A great deal of energy and effort has been given to
obtaining general recognition of Leif Erikson as the Discoverer of America.
Inasmuch as the Norwegian National League lent much support to the movement,
here might be the proper place to give an account of its progress, especially
so because Ola Johann Særvold, writer and lecturer, one of the most
ardent champions of the cause, at one time was president of the National
The first local Leif Erikson festival that I can recall took
place at Normanna Hall November 11, 1906. The sponsors, I believe, were the
Sons of Norway lodges. The main address was delivered by Prof. Julius E. Olson
of the University of Wisconsin. The Norwegian Dramatic Society put on a very
creditable performance of Ibsen's "Hærmændene paa Helgeland" (The
Vikings at Helgeland).
For some years nothing much was heard about Leif Erikson.
The Supreme Lodge of Sons of Norway in 1918 instructed all local lodges to
"observe a Leif Erikson Day at such time as each lodge finds it most suitable."
Mention must be made of a non-Norwegian in Minneapolis who
in the twenties was vitally interested in the Leif Erikson movement. Dr. Harry
A. Bellows, an American of the old stock, as a student at Harvard had devoted
himself to the Icelandic and Old Norse as well as modern Scandinavian
literature. For a while he was editor of the Northwestern Miller and being very
musical, also edited the program notes for the Symphony orchestra concerts.
Dr. Bellows was one of the main speakers at the first really
big Leif Erikson celebration, which was put on in the Minneapolis Auditorium in
1923. Other speakers were Dr. Solon J. Buck, superintendent of the State
Historical Society, and Judge T. O. Gilbert, the supreme president of Sons of
Norway. Dr. C. M. Roan presided. Governor J. A. O. Preus, by a proclamation,
made September 29 that year a Leif Erikson Day for Minnesota.
The Norse-American Centennial in 1925, where the President
of the United States so unreservedly gave recognition to Leif Erikson as the
Discoverer of America, did much to kindle interest in this subject among the
The next year a Leif Erikson celebration at the Auditorium
brought out a large crowd. Edward J. Lee, who was somewhat of a politician,
invited as the main speaker Senator William E. Borah of Idaho, who then was a
national figure, largely because of his stand against the United States having
anything to do with the League of Nations. This aroused a great deal of
criticism. It was not considered wise or proper to bring in a politician for
such an occasion. Most of his talk was about what he thought would be the dire
results of the United States adhering to the League of Nations and the World
Court. Fortunately the situation was somewhat relieved by a scholarly talk
given by Dr. Bellows. It was also largely due to the influence of Dr. Bellows
that W. F. Webster, the superintendent of schools, encouraged pupils to choose
as a topic for essays: "Why Leif Erikson Interests Me."
The Norwegian National League from its rebirth in 1927
became quite a factor in the Leif Erikson movement locally. That year the
League made its debut with a Leif Erikson memorial program at the Lyceum
Theater. The principal speaker was Rasmus B. Anderson of Madison, Wis., a prime
mover in the Leif Erikson cause. On the program also appeared Captain Gerhard
Folgerø, who the year before had taken his Viking ship "Leif Erikson"
across the Atlantic from Norway, following much the same course as did the
Discoverer of America.
In 1928, a Leif Erikson festival for the first time in
Minneapolis was conducted on the real Leif Erikson Day, October 9. The
Norwegian National League had a large crowd for this festival held at Eagles
Hall with Pastor D. G. Ristad as the principal speaker.
Much impetus was lent the Leif Erikson movement when on May
10, 1929, Governor Walter Kohler of Wisconsin affixed his signature to a bill
by the legislature of that state making the 9th of October "Leif Erikson Day."
"When it (October 9) does not fall upon a school day," the law says, "the
school day nearest such date is designated as Leif Erikson Day. On such a day
one half hour may be devoted in the school to instruction and appropriate
exercises relative to and in commemoration of the life and history of Leif
Erikson and the principles and ideals he fostered."
The Sagas do not give the exact date of Leif Erikson's
landfall in America, only state that it was in the fall of the year. At the
suggestion of Christian A. Hoen, Edgerton, Wis., October 9 was settled upon,
inasmuch as that already was a historic date in the annals of Norwegians in
America, the ship "Restaurationen" arriving in New York on that date in 1825
with its first organized party of Norwegian immigrants.
