Hall of Fame Induction for the Leif Erikson Association
The now-defunct LEA is honored for its role in seeing Leif Erikson Day established
Judith Gabriel Vinje
It’s that time of year again, when Norwegian Americans—and their neighbors—can look with pride on the discovery of America by a distant and very Nordic ancestor.
October 9 is nationally observed as Leif Erikson Day, the crowning achievement of a group of Los Angeles-based Scandinavian Americans who banded together to convince government leaders that such a commemoration was needed—and well-deserved.
Now an annual observance in honor of a Scandinavian Viking who was the first European to step foot on the North American continent, it took decades of impassioned campaigning by Norwegian Americans and others to debunk the long-held tradition that Christopher Columbus was the “discoverer” of the continent.
This year, as parades and other festivities are held across the U.S., the observance will be recognized with the induction into the Scandinavian American Hall of Fame in California of the Leif Erikson Association—which ceased to exist in 1996, decades after accomplishing its goal.
Accepting the honor will be Odd Galschiodt, the sole survivor of the now-defunct Leif Erikson Association, a Los Angeles-based association of Norwegian and other Scandinavian lodges and clubs that successfully spearheaded the drive for official declaration of Leif Erikson Day more than half a century ago.
The Scandinavian American Hall of Fame program and ceremony will take place at 2:00 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9, in Overton Hall at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.
Galschiodt, who is 91, grew up in Harstad, Norway and came to America when he was 26. He worked as a production control engineer for Hughes Aircraft, and became treasurer/secretary of the Leif Erikson Association.
The Hall of Fame is a project of the Scandinavian American Cultural and Historical Foundation (SACHF) based at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, Calif., sponsors of the Oct. 9 program along with the Sons of Norway Norseman Lodge, also of Thousand Oaks.
Admission is free for the Overton Hall ceremony and for the reception afterward at the Scandinavian Center on the CLU campus, 60 W. Olsen Road, Thousand Oaks.
Telling the saga behind Leif Erikson will be Dr. Ernst (Fred) Tonsing; CLU history professor emeritus Howard K. Rockstad will also shed light on how the day came to be marked as an annual official observance in the U.S. through the efforts of the Leif Erikson Association of Los Angeles.
Nearly 200 authenticated references about Leif Erikson’s discovery of America, representing two decades of research, were compiled by the association in a 1961 brochure that was sent to every member of the U.S. Congress, along with several thousand petitions expressing support for recognition of Leif Erikson’s discovery of America.
Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota became instrumental in the final adoption of the proposal. The Senate cast a unanimous vote on Aug. 21, 1964, and it was signed by Pres. Lyndon Johnson, proclaiming an annual day of recognition.
In 1968, a Leif Erikson six-cent U.S. postage stamp was issued. The day has increasingly become an educational opportunity as well as a celebration by Scandinavian Americans.
According to the Association program notes, the direct “chain of discovery goes from Norway, to Iceland, to Greenland, and to Vinland.” Leif Erikson was the son of a Norwegian Viking named Erik Thorvaldsson, known as Erik the Red, born in 950 in Rogaland, Norway. Erik the Red was banished from Norway as punishment for commiting manslaughter. Settling in Iceland, he was again exiled due to some further “killings,” according to the sagas. Thus, the Erikson family ended up starting the first Norse settlement in Greenland.
Five centures before the voyage of Christopher Columbus, Leif Erikson led an expedition to North America, landing in what became known as Vinland. Archaeological evidence of the Norse settlement found at L’Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland was found in 1960.
It took 1,000 years for Leif Erikson to get the credit he was due, according to Norwegian-American Howard K. Rockstad of SACHF, director of the Hall of Fame program. “It took a major effort on the part of thousands of Scandinavian Americans for the day to be officially recognized,” he said. “They were led by the Leif Erikson Association.”
Incorporated in the state of California December 25, 1952, the Leif Erikson Association launched its program in 1958. Success came Sept. 2, 1964, with the signing of the first Leif Erikson Day proclamation by President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
October 9 is not associated with any particular event in Leif Erikson’s life, Rockstad notes. The date was chosen because the first Norwegian immigrants to the United States came in the ship Restauration and arrived in New York Harbor on October 9, 1825.
Not that there weren’t previous efforts to honor Erikson. Several statues of the Norse wanderer populate the U.S., some erected as long ago as 1887, others as recent as 2001.
Then there’s that other legendary hero of discovery—Christopher Columbus—with a national day all his own. Italian-Americans have long observed Columbus Day as a celebration of their heritage, going back to 1866 in New York City. In 1934, after lobbying by the Knights of Columbus and New York City Italians, Congress and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed October 12 a federal holiday under the name Columbus Day.
There was no one to argue that it had been a Norse Viking who really deserved the sole honor—until the Leif Erikson Association’s efforts. And now, finally, the association will be honored through its remaining member, Odd Galschiodt.
Galschiodt, for 62 years a member of Los Angeles-based Peer Gynt Lodge #22, Sons of Norway, recalls how some members of the lodge came together to start a Leif Erikson group. “They decided to promote a Leif Erikson celebration and all Scandinavian lodges should be invited to work together. So it was Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish organizations, as well as those representing Iceland and Finland, that were invited to send members so all five countries would be represented.”
The Leif Erikson Association of Los Angeles was dissolved as of January 8, 1996, due to dwindling membership. And now, Odd Galschiodt remains to receive the long over-due acclamation earned by the group so many years ago.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 7, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.