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.

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…

From Norway to Chicago


The ship was built in Sandefjord, Norway, and later christened Viking.

Viking under construction at Sandefjord photo: Vesterheim Museum, Decorah, IA

Captain Magnus Andersen and his crew

280 men applied to make the historic voyage, but only eleven were chosen. Crossing the north Atlantic was a brave experiment proving that Leif Erikson could have made the same crossing in AD1000.
Read about the only authenticated Viking settlement in North America HERE… and HERE

The Viking ship in the Erie Canal.

“Viking” in Erie Canal photo: Vesterheim Museum, Decorah, IA

The Viking ship arriving in Chicago.

“Viking” Arrives in Chicago, by Hjalmar Johnssen, 1898

From The Book of the Fair

“… as the approaching Columbian Exposition began to be the talk of the world, it was determined to send there her (Gokstad’s) counterpart, manned by Norwegian sailors and unattended by any other craft, in order to prove the feasibility of Leif Erikson’s alleged expedition, more than nine centuries ago, from Norway to the New England coast. Thus from Sandefjord the vessel, built by public subscription in the spring of 1893, set sail for New York, and in the middle of July anchored off Jackson park.”

Paul V. Gavin Library Digital History Collection

The Viking is a replica of the Gokstad ship.

Excavated in 1880, the Gokstad was called the most beautiful ship ever built.

Of the Viking it was written…

“Her lines are remarkably beautiful, resembling those of a yacht, the convex curvature of the keel increasing her strength and steadiness of motion.”

The Book of the Fair

Correct Name of the 1893 Viking Ship

“VIKING er ditt navn.”
(VIKING is your name.)

There is a widespread misunderstanding that the ship initially was named the Raven, and only later renamed Viking.

When one investigates the sources, there is no doubt that Viking is the correct name of the ship.  Books written by both the Captain and crew refer to the ship as Viking.  Newspaper articles written as the ship arrived in cities from New York to Chicago describe the ship as Viking.  See the christening document HERE…

The bronze plaque from Lincoln Park

photo: Vesterheim Museum, Decorah, IA

The plaque incorrectly numbers the crew at fourteen. There were only eleven crew members in addition to Captain Andersen.

The bronze plaque reads:


“This ship came direct from Norway to Chicago under its own sails, with a crew of fourteen Norwegian sailors commanded by Captain Magnus Andersen, carrying a message of good will from the people of Norway to the American people at the World’s Columbian Exposition at Chicago in the year 1893.  It is an exact reproduction of the famous ship about 1000 years old and excavated from the “King’s Mound” at Gokstad, County of Jarlsberg, Norway.  In such ships the ancient Norwegian Vikings roamed the seas and founded Norse domains in Normandy, Ireland and Sicily. About the year 1000 A.D. the Norwegian Viking Leif Eriksen, sailing in such a ship and without the aid of compass, discovered the American continent.”