Thom Bell, of eyewondermedia and BPSvideo, as part of his documentary about the research being done on the Kensington Runestone by Richard Nielsen and Professor Henrik WIlliams, from Uppsala University, visited our ship to learn about her story.

To set the stage for his documentary, Thom interviewed FOVS Board member, David Nordin, gathering insight into the history of Scandinavian-Americans during the 1800’s.

In the interview, Dave mentioned how, at that time, the printing of the Icelandic Sagas, the desire of Scandinavians to understand their Viking roots, and the spirit of Norwegian nationalism, each played a role in Viking participating in the Columbian Exhibition. While Dave described the construction of the Viking ship, its voyage, and its welcome by tens of thousands of Fair-goers, Thom’s video focused on its size, shape and beauty.

The Viking Ship from BPSVideo on Vimeo.

Still Searching For a Permanent Home

Viking now counts five “homes” after her launch in Sandefjord, Norway in 1893 and her voyage to Bergen and onward to Chicago:

  • 1893-94: New Orleans, final stop in her journey downriver towards the Gulf of Mexico (her direction until the donation to the Smithsonian fell through) – 1/2 year
  • 1894-1919:  alongside what is now the Museum of Science and Industry at the northern end of what became Jackson Park – 25 years
  • 1920-1994:  Lincoln Park just outside the zoo – 74 years
  • 1994-1996:  the Belden Company yard in West Chicago – 2 years
  • 1996 – Present:  Good Templar Park in Geneva – 21 years.

Since leaving Lincoln Park, the intention of those caring for her has been to return the ship to Chicago. For 23 years Viking has been resting on that robust semi-mobile steel “cradle” that Belden used to roll her first to West Chicago then two years later onward to Geneva and Good Templar Park, where she sits today. In preparation for possible placement at The Field Museum, museum officials arranged for the company they engage for moving larger pieces into and out of their building to evaluate the ship’s readiness for a move. This was in 2015, and she was pronounced ready to move. FOVS was thrilled that our work to stabilize the ship over the past few years prepared her for a new journey.

“Viking’s” Current (and Temporary) Home

But where will that journey lead her? We have a Location Committee headed by board member Roar Broch that has delved deeply into that question. We have considered more than twenty sites, all in the greater Chicago area, including the suburbs as well as towns along her route down to the Illinois River. We have made formal presentations to The Field Museum, the Chicago History Museum, the Swedish American Museum, and to Cantigny Park. While our ship and her advocates have been warmly welcomed, in each case her weight and size have been an issue. Even The Field Museum, which was the Field Columbian Museum and technically the ship’s landlord until moving into the present building on the Museum Campus in 1920, had to conclude that the ship is too big for that very large building. Of course, it is not a small thing that that big museum is already very full.

Our conclusion is that wherever she goes, Viking will need to be under a new roof, in a new enclosure that replaces the changing of the seasons and the vagaries of the elements with careful regulation of heat and humidity. With that said, we have also identified a number of other attributes, both because of what we have learned from her 21 years in Good Templar Park, and from other American and global museums with Viking ships and other large artifacts. Being able to comfortably accommodate groups of children and adults, to tell stories of our own and other ships, to display and conserve exhibits relevant to how the ship is interpreted and perceived, and to celebrate her survival and continuing impact – all of these call for something bigger than the 2800 feet we currently use for her home.

The question of a return to Chicago is complicated by the fact that any public spaces are managed by the city or the county. That is also true if we moved the ship from GTP to another locale in Geneva, or Kane, or another county. For years, discussions of where she could or should go were complicated by too many ideas and too few actual negotiations with actual partners. We view the four formal presentations mentioned above as real negotiations. They were preceded by somewhat less formal discussions with Navy Pier and with the Chicago Maritime Museum.

We have also considered partnering with private developers, but we have not yet moved very far down that path. In each case, questions of what happens in the long term have proven to be bigger than any private entity can answer. Our goal is to manage just one more move – the ship is stable and can be moved, but with each passing year her fragility and vulnerability increases. So we only want to move her once. Nevertheless, we have discussed a 99-year lease in one case, assuming that after such a period a renewal would be likely, but history has shown how much can change in a century of progress.

