In the marine division of the Transportation department the most interesting exhibits are the Columbian caravels and the Viking ship of the Norsemen, reproduced as nearly as possible in facsimile, just as they sailed in the seas many centuries ago.
Chicago Tribune, September 25, 1892
The Government Asks for the Viking Ship.
CHRISTIANA, Sept. 24—A communication from the Government of the United States received today asking the loan of the old Viking ship, found at Gogstad, for the Chicago Columbia Exposition. The United States Government offers to send a warship to convey the Viking ship to America. The University authorities who have charge of it are not inclined to accede to the request.
Picturesque World’s Fair, An Elaborate Collection of Colored Views, George R. Davis, 1893
THE VIKING SHIP. It was well that with the Columbian celebration honor should be paid to Leif Ericsson, undoubtedly the first European to land upon the shores of America, though due advantage was not taken of his great discovery, and it was well, too, that the Viking Ship seen at the Fair should be a reproduction of one buried with its commander at about the time Leif Ericsson made his voyage. That was not far from the year 1000. The “Viking,” as the vessel was named, was seventy-six feet in length, was open, with the exception of a small deck fore and aft, and was very simply rigged with one mast, which could be taken down, and with a single sail. Evidently the Norsemen depended much on their long oars The port was adorned with a dragon’s head, and the stern with a dragon’s tail, both being finished in gilt. Outside the slender bulwarks were hung the embellished shields of the crew, and there were benches and apertures for sixteen rowers on a side. The rudder, after the ancient custom, was placed on the right side, close to the stern. A canopy which could be erected at will made a shelter over the deck. The fund for the reproduction of the “Viking’ was raised in Norway by popular subscription and, under the command of Captain Mag- mis Andersen and a picket! Norwegian crew, the vessel made the trip across the Atlantic Ocean and through the great lakes with ease, doing even more than the Norsemen did so long ago in a similar craft. A splendid exhibit was the Viking, and all honors were paid it and its country by America.
The Book of the Fair, H.H. Bancroft, 1893
Of the Viking ship, resembling the vessel in which, as is claimed, a Norwegian navigator discovered the North American continent nearly a thousand years ago, the following is briefly the story. During the winter of 1879 a sailor, living at the port of Sandefjord, employed his spare time in exploring a mound on the outskirts of the town, where, as tradition related, a Viking had been buried with all his earthly belongings. In this ancient Saga legend the towns-folk had little faith; but the sailor persisted, and after digging a square hole not many feet in depth, his spade struck a solid oak plank, which proved to be the side of a ship. Thereupon the royal university of Christiania sent men to inspect the relic, and in early summer, when the frozen earth could be cleared away, it was found to be the genuine craft of “a Viking old,” whose skeleton, encased in armor, still kept guard over his treasure, its wood-work, oars, and equipments all well preserved after the lapse of many ages.
The vessel was repaired and removed to the university, where now is its home, and as the approaching Columbian Exposition began to be the talk of the world, it was determined to send there her counterpart, manned by Norwegian sailors and unattended by any other craft, in order to prove the feasibility of Leif Erikson 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. To call her a ship is somewhat of a misnomer, for she has no deck, and carries but little sail. Rather is she a large open boat of some 27 tons, more than 70 feet long and 16 in the beam, with 32 oars, each 17 feet in length, her bow and stern far above her body and her clinker-built planks overlapping like the weather-boarding of a house. Her lines are remarkably beautiful, resembling those of a yacht, the convex curvature of the keel increasing her strength and steadiness of motion. Such is the vessel in which a crew of Norwegian sailors crossed the Atlantic and the lakes, sleeping on reindeer skins and cooking their food as best they could in the bow of their unsheltered craft.
The Viking Ship Moored Near The “Illinois”
The Viking Ship
Chicago Tribune Supplement
Inter Ocean, September 5, 1894
After sailing thousands of miles over the Atlantic Ocean, up the St. Lawrence River, and through the lakes to Chicago without a mishap, the Viking ship was sunk in the river during the storm of Monday night.
This famous vessel was one of the notable exhibits at the World’s Fair, and attracted as much interest as the caravels from Spain. Built in Norway from a model of a Viking ship dug up on the storm-riven coast of the country, it was manned by ten hardy Norsemen. all captains of sea-going vessels, and commanded by Captain Magnus Andersen, set out on the trip to America that Norse historians delight to claim Lief Ericson traversed 400 years before Columbus started on his journey of discovery. The trip was made to prove it possible for a Viking ship to withstand an ocean voyage as much as anything else on this side was heralded as the most positive proof of Ericson’s early visit.