The Norwegian National League in Minneapolis took the
initiative in getting the Minnesota legislature to adopt a law of the same
import and contents as the Wisconsin law making October 9 Leif Erikson Day.
Such a bill was signed by Governor Floyd B. Olson, April 7, 1931, in the
presence of Ola Johann Særvold, president of the Minneapolis Norwegian
National League, and two members of the legislature that had been the main
sponsors of the bill, Senator A. O. Devold and representative J. O. Melby. The
pen which the Governor used in affixing his signature to the bill was the one
with which Særvold had written his pamphlet, "The Discovery of America,"
which was distributed to all members of the legislature and no doubt did much
to create sentiment for the bill. Sen. Devold, born in Stockholm, Sweden, of
Norwegian parentage, was practicing law in Minneapolis. He had served in the
house two terms when in 1918 he was elected to the state senate, serving there
at least six terms. Melby, born in Børseskogn, Børsa, Norway, was
a resident of Oklee, Minn., and served in the house at least four terms.
These developments put more life into the Leif Erikson
movement. Nordkap Lodge No. 8, Sons of Norway, St. Paul, launched the idea of a
Leif Erikson monument on the Capitol Grounds even before passage of the bill,
but when it seemed certain that it would pass. On March 17 of the same year a
group of Twin City people organized the Leif Erikson Monument Association with
Prof. M. O. Wee as president. May 7 this association was incorporated.
Shortly after adoption of the Wisconsin law about a Leif
Erikson Day, Leif Erikson Memorial Association of America was organized in
Madison, Wis., with C. A. Hoen as president. This association largely has been
instrumental in stirring up sentiment in other states. At the present writing
October 9 has been made an official Leif Erikson Day in seven States
(Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Illinois, Colorado, Washington, and
California) and one Canadian Province (Saskatchewan).
Minnesota having gotten its Leif Erikson Day, the Norwegian
National League that same year (1931) put on an elaborate program in the
Metropolitan Theater. Presiding was Ola Johann Særvold, the League
president, and speakers were Governor Walter Kohler of Wisconsin and Governor
Floyd B. Olson of Minnesota, the two first governors to sign bills making
October 9 Leif Erikson Day in their respective States.
The next three years there were no big Leif Erikson
celebrations. However, the National League provided convocation speakers on
Leif Erikson Day in the high schools and talks on the subject over the radio.
A big lift was given the Leif Erikson movement in 1935 when
a congressional resolution, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, made
October 9 a national Leif Erikson Day, also "urging that the day hereafter be
observed in all States of the Union." The Norwegian National League and the
Monument Association combined that year to observe Leif Erikson Day in a big
way. There was a parade in the afternoon, and in the evening about five
thousand people assembled in the Municipal Auditorium, where Wilhelm
Morgenstierne, Norway's minister to the United States, was the principal
speaker. Dr. C. M. Roan presided.
The next year, Leif Erikson Day was celebrated with a
banquet at the West Hotel. Ola Johann Særvold was the toastmaster. The
main speaker was Valdimar Bjørnson. Talks also were given by Consul E.
H. Hobe and Edward J. Lee. The latter took occasion to state that the real
momentum was given the efforts to establish a Leif Erikson Day by the festival
in 1926, which was addressed by Senator Borah.
On August 7, 1938, the National League, the Monument
Association and the lodges of Sons of Norway and Daughters of Norway joined for
a Leif Erikson outing in Nokomis Park, where the Icelanders were brought into
the foreground, among the speakers being Valdimar Bjørnson, his father
the veteran chairman of the State's board of tax appeals Gunnar B.
Bjørnson, and the Icelandic-born Pastor H. B. Thorgrimsen. Brief talks
also were given by Vice-Consul Harry Eberhardt and Dr. Eyvind Klaveness.
On Leif Erikson Day in 1941, all seats were taken in the
Central Lutheran church for a program sponsored by the Joint Committee of Sons
of Norway. The main speaker was Major Ole Reistad, commander of the Little
Norway training camp for Norwegian flyers in Canada, who vividly described the
fighting in Norway after the invasion, through the valleys and up to
Tromsø and Narvik.
