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Our View: Duluth's Viking ship finally in the right hands

From the editorial: "New ownership ... brings optimism now that it finally will be treated with the respect and reverence it deserves and as the community treasure that it is."

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Capt. Gerhard Folgero sailed the Leif Erikson Viking ship from Norway to the U.S. in 1926.
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The city of Duluth probably should have done this years ago: transferred ownership of the Leif Erikson Viking ship to a private entity actually interested in its preservation and display.

The City Council voted unanimously Monday to give the craft to Save Our Ship Inc., the Duluth nonprofit that has already been laboring for years — since 1985, to be precise — to restore the nearly century-old vessel and to find a permanent home for it that’s both out of the elements and still in the public eye.

"While the city may not have been the most appropriate permanent caretaker, … we are fortunate that Save Our Ship, Inc. has stepped up,” Mayor Emily Larson said in a statement.

Appropriate or not, the city did agree in the late 1920s to take ownership of the first boat of its kind to successfully cross the Atlantic Ocean following the same route Norse explorer Leif Erikson did, centuries earlier, from Iceland to what is now America. The city also agreed at the time to lovingly maintain and proudly display the ship, a coveted prize after its sailors enjoyed rock-star status for their transatlantic achievement.

The ship was never really cared for, however, despite its place in history and its appeal to visitors and Northlanders alike. At one point, it was surrounded by ugly chain-link fencing and barbed wire. It was long left unprotected, allowing it to be battered and tattered, year after unforgiving year, by Duluth's famously severe weather. It also was moved, from place to place, like a mismatched chair that can't find its place in any room of the house.

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Oh, sure, plans were made — or often just discussed — to respectfully maintain and display the historic boat. But they kept being scrapped or allowed to fade from public attention, pushed aside by whatever hot new priority emerged.

There’s little doubt the city of Duluth has long failed its once-prized Viking ship, a gift to the city in 1927 from prominent Duluth businessman Bert Enger (for whom Enger Tower and Enger Park are named). He had acquired it shortly after its arrival through the Duluth ship canal and had donated it to the city in the name of his Enger & Olson Furniture Company with the understanding that it would be properly housed, maintained, and publicly enjoyed.

New ownership of the Viking ship brings optimism now that it finally will be treated with the respect and reverence it deserves and as the community treasure that it is. Already, the Save Our Ship group has two promising leads for permanent housing and display — neither of which would require any financial commitment from Duluth City Hall, the group’s Neill Atkins stated. That’s good news for taxpayers. One possible new home is in Knife River, and the other is in Canal Park.

Keeping the ship in Duluth ought to be a priority for the group, even as it continues to fundraise for whatever comes next. (Anyone who wants to help out can click on the “Donate” button at leiferiksonvikingship.com.)

The City Council’s long-overdue move this week opens promising prospects for a future for the Viking ship that can be as bright as its past and history are rich.

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