Citizens of Norway subscribed $4,000 to fit out the Viking, and the journey from New York to Chicago by way of the St. Lawrence River and the lakes were watched with untiring interest. Captain Andersen and his gallant crew were feted and honored everywhere, the reception on their arrival here being a memorable one.
At the conclusion the The Fair another voyage was undertaken. The Viking went to New Orleans by way of the Illinois and Michigan Canal and the Mississippi River, stopping a the principal cites en route, and her crew being hailed everywhere as heroes. Upon coming back to Chicago the ship was presented by the society to the Field Columbian Museum. It was intended shortly to remove the vessel to the museum. Now the brave ship lies beneath the murky waters of an Illinois Central slip. Truly an ignominious grave for so staunch a traveler over the tempestuous ocean and the uncertain storms of the Great Lakes.
The Viking ship was moored alongside the old schooner A.J. Morey at the foot of Randolph street, and during the heavy rains her open hull took in the water in large quantities. The lines by which she was fastened were too tight and the water listed the Viking over until she began taking in water through the oar holes in the side. Then she filled and sank. In the morning she was founf just on top of the water, being held up by the lines which tied her to the schooner.
Ropes were passed under the hull, and an effort was made to raise the Viking a little by means of a tackle, but the attempt was unsuccessful. Then the attempt was made to bail out the boat, but without success. Finally last evening the tug Mosher, of the Dunham Line, with a big pump was sent to the spot. But the water came in faster than the tug could pump it out. The holes for the oars were about a foot under water, and were not sufficiently stopped up. At dark the attempt was given up for the night.
There are many complaints made against the men in charge of the Viking for the way she has been taken care of. The committee in charge is headed by S. Gunderson, and many Norwegians and Swedes charge that care of the boat has been anything but what it should have been, and that the boat has been left to herself. It is said that the boat should be down at the fair grounds, in charge of the Columbian Museum, but that Gunderson and several others were trying to make some money out of the boat.
Chicago Tribune, November 7, 1920
A Relic of 1000 A.D.
More than 900 years ago, about the year 1000 A.D., Leif Ericson and his crew of thirty-five Norsemen sailed from Greenland in a staunch old galley and landed in Vinland—America. The galley is at the National university at Christiana, Norway.
But in a replica of it Capt. Magnus and a crew of thirty-five repeated the feat in 1893, anchoring at the gates of the World’s Columbian Exposition, Jackson park. The replica, known as the Viking ship, has since reposed in a shed beside the old Field museum.
Yesterday it was presented to the state of Illinois by the Chicago Norwegian club. It had been repainted and repaired at a cost of $10,000 and been sailed to an anchorage off Lincoln park, where the ceremonies were conducted.
H.H. Bryn, Norwegian minister to U.S. honor guest yesterday at Lincoln park when replica of Leif Ericson’s Viking ship was presented to state; Ingrid Holmboe, who made formal presentation, and Mrs. Bertha Peterson, president of the Norwegiuan Women’s Federation of Chicago.
Captain Andersen (2nd from left) in Lincoln Park and aboard the “Viking” once again. September 28, 19
Chicago Tribune, July 6. 1984
The Viking ship replica in Lincoln Park, which was created in Norway and sailed to Chicago for the 1893 World’s Columbia Exposition is open to the public. It would be fitting to have the craft displayed at the 1992 World’s Fair, according to Cook County Board member Carl Hansen. “It would be the most appropriate since the theme of the fair is “Exploration and Discovery,” he said.
Chicago Tribune, June 9, 1992
100-YEAR-OLD VIKING FORGOTTEN, NOT GONE
The ship sailed into sight across the waves of Lake Michigan nearly a century ago, its red-and white-striped sail stretched high in the wind.
Ornate dragons` heads stared out from the bow and stern as Norse sailors bent to pull the 18-foot oars, sending the vessel skimming toward Chicago`s Municipal Pier.
Thousands of onlookers crowded the waterfront to greet the Viking on July 12, 1893. Her 12-member crew had weathered 4,800 miles from Norway to Chicago, where the vessel became a featured part of the World`s Columbian Exposition.
Today the Viking, the only vessel of its kind in the U.S., rests in dark shadow behind a chain link fence at the southwest end of the Lincoln Park Zoo. The small sign beside it calls it the Raven, a misnomer that somehow became attached to it 30 years after the Viking first arrived in the city.
It is dirty, rotting and, for the most part, forgotten.
Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the ship`s 28-day journey across the Atlantic Ocean. But unless a small miracle graces the Viking and Chicago`s Norwegian groups working to restore it, the vessel may find itself without a home.
The zoo hopes to build a new reptile house on the spot where the Viking has been since 1920, and it wants the ship moved in the next two years. And the Chicago Park District, which holds legal ownership, can`t scrape up the funds to relocate the 20-ton longship.