The Joint Committee of Sons of Norway in 1942 put on a Leif
Erikson program in the Norwegian Memorial church with Dr. Sverre Norberg as the
The Monument Association was very much hampered in its
efforts to collect funds for the monument during World War II. In April 1942
Prof. M. O. Wee died. He had been president of the Monument Association since
its inception. Dr. Eyvind Klaveness was elected to succeed him.
As soon as the war was over the Monument Association took
hold in dead earnest. A Greater Leif Erikson Committee was created with Dr. P.
M. Glasoe of St. Olaf College as chairman. The Supreme Lodge of Sons of Norway
as well as the Twin City Joint Committee of Sons of Norway decided officially
to support the movement. Among Minneapolitans very active in the work was
Martin B. Bjerkness, chairman of the finance committee. Site for the monument
had already been secured on the Capitol grounds, and the Norwegian-born
Minneapolis sculptor John K. Daniels had been commissioned to model the statue.
In 1945 the Joint Committee of Sons of Norway put on a Leif
Erikson festival at the Lyceum Theater for the benefit of the monument.
Speakers were Supreme President E. B. Hauke and George Grim of the
Star-Journal. On Leif Erikson Day in 1946 the Monument Association, the
National League, the lodges of Sons of Norway and Daughters of Norway, the male
choruses, Norse-American Centennial Daughters and Scandinavian Sisters of
America joined for a festival at the Central Lutheran church, Dr. P. M. Glasoe
presiding. The main address was given by Pastor E. S. Hjortland. Other speakers
were Jarle B. S. Leirfallom, Governor Edward J. Thye, Mayor Hubert Humphrey,
and Dr. Klaveness. In 1948 the Leif Erikson celebration also was put on in the
Central Lutheran church. Speakers were Pastor Hjortland and Dr. Glasoe. Pastor
B. E. Bergesen presided. As told earlier in this story the Minneapolis singers
in 1948 made their 17th of May celebration one for the benefit of the monument
The promoters several years in advance decided to make
dedication of the statue the Norwegian contribution to the observance of
Minnesota's territorial centennial.
Sunday, October 9, 1949, Minnesota had its greatest Leif
Erikson Day on record. On a spacious triangle opposite the beautiful State
Capitol, within the walls of which eighteen years earlier the Legislature had
proclaimed that October 9 was to be Leif Erikson Day for Minnesota, John K.
Daniels' heroic statue was unveiled, dedicated, and presented to the State of
Minnesota. It stood, and stands, only a stone's throw from where
Italian-Americans some years earlier placed a statue of Cristoforo Colombo.
About three thousand people were present for the exercises.
The ceremonies began with presentation of the colors by the
Viking Division, 47th Infantry of the Minnesota Guard. Master of ceremonies was
Valdimar Bjørnson, vice-consul for Iceland who also delivered a brief
address, "In the Year One Thousand." The statue was unveiled by Mrs. O. E.
Brack, first vice-president of the Monument Association. The dedicatory address
was delivered by Dr. E. Klaveness, president of the Monument Association, and
the acceptance address by Governor Luther W. Youngdahl. Dr. P. M. Glasoe,
second vice- president of the Monument Association, introduced to the audience
the sculptor John K. Daniels, who also had sculptured the close-by statue of U.
S. Senator Knute Nelson. Brief addresses were given by Consul General
Siqveland, Colonel Bernt Balchen, Norway's Minister of Defense Jens Chr. Hauge,
and Ambassador Wilhelm Morgenstierne. The United Norwegian Male Chorus under
the direction of Frederick Wick sang Oscar Borg's elaborate choral work "Leif
Erikson," "Norrønakvadet" by Grieg and "America the Beautiful." The
program opened with invocation by Pastor Joseph Simonson, chaplain of the
Minnesota Senate, and closed with benediction by Pastor Elias Rasmussen of the
Norwegian Memorial church in Minneapolis. After the exercises there was an
informal reception in Christ Lutheran church opposite the Capitol.
The evening prior to the dedication Consul General and Mrs.
Siqveland entertained about fifty guests at a dinner at the Radisson Hotel in
Minneapolis in honor of Ambassador Morganstierne, Minister of Defense Jens Chr.
Hauge, the youthful commander of the Home Front in Norway during the war, and
the Norwegian-born Col. Bernt Balchen of the U. S. Air Force.
My Minneapolis kan lånes i Norsk-amerikansk
Hele boken er også lagt ut på nettstedet