably will be secured Monday when the Duluth City Council takes up a resolution authorizing the city to lease a triangular parcel of land from the Minnesota Department of Transportation at an annual cost of $100.

Preservationists already have raised about $100,000 to build a glassed-in pavilion on the site, but Neill Atkins, who has spearheaded the effort to put the ship on proper display, said it probably will take another $50,000 to see the project through to completion.

He said the cost of the pavilion would be much higher were it not for the local support the project already has received. Kane Tewes, an architect at Krech Ojard & Associates, is designing the structure at no cost, and Atkins said people from the local building trades community also have volunteered their services to help.

If all goes smoothly, the pavilion should be completed this year, allowing the ship to go back on public display. It is currently being stored at the Lafarge cement terminal, where repairs to the ship again are underway.   

The replica ship made history when it set sail in 1926 from Bergen, Norway, to Labrador and then to Boston. The voyage was intended to show how Vikings likely became the first Europeans to visit North America.

“It was a tremendous feat of sailing and a big deal at the time,” Atkins said. “Four guys from Norway did something that no one else had in modern times.”

The voyage drew international attention and attracted more than 1 million curious onlookers to ports en route, according to Atkins.

After arriving in Boston, the vessel sailed up the St. Lawrence Seaway and through the Great Lakes, clear to Duluth in 1927, where local business partners Bert Enger and Emil Olson purchased the ship for $5,000. The pair, who had made their fortune selling furniture, turned around and gave the ship to the city of Duluth with the understanding that it would be placed on public display.   

But the vessel fell into neglect. In the 1980s, Atkins and others raised money to help restore the ship. The next challenge would be to find a permanent home for the vessel.

The ship was put on display in Leif Erikson Park, where it was subjected to abuse.

“Personally, I’m disappointed that we couldn’t put the ship back on display at Leif Erikson Park, but it was repeatedly vandalized to the point where keeping it in the park was not an option,” Duluth City Architect Tari Rayala said.

But, she noted that the site now proposed is prominently located near a major access point for the park. She also predicts the proposed pavilion will fit into the local landscape nicely, without sacrificing lake views.

Atkins, too, is pleased with the solution now in the works.

“We’re happy with the site because it’s visible and we see it as the entryway to Leif Erikson Park,” Atkins said. “Instead of it being buried inside the park, people will be able to see it in the new location.”

Last year, the Duluth City Council allocated $40,000 in unanticipated tourism tax revenues to help find a proper home for the Viking ship. Rayala said some of those funds will be used to survey the site and establish utility services for a new display. She said a kiosk describing the vessel’s voyage to Duluth also could be installed on site.  

Atkins said it’s about time Duluth paid the ship the respect it deserves.

“This ship is a significant piece of Duluth’s history and of the city’s Norwegian heritage,” he said. “It’s an extremely valuable, one-of-a-kind artifact, and we have the original.”

To learn more To learn more about the ship and on how to donate to the nonprofit organization established to put it on permanent display, go to leiferiksonvikingship.com.

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