“We`ve got a world-class artifact, and while we haven`t taken very good care of it here, at least we still have it-as dingy as it looks,” said Cook County Commissioner Carl Hansen (R-Mt. Prospect). “The ship not only is a part of Norwegian history, it`s a part of Chicago`s history. . . . One thing we don`t want to do is lose it.”
In 1979, Hansen formed the Viking Ship Restoration Committee to raise money to support the ship`s ongoing care and eventual relocation. The group has raised ”more than a couple hundred thousand dollars” over the years, Hansen said, and is working to find the Viking a home.
Hansen said he would like to see the Viking returned to the Museum of Science and Industry, the ship`s first resting place, before it was moved to the zoo in 1920. The Jackson Park museum originally was built as the Palace of Fine Arts, a structure to house art for the 1893 World`s Columbian Exposition. The Viking and the museum are the only two remaining structures from the exposition, Hansen said. Three other vessels, replicas of ships Christopher Columbus used in his historic voyage, were destroyed or rotted away.
Hansen estimated that restoration of the Viking would cost about $250,000. Relocation costs would vary depending on where and how it is housed, he said. The museum has told Hansen it cannot spare the money to fund the Viking`s move or any restoration efforts.
Until a home is found, Hansen is reluctant to push for restoration to begin, as the moving process could further damage the vessel.
The 78-foot longship is under a shed-like covering and behind a high fence protecting it from vandals. Its 50-foot mast and 32 oars lie alongside the bare black oak frame. The dragon heads, sails and shields were removed for repairs years ago, and most are being kept in private homes.
Pigeons nest on ledges in the roof, staining the wood with their droppings. The signs along the shed just north of Cafe Brauer, 2021 N. Stockton Drive, explain that the ship is under renovation and asking for monetary support. Yet the site has not changed in 15 years.
It was with a touch of irony that the Viking was built for a fair commemorating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus` voyage to America-perhaps a reminder that a Norseman, Leif Erickson, had led a similar journey 500 years before that.
The planners of the Columbian Exposition wanted to display the original Viking vessel, built around the year 900 and unearthed in Gokstad, Norway, in 1888. When the Norwegian government declined to part with its national treasure, Capt. Magnus Andersen offered to have a replica built, which he did for $16,000.
Andersen and his crew of eight sailors, two mates and a steward, cast off from Bergen, Norway, for North America on May 1, 1893. The men cooked and slept on the open deck, their supplies stored beneath floor boards and only a tent-like tarp providing cover. When the winds weakened, they furled the sail and positioned a long bench along the ship`s center, where they sat and rowed. Crowds greeted the Viking as it neared New York nearly a month later, and it made a number of stops along the East Coast before entering the Great Lakes through the Erie Canal. When the ship reached Chicago, Mayor Carter Harrison and other officials climbed aboard at Van Buren Street to join a parade of vessels as the Viking made its way to the Jackson Park exhibition site.
The Viking sailed down the Mississippi to New Orleans after the exhibition and was towed back to Chicago and its mooring in the Jackson Park lagoon the following month. While in the park, the ship was vandalized by souvenir-seekers who stole oars and decorations from the hull, and it was neglected and damaged so much that it began to sink.
In 1920, the Federation of Norwegian Women`s Societies raised $20,000 to repair the Viking and move it to the zoo, giving ownership to the Chicago Park District. The Norwegian National League presented the Park District with a bust of Andersen in 1936, which still stands opposite the ship.
Forty years later, in the 1970s, the Norwegian league again cleaned up the weathered ship, scraping pigeon droppings from its sides and getting the Park District to erect a higher fence to keep homeless persons from sleeping in its hull.
Karen Gagen, a member of the league who has been working to find the Viking a home, said she would like to see it relocated on the now-under-reconstruction Navy Pier. But according to Hansen, Navy Pier officials have said they don`t have room for the ship or the money to fund its move.
John Henderson, Park District research and policy manager, said the district is hoping a benefactor will come forward to help pay transportation and restoration bills. But if not, the Park District won`t desert the century- old vessel, he said.
“I think the Park District has the civic responsibility to make sure this artifact is conserved and preserved,” he said. “We`re just hoping that some benefactor will come in and help us with that responsibility.”
Meanwhile, the ship that made front-page headlines almost a century ago attracts only an occasional visitor curious about its forlorn bulk shadowed by dirt, a tractor or two and conclaves of pigeons.
Yet, as Hansen said, at least Chicago has held onto it.
“Yeah, it looks lonely out there, but at least it`s still there,” he said. “And believe me, we`re not through yet.”