By Kristine Leander
Vikings were used to long voyages and their sagas spanned generations. So what’s 19 years in the saga of Seattle’s statue of Leif Erikson and the three replicas it has spawned? It was 1994 when a university scholar from Trondheim, Norway, Professor Rolf Grankvist, was visiting Seattle and having dinner at the former Windjammer, near the base of Seattle’s 1962 statue. He casually tossed off the idea “Seattle ought to give a statue of Leif Erikson to Trondheim to help us celebrate our thousand-year history as a Viking city.” Just as casually, Seattle native Kristine Leander, who had studied at the university in Trondheim and was fond of the city, said, “Sure, we’ll do that.” And then as they say, “the rest is history.”
Kristine formed a group that quickly came up with the idea of asking for donations in the name of immigrants whose names would be inscribed on plaques near the base. They decided it was expedient to use Seattle’s statue as a model, and create 10-foot version of it, rather than seeking a new sculptor or a new design. Three short but busy years later, a large group from across America were there in July, 1997, for the unveiling. The original sculptor, the late Professor August Werner, had also formed the Norwegian Ladies Chorus of Seattle, and the chorus was there to sing at the unveiling.
And Professor Grankvist was also there to remind the group that the Icelandic Sagas mentioned three sites that Icelandic-born Leif visited or lived: Trondheim, where he sojourned one winter, Brattahlid, Greenland, where his family settled after leaving Iceland, and Vinland, on the shores of Newfoundland, Canada. The thousand-year anniversary of Leif’s journey from Brattahlid to Vinland was three short years away, so the group re-formed itself as Leif Erikson International Foundation, or LEIF for short, and set it to work. They provided the largest chunk of funding for a second replica for Brattahlid, with the governments of Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Greenland contributing as well. To raise LEIF’s part of the funds, more immigrant names were added to the statue in Trondheim. The Greenland statue was unveiled in 2000. The statue installers sent from Seattle said that they’d never seen a more perfect setting for a statue than on the hillside high above Erik the Red’s farm. Again, the Norwegian Ladies Chorus of Seattle welcomed the statue with their songs.
The LEIF group thought that a statue for Vinland may be too much of a dream and they turned their attention to Seattle’s statue, badly in need of a new base and a new setting. Names of immigrants became the inspiration again for a plaza rimmed with runic-like stones designed by Jay Haavik, placed in the ancient tradition of the footprint of a Viking ship, and bearing the names of immigrants. Leifur, as Port of Seattle workers called the statue, was refurbished and the first set of nearly a thousand names was unveiled on Oct. 7, 2007. A second set was installed on July 18, 2010) but the public wouldn’t let them stop. Plans were made for a last stone at the Leif Erikson Plaza and dreams of a third and last replica for Vinland began taking shape.
Visits were made to L’Anse Aux Meadows and relationships were formed. The third and last replica was unveiled on July 28, 2013, and the Chorus was on hand again to welcome him. And again, the opportunity to place names near the base was integral to the design and the funding for the statue. The group requested a tall piece of basalt from Iceland to hold the plaques, and Seattle’s Icelandic Club funded it.
Is the saga complete? Not quite yet, but nearly so. The group is accepting names of immigrants for the Leif Erikson statue at Shilshole Bay Marina in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, and at press time, has about 90 spaces left. The last stone is in place, just awaiting the additional names. The LEIF group is also soliciting any person or club’s name along with a donation for the completion of the statue project in Vinland. Two more Icelandic basalt stones need to be acquired for Vinland. The group anticipates completing both projects in the summer of 2014. Twenty years after that conversation down at the Windjammer has a nice ring to it.
For more information about adding your name or your family members’ names, visit www.leiferikson.org or call 206-778-1081.
By Kristine Leander, Ph.D. Kristine is granddaughter of Swedish immigrants to Skagit County. Her Ph.D. research was conducted at the University of Trondheim, Norway. She is currently the president of the Leif Erikson International Foundation and the Executive Director of the Swedish Club in Seattle.