We assume that no partner would commit to FOVS if the vulnerability of our ship appeared to add significant risk and/or liability. For that reason, we have been discussing how to create a permanent endowment that would fund her upkeep in perpetuity.

With all these things said, we have tried to keep our focus by conducting one negotiation at a time. Having completed all the ones mentioned above, we are now turning our focus to another location in the Chicago area. We are all volunteers, but we want any and all of our proposals and conversations to be at the highest level of professionalism. We also want them to be viewed in the context of the added value Viking can bring to any partner. So we also are proceeding on parallel tracks with our Development Committee. If we can line up strong financial partners, we feel an eventual deal for a permanent home is all the more likely.

With all that said, we are open and eager to talk and think more, all within a context of urgency and, at the same time, deliberation. We have recently visited with four museums in Scandinavia that each counts hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. Another set of tracks is to continue to visit and learn from peers like these. In a future article, we will discuss those visits as well as ones we have made and are planning to other North American sites.

Friend of the Viking Ship contributes to National Geographic article

Friends of the Viking Ship board member, Ken Nordan contributed to an article for National Geographic, published in March of 2017.

In the summer of 2016, National Geographic Senior Graphics Editor Fernando Baptista visited our ship and was given an extensive and informative tour by FOVS board member Ken Nordan. Since our ship is an exact replica of the Gokstad ship, it offered Fernando, in his own words, to “feel and sense the ship” to inform his art work and the facts presented.  In its feature story on Vikings, National Geographic included a centerfold of a Viking ship based on our own “Viking!

You can view the article here.

Viking Stabilization Update

It is with great joy that it can be reported that the main stabilization work on Viking is finished!  With the visit to our ship by our primary consultant Gunnar Eldjarn in August, 2016–first to evaluate the work that had been done and then make recommendations for how to proceed–we made our final plans and carried out their implementation.  It was especially gratifying to hear Gunnar as he inspected the new “pillows” providing a cushion between the metal support jacks and the ship, proclaiming them either “very good” or “excellent.”  Gunnar agreed that we could use the screwjack idea for both the bow and stern supports, though the bow jack could be less robust to minimize its visual impact, and said that where the jack touches the keel there needs only to be four inches of material to provide adequate support. Gunnar also agreed that getting the mast off the ground and on display supported by the ships cradle made good sense and thought that having the yard alongside the mast would be helpful.   He commented on our two tone color scheme of gray below and black above and how it complements the ship, and was pleased to hear that we would be soon completing what remained unpainted.

Gunnar Eldjarn, master builder of “Draken Harald Hårfagre,” inspecting “Viking” and providing recommendations.

Starting in late September and continuing into mid-November, Bruce Andresen worked with Neil Anderson, Dave Barrows, Dave Nordin, and Perry Straw at the ship to remove old parts, modify existing parts and add new parts to accomplish these goals and to prepare for winter.   On October  15th we were joined by Roar Broch, Andrew Woods, Jeff Rydin, Jamie Larson, and Dan Snyder of “Mast Movers LLC” (also the caretaker of Good Templar Park), who all helped to move the mast to its new home atop the cradle outriggers.  Thanks to the aid of Dan’s tractor, moving the 52-foot-long mast was less of a back-breaking effort than anticipated, but we now all have a healthy respect for the strength of the Vikings of old who could raise and lower it with the limited tools and technology they had available to them!

After the mast move, work continued through early November to finish the projects for this year.  Here is a summary of what has been accomplished:

  • Added bow and stern jacks per directions from Gunnar Eldjarn
  • Moved the mast and yard to their permanent location on the starboard outriggers
  • Lined the starboard side of the shelter with plywood to cut down on dust, wind and snow
  • Removed the cables inside the ship as they are no longer needed and compromised the view of the ship
  • Removed part or all of the original ship supports on the starboard side
  • Corrected the bow tent support
  • Removed the tent support at the mast to be corrected in the spring
  • Painted all bare metal that was added to the cradle
  • The shelter cover was replaced with a temporary (till mid next year) cover, thanks to Peter Orum.
The new stern jack in place.

