Will Viking vessel's arrival in Chicago provide boost for suburban ship?
When the world's largest replica Viking ship -- the Draken Harald Hårfagre -- arrives at Navy Pier today for the Pepsi Tall Ships Chicago 2016 festival, it will be following in the wake of another historic journey from Norway.
Now housed in West suburban Geneva's Good Templar Park, the ship called the Viking sailed from Norway to The World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.
Now more than a century later, the suburban residents working to preserve the 123-year-old vessel are hoping the Draken's arrival will raise awareness of their efforts to find the Viking a climate-controlled home in a Chicago museum.
"We've never felt better about the future of this ship," said Dave Nordin, a Naperville resident and co-founder of The Friends of the Viking Ship organization. "I don't know if anyone has felt better about the future of this ship since 1893. Never since the World's Fair have as many people known of the ship and seen it. It stands as a tribute to human courage. That's its greatest meaning."
The greatest enemy the ship has faced in its distinguished history is the long years of neglect it endured before coming to Geneva's Good Templar Park in 1996 and then under the ownership of Friends of the Viking Ship in 2012.
Nordin said financial considerations are the only thing keeping the Viking from being on display in a museum.
Built in the late 19th century to the same dimensions as an authentic Viking ship discovered in a king's burial mound only 13 years earlier, the ship was intended to prove Leif Erikson could have sailed to North America from his colony in Greenland -- nearly 400 years before Christopher Columbus' arrival.
But with the 1893 World's Fair held to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus' accomplishment, the Norwegian crew of the Viking found themselves unwelcome at some stops on their journey to Chicago. They were even arrested after a scuffle in New York with a gang of toughs who supported Columbus, Nordin said.
Though it's now believed the New Yorkers started the fight, only the Norwegians were charged. They had to pay a fine so they could move and keep on schedule for their arrival in Chicago, Nordin said. They were legally exonerated nearly a century later.
Their expedition was the brainchild of a newspaperman named Magnus Andersen, who became the captain of the ship. In comparison to the Viking's 78-foot length and 17-foot width, the Draken Harald Hårfagre -- whose name means Dragon Harold Fairhair after the first king to unite Norway -- is 115 feet long and 26 feet wide.
Though the Draken's dimensions are not based on any historic artifact as the Viking's were, the new ship was built along the same construction principles, Nordin said. In fact, the master builder of the Draken -- Gunnar Eldjarn -- has served as a consultant to the restoration of the Viking.
Eldjarn is expected to be present at the Draken's arrival in Chicago today, the only stop along the ship's North American tour this summer he plans to attend.
The Friends of the Viking Ship's core group of re-enactors will be on hand demonstrating the Nordic clothing and culture of more than 1,000 years ago.
"All of us are very excited," Nordin said. "We're going to spend as much time down there as we possibly can."
After making the arduous crossing of the Atlantic from Norway to Canada earlier the year, the Draken crew's biggest challenge has been red tape. Once the ship entered U.S. waters, federal regulations dictated it needed a $400-an-hour pilot to make the voyage to Chicago, money trip organizers didn't have at the time.
Since then, the Minneapolis-based Sons of Norway foundation has raised more than $70,000 through online donations at sonsofnorway.com/draken. That was enough to get the ship to Chicago, but well short of the approximately $430,000 they say is needed to make all their scheduled stops throughout the Great Lakes this summer.
The Draken will be among 14 vessels arriving today for the Tall Ships exhibition running through Sunday at Navy Pier. The ships will be arriving via a Parade of Sail, starting to pass by Navy Pier at about 3:30 p.m. and then docking at about 5 p.m., wind and weather permitting.
The next time the Viking in Geneva will be open for guided or self-guided tours will be from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20, at Good Templar Park, 528 East Side Drive. The 30-minute guided tours will begin every half-hour, with the last starting at 3:30 p.m. Admission costs $5 for adults and $3 for teens. Parking is free.