Leif the Lucky (continued)

On August 9, 2005, LEIF made a formal presentation to the Board of the Port of Seattle. LEIF stressed that its project would be shared, with LEIF assuming some responsibility for costs and the Port assuming others. The result would be a refurbished statue in a more appealing setting. The memorial would honor all Scandinavians—who at one point in Seattle’s history had been its largest group of immigrants. At a short distance from the proposed new Nordic Heritage Museum, the statue would be a compelling tourist destination and a gathering place for celebrations in the Nordic-American community.

The Port’s five-body Commission passed a resolution in support of the project and the Port/LEIF partnership, and fundraising began. Although wishful donations had already started to come in, the first donation to arrive after the Port’s blessing was from Marshall Brekke, in honor of Lars Brekke, who emigrated from Norway in 1890 to become a prominent Ballard blacksmith.

Negotiations with the Port over the details led to an eventual work plan: The Port of Seattle, which owned the statue, would pay for its removal, refurbishment and resetting. LEIF would manage, pay for, and install a new six-foot square granite stone for the statue’s base, basalt stones for the runic designs, and plaques with the names of immigrants. Haavik’s design for the site was a 60- by 30-foot tear-shaped space, with the runic-like stones arranged in the imprint of a Viking ship, a traditional style for Viking-era memorial sites in Scandinavia. The rune stones would surround the statue on its new base.

The first public part of the project was removing the three-ton statue. Consultants had advised LEIF and the Port that the statue was held in place by four rusting steel bolts, and an earthquake might bring it down. The Port hired Artech Fine Arts Services to handle the removal and restoration, and LEIF prepared the media to be there at 12 noon on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2007. Workers scrambled up to loosen the bolts while a crane stood running. Around 11 a.m., Artech asked Port officials if they could give the statue a tug to make sure it would lift off at the assigned time. Nothing budged. They began with small drills and then jackhammers to create a wedge and lift the Viking. They worked from all sides. Hours of drilling turned into days. The media came and went. LEIF rented an outdoor heater and served coffee to visitors. Trygve Bjorndal came over from the Sons of Norway lodge to play his accordion. Radio commentators compared the Leif Erikson statue to Seattle’s intractable traffic jams. Reporting by Erik Lacitis of The Seattle Times became an AP story, and media from around the world called to ask about the stubborn Scandinavian. Five laborious days later, mid-afternoon on Saturday, March 3, Leif finally was lifted off and gently set down on a long flatbed truck for his ride to a yard south of Seattle.

Workers had been dumbfounded to discover that around a dozen pieces of rebar connected him to the base, and the legs of the statue had been filled with concrete through an opening on his tunic. But this wasn’t just the Scandinavian tradition of "built to last" or simple overkill; it was overkill with reason. Stories of the original project alleged that it had run short of money. It was true: inferior material in the statue’s feet and legs had resulted in extremely thin bronze (5 mm), and the statue wouldn’t have stood without the concrete and rebar. But these extra measures by the Scandinavians who installed him required an equal amount of persistence by the next generation to take him down.

The removal and restoration cost $76,000. Over the next seven months, Artech blasted the statue’s surface with ground walnut shells, and removed concrete inside from the feet up to just below the knees. Beyond that, the conservator, Patricia Leavengood, assessed that the bronze was too fragile and the possibility of damaging the compromised structure was too great to continue removing concrete, but it was in good condition. To provide support, threaded rods were installed and connected to a base plate that would be bolted onto the granite base.

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