Many thanks go out to all who have contributed their time, sweat and energy to helping us stabilize Viking’s condition and provide her with the best structural support she’s had since she left the water!

Viking Has A Guardian Angel!

This angel doesn’t have wings and even smokes cigars!

Ever since the Viking arrived in Geneva, Illinois, Peter Orum of Midwest Ground Covers (“MGC”), based in Saint Charles, Illinois, has been “watching” over our ship by supplying protection from the elements in the form of the greenhouse-type shelter. He literally puts and maintains a roof over our head!

Peter Orum talks with Perry and Lorraine

Greenhouse covers (an integral part of Peter’s business) are made of white plastic with fiberglass reinforcing strings stretched over a stout metal frame. These covers protect Viking from the elements; sun, rain and wind; but these same forces of nature eventually cause the fabric to fail and the covers need to be replaced from time to time. The covering over Viking is no exception. Covering the ship requires a lot of material and at 48’ x 100’ it takes over a month to receive the cover. In December 2015, our “angel” provided a crew and new cover for the ship. After the cover was in place, it was discovered that there was a flaw in the center seam of the fabric near the stern. It appeared as two bright spots on the inside of the shelter, and it could be seen that the seam was not straight. The head of the installation crew, Robert Adolph, told FOVS chief of maintenance Bruce Andresen that they had inspected the cover closely and did not think that there was a hole in the fabric, but if we encountered any problems with the integrity of the fabric, any leaking of water, to contact him and Peter and he would resolve the problem.

Everything seemed fine until September 2016 when it was discovered that at least one of the two flaws was leaking water onto our ship. Bruce immediately contacted Peter Orum and Robert Adolph, and a new cover was ordered for the shelter. On October 27th a crew arrived with the cover, a bucket truck, and supplies.

It is a fascinating process to watch. The bucket lift is used to reach the high edges of the shelter at each end. The cover is held in place by springs fitted into a slot which runs the entire length of the shelter on each side and at the top of the shelter ends. It is further dressed with a vinyl strip stapled to the wood surrounding the edges of the shelter. Once the old cover is freed it is removed, folded up and then rolled up. Last year the wind caused the loosened cover to act like a sail and fly up, spectacularly, to twice the shelter’s height along the entire length of the enclosure.

After the new cover was rolled out for installation it was discovered that the new cover was cut too short to span the shelter. The fabric is always supplied with sufficient additional material to allow it to be pulled taut over the ribs and trimmed to fit. Co-Chief Perry Straw was taking movies of the work and noted that there was a problem and commented “I hope this guy is a Boy Scout!” referring to the resourcefulness of Robert Adolph. This proved to be the case, as this capable leader sent a part of the crew to Lisle where “MGC” was constructing some new greenhouses to obtain a substitute cover. While not made with as durable a material, the substitute cover will provide sufficient protection for more than a year and has the advantage of being seamless.

Installing the fabric over Viking

After the substitute cover arrived and work resumed, Peter came on-site to review the progress. He had not been aware of the problem with the replacement cover material, but after being briefed of the trouble and the solution, he approved of Robert’s actions. The cover was pulled over the shelter by bunching the fabric and attaching a rope to each bunch. The ropes were then thrown over the shelter at each bunch to start the process. Some of the crew remained on one side to hold the fabric, the rest were stationed on the other side, pulling the ropes to pull the fabric over the ribs of the shelter frame. Because even a slight breeze can produce spectacular billowing in the fabric, it’s a critical time in the process. Installers have been seen lifted completely off the ground while struggling to hang on to the fabric. There have to be enough workers for each side, plus extra hands, to begin the process of securing the fabric in place.

The FOVS board is pleased to say that the ship is now safe and secure against the wind, snow and rain of the winter and coming spring. Sometime after our first open day in 2017, probably in June or July, a crew from “MGC” will return to install a more durable version of the cover over the shelter.

Mr. Orum continues to be a magnificent benefactor. Many ship visitors hear this story during their ship introduction and it can be said that not only are there Viking angels but there is an angel for the Viking!

