Chicago Tribune -
Viking ship from 1893 Chicago world's fair begins much-needed voyage to restoration
The grueling 4,800-mile odyssey from Bergen, Norway, to Chicago's lakefront took more than two months. But the wait to begin restoring the Viking ship that fascinated thousands at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893 has taken much longer.
Finally, after years of changing hands and languishing in a sea of good intentions, the 78-foot replica of a 9th Century Viking vessel got a face-lift this week in west suburban Geneva, where it has awaited restoration since 1996.
The project to stabilize and reinforce the ship was financed with the hope of someday transporting, restoring and displaying the vessel at a new location.
But after getting a $52,000 grant last November to start the work, preservationists still haven't determined the ship's final resting place or how much it will cost to be fully restored.
"The ship will be where it is right now for the near future," said Liz Safanda, executive director of the non-profit Preservation Partners of the Fox Valley, which plans to work with the Chicago Park District to find a permanent home for the ship.
Built in Norway in 1892, the ship was modeled after a vessel called the Gokstad that had been excavated from a Viking warrior's grave two years earlier and was estimated to have been built around 890.
The replica, made of black oak, left Norway in April 1893 and made stops in Newfoundland and New York before arriving in Chicago in mid-July. Although it attracted much fanfare at the exhibition, the boat moored in Jackson Park Lagoon later fell into disrepair.
In 1920, the Chicago Park District took possession of the ship from a women's group that raised $20,000 to repair it and move it to Lincoln Park Zoo, where it sat for decades in an open-sided shed, attracting few visitors and becoming layered with pigeon droppings.
This week, under a white tent in Geneva's Good Templar Park, a crew of craftsmen tried to erase years of neglect to the ship, which last year was named one of the state's 10 most endangered historic objects by Landmarks Illinois, a non-profit historic preservation group.
"You can see where things have gone south dramatically," said Bob Fink, a maritime restorer who oversaw the work.
The boat's wooden planks have started to rot and splinter after rain and snow leaked through holes in the protective tarp. In addition, the hull is sagging, the result of inadequate supports, said Fink, 51, of Queenstown, Md.
While Fink and another carpenter added support frames to strengthen the boat's interior, a pair of workers from Chicago-based Methods and Materials cut steel beams to brace the ship from underneath.
Finally, Fink began installing a system of cables to pull the ship's sagging frame back to its original form.
"Once the cables are in place, she'll be good to go for another couple decades," Fink said.
In 1994, the Park District sold co-ownership rights for $1 to another group, the American-Scandinavian Council, which promised to restore the vessel and find a suitable home but made little progress.
The ship was later moved to a warehouse in West Chicago. Then, the International Order of Good Templars, a temperance group that started in Sweden, offered to house the ship in its park in Geneva.
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