The four Norsemen
Syttende Mai memories
Sun City, Calif.
The best memory I have of a Syttende Mai celebration is when we lived in Juneau, Alaska, in the 1980s. Petersburg, Alaska, also known as “Little Norway,” has a Syttende Mai celebration every year during the month of May.
People dress up like Vikings and usually kidnap the mayor of Wrangel and bring them to Petersburg for the weekend. One year, they even got the governor of Alaska to come to Petersburg. Another time, the Vikings boarded an Alaska Airlines plane, took the stewardesses off the plane, carried them downtown to a local bar, and delayed the flight for an hour—so they heard about that and as far as I know, never tried that again.
In any event, one year, four of us from Juneau, organized into a barbershop quartet called The Four Norsemen (after The Four Horsemen of Notre Dame fame, coached by Knute Rockne), came to Petersburg to sing for their festivities. One of the members of our group, a music teacher, arranged the Norwegian National Anthem “Ja, vi elsker” into barbershop style and we sang it at one of the events. We also went caroling around town, venturing into some of the shops, and sang “When Irish Eyes are Smilin” to some of the Norwegian shop owners. Twenty years later, I visited Petersburg again, and one of the shop owners told me about these four men from Juneau who sang to her, but little did she know that I was one of the four.
We stayed overnight on a boat owned by a local fisherman and every morning at 7 a.m. he had his boat radio programmed to play polka music as his wake-up call. We had an accordion player with us, so I asked him to come down to the boat harbor at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday morning to play polka music on the dock. I wanted this to happen prior to the fisherman’s radio music, to provide him with a surprise. He invited all of us onto the deck of his boat, so we danced to polka music most of the morning.
The people of Petersburg know how to celebrate. We sang, danced, and ate, not necessarily in that order. I think we spent most of our time eating.
This article originally appeared in the May 3, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.