Progress. Viking is Supported Better than Ever!

Members of the Friends of the Viking Ship Stabilization Committee have been working hard, and their efforts have resulted in an adequate support system for Viking. To be properly supported, the ship needed to be supported entirely on the steel cradle—with no reference to the ground—and supported in many more places—including the lower hull. This has finally been accomplished!

The Stabilization Committee followed the advice and diagrams provided by Norwegian Viking ship builder, Gunnar Eldjarn. The committee contracted Methods & Materials to weld the inner and outer supports onto Viking’s steel cradle, and to fabricate the adjustable screwjacks and “shoes”. Crosspiece supports had already been installed in October 2014. The crosspieces support the keel at every other rib along the ship’s length.

The support jacks and “shoes” were installed in March 2015. The inner (lower) jacks that provide support for the lower hull were welded to the crosspieces. The outer (upper) jacks that provide support for the upper hull were welded to the “I” beam out-riggers.

Over the summer, volunteers continued to paint the steel cradle. On August 10, Cantigny employees Andrew Woods and Dave Blake used their Service Days to help sand and paint. On October 10, seven others volunteered to work at the ship.

This autumn, temporary “pillows” were created. Every wood “pillow” is a different shape. They were cut to conform to the specific strakes they support, at the rib they support. The “pillows” provide the cushion interface between the metal “shoes” and the ship. Viking’s keel and hull are now sufficiently supported.

Temporary wood “pillows” provide cushion between the shoe and strakes

Judge Navigates Transfer of Viking Ship

Honorable Perry J. Gulbrandsen (ret.) is a true friend of the Viking Ship! Judge Perry, who serves as an honorary board member of the Friends of the Viking Ship (FOVS), was instrumental in achieving the transfer of the trusteeship of the Viking from the Chicago Park District (CPD) to the Friends of the Viking Ship. Ownership now allows FOVS to pursue grants and major funding to preserve and properly house the Viking.

Honorable Perry Gulbrandsen (Ret.)

Gulbrandsen, of Rittenberg, Buffen, Gulbrandsen, Robinson & Saks Ltd., and lawyer for FOVS, worked with Nelson A. Brown, senior counsel of the CPD and Matthew D. Shapiro from the Attorney General’s (AG) office in facilitating transfer of the trusteeship from the CPD to FOVS. Gulbrandsen’s work for FOVS was done pro bono.

Except for a brief time (1994-2001) when a co-trusteeship existed between the CPD and the now dissolved American Scandinavian Council, the Viking had been in the care of the Park District for 92 years. After the Federation of Norwegian Women’s Societies restored and moved the Viking from Jackson Park to Lincoln Park, the ship was transferred into the care of the Commissioners of Lincoln Park for perpetual care on November 6, 1920. In 1934 Lincoln Park, together with several other parks, was consolidated into the Chicago Park District. The ship remained in Lincoln Park until 1994 when the CPD Superintendent required that it be moved to allow expansion of the Lincoln Park Zoo. Following a temporary stay in West Chicago, IL, the ship was moved to Good Templar Park in Geneva, IL, where it has been sheltered for 16 years.

Although legal trustee of the Viking, the Chicago Park District set aside no funds for maintenance of the ship or its shelter. In August of this year the CPD concluded that it did not have the funds to preserve and house the historic Viking.

In late June, the CPD filed a petition to amend the deed and trust and relieve it of its duties as trustee of the ship. Because the attorney general’s office represents the people of Illinois in charitable trust matters, the petition named Illinois Attorney Lisa M. Madigan as the respondent in the case, and the AG gave its permission. On August 8, 2012 the Chicago Park District agreed to transfer ownership interest to the FOVS.

September 12, 2012, brought the three parties, together with many “Friends”, into the courtroom of Cook County Circuit Judge Sophia H. Hall at which time Judge Hall signed the agreed order. This final step in the transfer empowers Friends of the Viking Ship to pursue significant funds and grants for the preservation and housing of this magnificent historical artifact.

