Thursday, January 29, 2009

A guest post from Michael Herschensohn

It is simply thrilling to watch the effort by the Nordic Heritage Museum to restore the wooden ship in its collection as part of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition Centennial Celebration. It is a powerful reminder of the role of Seattle’s Nordic communities in the creation and success of the A-Y-P.

The effort also recalls the rekindled interest in ancient Viking ships that took place following the 1880 discovery and excavation of the "Gokstad." In an oblique way, it also reminds us that much of what happened at the A-Y-P was not unique to Washington State or Seattle. Indeed, like many buildings, events and activities of Seattle’s great fair, the Viking ship that sailed from Kirkland to the A-Y-P boat landing on Portage Bay repeated on a much smaller scale a similar ship at the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition.

For that giant world’s fair, a close copy of the 8th-century Gokstad ship, called "Viking," was built at Christen Christensen’s Framnes Shipyard in Sandefjord. The ship was 24 meters long, 5 meters wide, with a mast 15 meters high, and equipped with a 9 by 12.5 meter sail. It had holes for 16 pairs of oars and cost 12,000 kroner.

Proving that Leif Eriksson could have made the trip to America 500 years before Columbus, the Viking sailed all the way from Bergen on April 30, 1893. It arrived on June 13, 1893, at New London, Connecticut (44 days). From New London, it made its way to the Hudson River, crossed New York State on the Erie Canal and then navigated the Great Lakes to Chicago. Following the fair,the Norwegian government donated the ship to the people of Chicago, where it was displayed in Lincoln Park for 100 years. It is the single largest surviving object from the 1893 exposition. It now languishes sadly on private land in Geneva, Ill., far from the windy city.

You can find more about that ship at The links at the bottom of the page are especially informative.

The Viking at the Columbian Exposition:

The earliest known image of a Viking ship, from the Bayeux Tapestry, an eleventh-century embroidered history of events preceding the 1066 Norman invasion of England:

After serving as Executive Director of The Children's Museum, The Museum of History and Industry and Northwest Folklife, Michael is now coordinating the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Centennial Celebration, where he supervises no one. Eons ago, he earned a Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literature. He capped that degree with a Masters in Architectural History and Preservation Planning. Michael was born in New York.

The Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition (AYP) Centennial Celebration is a project of the Seattle Mayor's Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs and 4Culture, King County's Cultural Services Agency, in collaboration with dozens of organizations and individuals around the region. Visit the AYP Centennial Celebration website at:

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