Local view: Leif Erikson is living history worth restoring
Today is the 80th anniversary of the arrival of the Leif Erikson Viking ship to Duluth. On June 23, 1927, Captain Gerhard Folgero and his crew of three accomplished the goal of reenacting Leif Erikson's journey, proving the Vikings could have tra...
Today is the 80th anniversary of the arrival of the Leif Erikson Viking ship to Duluth. On June 23, 1927, Captain Gerhard Folgero and his crew of three accomplished the goal of reenacting Leif Erikson's journey, proving the Vikings could have traveled the Atlantic to North America.
The voyage was regarded as one of the major news stories of its day, capturing national and international attention. As it entered United States waters, the ship and its crew were greeted by governors, mayors and other officials, among them Franklin D. Roosevelt, who soon afterward became governor of New York and later president of the United States. Henry Ford was present to celebrate the ship's arrival at the Detroit Yacht Basin.
The Leif Erikson ship was built by local boat builders in Korgen, Norway, to replicate the type of ship sailed by the Vikings in their settlement of North America around 997 A.D. The 42-foot vessel was completed in April 1926. Captain Folgero and his crew left Bergen, Norway, on May 23. The Leif Erikson logged more than 6,700 miles in a perilous route via Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland, and chalked up a total of 10,000 miles on its journey to Duluth and later Chicago in the summer of 1927.
We, as a restoration committee, took over the refurbishing of the Leif Erikson in 1985. The ship had been left out in the open in Leif Erikson Park since a 1944 restoration and was near total disintegration.
We were able to secure and cover the ship while we made significant repairs. About 70 percent of the ship needed to be replaced. All repairs were completed authentically by local boat builder Larry Ronning and hundreds of volunteers.
Thousands of hours of volunteer time have been committed to this historical jewel and now we, as a community, need to accept ownership and secure, protect and house the Leif Erikson.
We are now in the final stage, working with the city of Duluth to find grants and other funding sources to complete the protective roof structure. The ship has been shrink-wrapped for temporary protection and will be moved to a secure location for repairs late this fall. The reality is that we can't do it alone. If the roof structure is ever to be built, we will need financial support from the city, local businesses and private donors.
In 1927, thousands of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents lined the Duluth ship canal to watch this beautiful ship arrive.
"I wish I could have been there," said life-long Duluth resident Gwen Lindberg. "The North Shore was settled by so many folks from Norway, Sweden and Finland. ... It seems like so little is remembered these days of a person's heritage. Our children need to know how we got here and what it took to accomplish this feat."
By happenstance, Duluth will welcome a replica of another historic sailing ship when the remade Nina arrives on July 11. Whether you're Italian, Viking or just impressed with the work of craftsmen to recreate these seafaring wonders, we can all view these ships with great pride or consider the historic implications they symbolize.
The Leif Erikson has been restored to the point of being able to launch once again. Wouldn't it be something to see both ships sailing side-by-side?
Of course, just as in history, the Leif Erikson got here first.
Neill Atkins of Duluth is a member of the Leif Erikson Restoration Committee.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: 80th anniversary celebration of the Leif Erikson's voyage from Norway to Duluth
WHERE: Great Lakes Aquarium
WHEN: 6 p.m. Sunday
For more information: www.duluthvikingship.com