“It is very exciting to see the Viking Ship transferred to the capable hands of the Friends of the Viking Ship,” said Chris Morris of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “They have made amazing progress on the restoration of this important icon of the 1893 Columbian Exposition. It is so gratifying to know that the Partners in Preservation program in 2007 helped them start on this path by stabilizing the ship. The Friends of the Viking Ship have been tireless in their dedication to the project since then, and we congratulate them on their latest achievement.”

FOVS is grateful to Perry Gulbrandsen for his significant role in making this transfer possible, and for his continuing support toward the preservation of the historic Viking.

Tusen Takk Perry!

“Friends” of the Viking Ship gathered outside the courtroom after Judge Sophia Hall signed the agreed order. Front row: Elizabeth Safanda – FOVS Vice President, Matthew Shapiro – Assistant Attorney General, Trust Division, Lorraine Straw – FOVS President, Honorable Perry Gulbrandsen (Ret.), Honorable Sophia Hall, Paul Anderson – Honorary Norwegian Consul General, William Nissen, Lindy Anderson, Don Hoganson. Behind: Brian Ibsen – FOVS Board member, Bruce Andresen, Lynn Maxson, Nelson Brown, Senior Counsel, CPD, Thomas Maxson, Roald Berg

Viking Ship in Lincoln Park

On display in Lincoln Park, Chicago

The dedication of the Viking ship in Lincoln Park took place on November 6, 1920.

On this date, the Viking ship was transferred to the Commissioners of Lincoln Park (later to become part of the Chicago Park District).

The head and tail are now in storage at the Museum of Science and Industry.
The Committee at the dedication of the Viking ship in Lincoln Park, November 6, 1920.

From Chicago to New Orleans

“… and that Viking was the only ship that had sailed over the Atlantic ocean, thereafter gone through the Erie Canal and through the Great Lakes and on down canals and rivers to the Mexican Gulf.”

Magnus Andersen

At the conclusion of the World’s Columbian Exposition, Viking was towed through the Illinois and Michigan Canal and down the Illinois River to Grafton. She then sailed down the Mississippi River to New Orleans.

Read an article from 11-29-1893 HERE. “Thousands of People View the Strange Norse Craft”

Viking remained in New Orleans over the winter.

Never able to complete her journey around Florida and up the East Coast to Washington, D.C., Viking was towed back to Chicago.

After her return, the Viking sat beside the Field Columbian Museum (now the Museum of Science and Industry) Here Viking was neglected.

Viking Ship at Jackson Park

Viking moored in the Jackson Park Lagoon photo: Vesterheim Museum, Decorah, IA

From The Book of the Fair

“The Viking ship, which divides the naval honors with the Spanish caravels, is constructed on the model of that discovered in the “Kingsmound” at Gokstad, near Sandefjord, Norway, by a sailor in 1880, and built by popular subscription for the World’s Fair. Unlike the caravels, this vessel made the voyage to America on her own resources, and with a degree of comfort and speed that proved at least the possibility of Leif Ericsson’s famous exploit. She is of oak, clinker built, caulked with cow’s hair spun into a sort of cord, seventy five feet over all in length, sixty feet on the keel, a beam of fifteen and a half feet, and a draught of three and a half. At the prow rises high in the air a great carved dragon’s head, and the tail of the beast appears at the stern, both richly gilded and the splendor of the vessel is further increased by the row of shields along each bulwark, in yellow and black, and, when in commission, by the red and white striped roofing. At the stern is a massive “high seat” for the chief or “Jarl,” covered with carved Runic inscriptions; there are no decks excepting two small ones, fore and aft, and the rigging consists of one mast that can be taken down, and one yard carrying a great square sail. The oars are sixteen on each side, each seventeen feet long, and the ship is steered by an oar on the starboard side, near the stern, after the old sea-king fashion.”

Paul V. Gavin Library Digital History Collection

The “Viking” arrived in Chicago at the World’s Columbian Exposition and throughout the “Fair” was moored beside the Manufacturers building.  Jackson Park was originally designed in the 1870s, but was little improved until 1890 when Frederick Law Olmsted laid out the World’s Columbian Exposition on the site.  Read more…