Replica Viking ship from World’s Fair transferred to non-profit
BY LISA DONOVAN Staff Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org August 8, 2012 2:10PM
Viking ship that was in Lincoln Park for many years
Updated: September 10, 2012 1:38PM
A relic from the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 is sailing into the hands of new owners.
On Wednesday, the Chicago Park District approved the transfer of a replica Viking ship displayed at the Chicago World’s Fair to the nonprofit Friends of the Viking Ship — organized for the sole purpose of restoring the vessel. The park district has owned the ship since the 1920s.
“The CPD is now seeking to transfer the Viking ship to the Friends of the Viking Ship because this group will be better able to repair, maintain and display it in a manner celebrating both the Columbian Exposition and the contribution of Norwegians to American life,” Raffi Sarrafian, the park’s director of purchasing, told park commissioners at Wednesday’s meeting.
The transfer from the park district — the trustee for 92 years — to its new owners required court approval, which has already been given, city officials say.
In June, the park district filed a petition to transfer ownership, noting that the effort to restore and educate the public about the ship should be carried out by a charity like Friends of the Viking Ship.
The ship was built a year before the fair and is a replica of the 1,000-year-old Viking ship known as Gokstad, according to court records.
Perry L. Gulbransen, a retired judge who is part of the nonprofit group’s efforts to restore the vessel, testified at the meeting Wednesday that the ship is part of his and other Norwegian Americans’ “heritage” and “DNA.”
He explained that 11 men and a captain sailed the replica ship — measuring 79 feet long by 16.5 feet wide — across the Atlantic in 1892 to display it at the fair. Court records note that the route into the United States included the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes.
The ship was donated to the park district in the 1920s, according to city officials. Little more than a decade later, park officials began trying to find a home for it. For many years, it sat at the Lincoln Park Zoo. In the 1990s, the ship was donated to a nonprofit group that moved it to Geneva. The group disbanded, but the ship remains there — covered and protected, Gulbransen said.
He said the ship would remain in the Chicago area, but precisely where is not known. A naval survey will be conducted to determine whether the ship can be moved, he said.
“We have been told it can perhaps withstand one move. So we are going to be very judicious and careful as to where this boat lands, so to speak,” he said.
Gulbransen said it will be costly to restore and move it — more than $415,000 — but fund-raising is starting.
“We expect Norwegian wallets to open up once this word is transmitted through the world that indeed the Viking ship has been transferred,” Gulbransen said.
Before the board voted in a committee meeting to approve the transfer, Gulbransen gave them a solemn promise: “. . . understand, your decision today can be made in good conscience because this is a group that’s going to get it done. We have the fire in our belly to get this done.”
The transfer received final approval during the park board’s regular meeting later in the day.
Contributing: Diana Novak