The Saga of Seattle’s Leif Erikson Statue (continued)

There was a run-in with Teamsters while transporting the statue across the Oregon state line, which Trygve solved by telling the Chief of Police in Red Bluff, California, that Seattle’s Mayor Clinton had donated to the project. The Chief donated $10 and sent them on their way. “Probably a Norwegian,” declared Trygve.

There were also disappointments with the politics of giving the statue to a city that hadn’t commissioned it and didn’t want it. Having heard that the League had hired a music teacher to make the sculpture, the City of Seattle’s Art Commission couldn’t decide whether the finished piece would be art. Luckily, the Port of Seattle accepted the statue for Shilshole Marina, where its unveiling coincided with Norway Day at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. The granite base, at least, had been created in Norway.

The statue’s saga ended in rivalry. August’s name was left off the statue, but Trygve’s was inscribed afterwards by friends.

How much of Trygve's version can be corroborated? The 4-foot model still exists and is the property of the Nordic Heritage Museum, although it’s been refurbished with no sign of its tumble. The Shilshole statue has obvious pour lines and irregularities, perhaps from shortcuts necessitated by lack of funds. August’s name is not on the plaques, but Trygve’s is, albeit in a font indicating that it was added later than the original inscriptions.

But what else can we learn from the usual sources for historical research? The official Leif Erikson League archives were donated to Pacific Lutheran University, and personal papers related to the League’s activities were collected by one of the officers, Capt. Gunnar Olsborg, and donated to the University of Washington. August Werner’s papers are also available at the UW library. (Incidentally, the spelling Leif Erikson is consistent in the archived material. It was only the odd reporter who occasionally spelled it Ericson or Erickson.)

The roots of Seattle’s Leif Erikson League may be traced to Norway Day, August 30, 1909, at Seattle’s Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. A local Viking king and queen, Eric L. Thomle and Astri Udness, sailed across Lake Washington in a Viking ship to land at the fair. The Norwegian King Haakon VII sent his greetings, the Saint Olaf Band played, and a parade float honored Ibsen. The Vikings had arrived and Seattle’s Scandinavians were inspired.

They began sponsoring yearly Leif Erikson festivals.1 Sometimes these events were listed as sponsored by the Leif Erikson Festival committee, or the Leif Erikson Foundation, or the Leif Erikson League, and so on. Various government entities had declared Leif Erikson Day for years, but through the efforts of this loosely organized group, Leif Erikson Day was declared a state holiday by the Washington State Legislature in 1941, to be observed on October 9 every year. That particular date was chosen because the first Norwegian immigrant ship, the "Restauration," landed in America on October 9, 1825. Celebrations were usually held on the weekend closest to the date.

A proposed statue of Leif Erikson was discussed for many years, but in 1956, Trygve Nakkerud began promoting the idea of a more formal organization to create the statue and give it to the people of Seattle. He then led the creation of a formal organization. According to its constitution and bylaws, the Leif Erikson League of the Seattle Area was formed on April 29, 1957, with these goals:

  • To unite Scandinavian societies in the Seattle area

  • To promote public education and recognition of that fact that America was first discovered by Leif Erikson and to preserve the history of the pioneer Scandinavians in America

  • To obtain annually a Leif Erikson Day, October 9

  • To sponsor and support educational, cultural and social activities in keeping with the purposes and objects of this League

  • To create a fund for the establishment of a memorial to Leif Erikson; and for that purpose, receive gifts, devices and bequests and other donations, which may be made to the League from time to time

The members consisted of two delegates from each of 17 Scandinavian societies, which in turn represented a total membership of 8,000 in the Seattle area. The officers were elected by the delegates, all of whom were Norwegian except for the Icelandic members of the Westri Literary Society and Icelandic Consul Karl Fredrick, who was vice president of the League for two terms. An annual meeting would be held every April. The first officers were Ted Nakkerud, president; Tom Grønning, vice president; Alice M. Ericksen, secretary; Martin Hagfors, treasurer; Commander Carl Moe, financial secretary; Marie Sherwin, historian; and Olaf Schei, sergeant at arms.

Plans for a statue were laid out at the Leif Erikson Day festival on October 11, 1957. President Nakkerud announced:

That it be resolved that the citizens here assembled endorse the formation of a committee to plan and work for the erection of a suitable statue of the courageous explorer Leif Erikson.

The records are silent on the selection of August Werner as the sculptor, except an implication that his selection was announced in the newspaper Washington Posten before the committee was firm on the decision. But Werner was an obvious choice. He had created busts of Sibelius for a museum in Åbo, Finland; Grieg for the Norwegian Embassy in Washington, D.C.; and Beethoven for the University of Washington. Besides being a singer, conductor, and music professor at the University, he was a painter of Viking scenes. He had also given frequent speeches to the local community on the history of Leif Erikson.

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