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updated: 9/13/2012 5:32 AM

Viking replica ship in Geneva fans' hands

Geneva-based ship needs restoration, new home

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  • A worker grinds a piece of steel for a brace as work is done to stabilize and repair the replica Viking ship in Geneva. The copy of a 9th-century Viking ship was sailed to the Chicago from Norway for the World's Fair Columbian Exposition in 1893.

       A worker grinds a piece of steel for a brace as work is done to stabilize and repair the replica Viking ship in Geneva. The copy of a 9th-century Viking ship was sailed to the Chicago from Norway for the World's Fair Columbian Exposition in 1893.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer, 2008


The Viking ship is in the hands of the people who value it most, the Friends of the Viking Ship.

The Chicago Park District relinquished control of the 120-year-old wooden vessel in a Chicago courtroom Wednesday morning.

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"This was a good day for Chicago because this ship is a part of Chicago history," said retired judge Perry Gulbrandsen, who prepared the legal request for the FOVS, a project that took about 18 months.

The park district noted, in court documents, that it estimated the cost of renovating, moving and exhibiting the ship at $3.2 million, and that it was ill-equipped to do that.

The ship has been under a shelter at Good Templar Park in Geneva since 1995.

The boat has had a convoluted journey since its construction in Norway.

It is a replica of the Gokstad, a Viking ship built at the end of the 9th century and likely used to travel to North America. Norwegians built and sailed the replica to the 1893 World's Fair Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which marked the 400th anniversary of Italian Christopher Columbus "discovery" of the New World.

The ship's log:

• At the fair, the 78-foot ship was displayed in the Jackson Park lagoon. After, it was displayed alongside the original Field Museum (now the Museum of Science and Industry).

• In 1919, the ship is turned over to the Lincoln Park Commission and moved to Lincoln Park Zoo.

• In 1934, the commission and its properties are absorbed by the Chicago Park District.

• Sometime in the 20th century, the ship's plaster figurehead and tail are removed and stored in the Museum of Science and Industry.

• In the 1990s, the Chicago Park District sells the ship to the American Scandinavian Council for $1, with the provision that if the group goes out of business, ownership reverts to the district. The ship is moved to a warehouse in West Chicago.

• In 1995, the ship is moved to Good Templar Park in Geneva.

• In 2001, ownership reverts to the park district.

• In 2007, an ad hoc group of preservationists and Norwegian culture enthusiasts win $52,000 in an American Express contest for work to keep the ship from sinking further into disrepair.

Now that the FOVS, a nonprofit organization, has ownership, it will be easier for it to raise money for restoration and exhibition, Gulbrandsen said. The group hopes to find a climate-controlled building in which to keep it, possibly big enough so it could be displayed with its oars extended and its mast fully raised. It would also then likely be reunited with its figurehead and tail, he said.

"You want to get all the pieces of the ship together," Gulbrandsen said.

It is the oldest Viking ship replica still around. It is made of oak. A 12-member crew sailed it from Norway to Newfoundland in 28 days, to prove that explorer Leif Ericson could have reached North America in a similar vessel hundreds of years before Columbus.

The replica then traveled to Chicago via the Hudson River, the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes. After the fair, it traveled the Chicago River to the Bridgeport neighborhood, then the Illinois and Michigan Canal to LaSalle, Ill., then the Illinois River to Grafton, and the Mississippi River to New Orleans. It was then towed back to Chicago.

The FOVS offers tours of the ship and has installed signs, lighting and a viewing ramp. The next tour is from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Good Templar Park, 528 East Side Drive, Geneva. Cost is $5 for adults, $3 for teenagers, and $1 for children. Visit

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