The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition’s Norway Day Centennial Celebration

Share the Nordic Spirit!

Share the Nordic Spirit!

Throughout 2009, Seattle has enjoyed a year-long, city-wide commemoration of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, led by the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs. The Nordic Heritage Museum’s summer exhibition, Nordics and Seattle’s First World’s Fair: Celebrating the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition chronicles the many aspects of Nordic participation in the fair, and the Museum’s Viking-style boat, the Nordic Spirit, has been restored in tribute to the 1909 Viking. On August 30, 2009, one hundred years after Seattle’s first Viking-style boat made its debut at the A-Y-P, the Scandinavian community will again host a sizable celebration.

The Nordic Spirit will be launched from near the site for the new Nordic Heritage Museum, just east of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. Festivities—including activities for children, music, and refreshments—will begin at 1:00 p.m. At 2:00, greet the Nordic Spirit upon its arrival to Fishermen’s Terminal, where we will dedicate the vessel and, with special guests, celebrate the rich legacy of Scandinavian life in Seattle. Seattle’s Norwegian Male Chorus and Norwegian Ladies Chorus will be among those performing, recalling the rich choral music of the 1909 celebration.

The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, Seattle’s first World’s Fair, featured a range of amusements, performances, and special events, as well as exhibitions promoting economic opportunities in Alaska, northwestern Canada, and the Pacific Rim—and highlighted Seattle as a gateway to this rich region. The Exposition was open for almost five months, from June to October 1909, and attracted nearly four million visitors.

The fair drew broad and enthusiastic participation from Seattle’s Nordic communities: from the leadership of Swedish-Americans Godfrey Chealander, who first suggested an exposition presenting the region’s opportunities, and J. E. Chilberg, who served as the Exposition’s president; to the Scandinavian artists who exhibited at the fair; to special events organized by the Norwegian, Swedish, and Swedish-Finn communities. For nearly every day that the A-Y-P was open to the public, one or more groups were honored with a special commemorative day. Fraternal organizations; professional groups; ethnic groups; residents of cities, counties, and states throughout the country; and even those with a common last name gathered at the fair on designated days. Nordic groups specifically celebrated on three days: Swedish-Finnish Temperance Association of America on July 29, Swedish Day on July 31, and Norway Day on August 30.

Featuring the sailing of a replica Viking ship across Lake Washington, Norway Day was one of the most spectacular days at the fair—and the subject of rare film footage surviving from the 1909 event. The idea of building a replica Viking ship for the A-Y-P Exposition festivities came from a group of Norwegian Americans living in Bothell and was approved by the Norway Day Committee in April 1909—less than five months before the August 30 celebration! The builder of Seattle’s Viking ship was Sivert Engelsen Sagstad, a Norwegian immigrant who had established Ballard Boat Works. The Viking’s woodcarver, H. L. Erickson, had also come to the United States from Norway.

A crew of men dressed in Viking garb sailed the vessel from Kirkland, and an audience estimated at 5,000 greeted the ship as it arrived. H. P. Rude, the Norway Day chairman, welcomed the Viking delegation, as did Mayor John F. Miller on behalf of the City of Seattle. The Vikings led an extravagant parade of more than 500 participants, representing nine periods in Norwegian history, from the 5th century to contemporary “Vikings in Alaska.”

The afternoon program consisted of speeches, the reading of greetings from King Haakon VII, and several historical re-enactments, including an 1814 debate about the signing of the Norwegian Constitution in Eidsvold, Norway. Also featured was the unveiling of the bust of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg by official fair sculptor and Norwegian immigrant Finn Haakon Frolich—this sculpture still stands on the University of Washington campus. The evening’s concert included performances by the United Norwegian Singers of the Pacific Coast, who had held a singing competition the previous day.

For more information about this very special event, please contact Sarah Lansberry at (206) 789-5707 x32.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.