Leif Ericson Viking Ship Norseman

Spring 1999 Vol. 7 No. 2


We are frequently asked why the NORSEMAN is based in Philadelphia, and also why many Millennium events focus on this city. This area is not noted for its large Scandinavian-American population, in fact, we are probably outnumbered by almost all other population groups including possibly even the Quakers. Many other locations boast higher proportions of people with Scandinavian roots, such as Minnesota, Illinois, other Midwestern states, and even Washington state. So why the great enthusiasm here?

There is a long and distinguished history of Scandinavian-Americans in the greater Philadelphia area, beginning in l638 with the arrival of the ship Kalmar Nyckel to the Delaware River bearing the New Sweden colonists. Nearly forty years before William Penn, land was settled on both sides of the Delaware in what are now Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware by a few hundred Swedes and Finns. Their traces, place names, and descendants can be found throughout the Delaware Valley today. Many of these settlers and their descendants played a prominent role in the founding and growth of our great nation. Their numbers were greatly overwhelmed by later arrivals from the British Isles, Germany, Western Europe, and, over the years many other countries of origin. Small numbers of Scandinavians from Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, and Finland continued to settle in this area and have organized to maintain their ethnic heritages in many ways.

In the second decade of the 20th century, a generous bequest to the Fairmount Park Art Association by Ellen Phillips Samuel for sculptures "emblematic of the history of America" resulted in a series of statues for the City. First among these was the statue of Thorfinn Karlsefni, Viking explorer of North America. This sculpture was created by Einar Jonsson, born in Reykjavik, Iceland and was unveiled on November 20, 1920 at its present location on the east bank of the Schuylkill not far from downtown Philadelphia. The statue has served for many years as the location for the annual October 9 ceremony honoring Leif Ericson and the Viking explorers of North America.

In l926, a group of Norwegian-Americans living in this area founded the Leif Ericson Society International as a way of honoring their Viking heritage and furthering knowledge about Leif Ericson. The group was active until World War II, when it became dormant for a time. In about 1968-9, several surviving founding members asked Ivar Christensen to try and re-assemble the Society. Ivar was born in Norway, served in the Norwegian resistance during World War II, and since the war has had a distinguished career in food services consulting in the US.

Ivar, with his usual sense of humor, relates that "he held an election and elected himself President unanimously". Through a newsletter which he created, and nationwide publicity, he succeeded in building up the membership to "999 members- Norvegians can't pronounce vun t'ousand"! Ivar originated the October 9 ceremony and banquet which has been held each year until the present day.

After some years, members of the group built a Viking ship, RAVNEN, to help dramatize the exploits of Leif Ericson. This ship appeared regularly on the Schuylkill and elsewhere for a number of years. By l990, RAVNEN was no longer seaworthy, and members then undertook a campaign to raise funds for a new and larger ship. This new ship, NORSEMAN, was built on the Isle of Man by Applecraft, Inc. and shipped in a container to Philadelphia where it was then fitted out by members.

The maiden voyage of NORSEMAN was in l992, where it sailed at the head of the historic division of tall ships at OPSAIL '92 in New York Harbor. NORSEMAN has since appeared widely throughout the Northeastern US and as far away as Texas and Stockholm, Sweden. With the acquisition of NORSEMAN and a much larger sailing organization, a separate Corporation was then formed to support the ship, while the Leif Ericson Society International focused on planning for the Leif Ericson Millennium celebration being held in the year 2000. The Leif Ericson Millennium Committee was then formed in l997 to spearhead this effort and numerous events are now being prepared. (For more information see the LEMC web site,

So now you have it, "The Rest of the Story".


Thanks to many generous donations from members and friends, and the hard work of our members, we were able to dedicate our new Boat Shed at our annual meeting on Saturday, May 22nd. After a morning sail on the Delaware by the Viking crew, rides in NORSEMAN were given to visiting members. The ship was then returned to land for its ceremonial installation under the new Shed.

After opening remarks by President Dennis Johnson and recognition of those who supported and worked on this project, Gene Martenson led a brief Memorial Service honoring members who have passed away. A plaque was unveiled which lists these members, and several spouses and children of these deceased members were able to be present to take part.

On completion of the Memorial Service, the Boat shed was "christened" in the Viking way by having all present, beginning with those who built the Shed, walk in solemn procession around all four sides. As they went, each member sprinkled some drops of Mead from their glass onto each post, North, West, South, and East, for good luck. On completing this, a toast was raised with a hearty SKOL! and three cheers for the builders.

In true Viking tradition, our modern Vikings demonstrated their diverse talents in being not only sailors but skilled carpenters and builders, bringing this project to a successful conclusion. Many thanks to all who took part or donated to help make this project possible, and to the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation for making the location available to us.


Horwood, Joan, VIKING DISCOVERY, L'Anse Aux Meadows, (Jesperson Press and Newfoundland Historic Parks Association, St. John's, NF, l985.)

Our Millennium contacts with Canada brought into our hands a copy of this small book written in 1985 by Joan Horwood, a Newfoundland historian, author and playwright. Only now available in the US through LEVS, Inc., this 48 page, illustrated volume describes in words and drawings (by Bill Ritchie) the Viking discoveries at L'Anse Aux Meadows.

The first part, Journey to Vinland, describes the Vikings, their ships, and the six known voyages to the new world, in order of occurrence beginning with the sighting by Bjarni Herjolfsson in about 986. There follows the voyages of Leif Ericson in about 1000, Thorvald Ericson the following year, Thorstein Ericson's voyage in about 1006, the colonization voyage of Thorfinn Karlsefni and his new wife, Gudrid, Thorstein's widow, in about 1008, and in 1009 the ill-fated voyage of Freydis Ericsdotter in two ships.

The second part relates the story of the modern search for Vinland and the discovery of the Viking settlement at L'Anse Aux Meadows by Dr. Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad. Also discussed are the subsequent archeological explorations, the artifacts found, carbon dating, and the controversy about wild grapes, the location of Vinland, and other questions. Part 2 concludes with a description of the L'Anse Aux Meadows site and its development by Parks Canada through l985.

This excellent little book at a modest price serves as a fine first introduction to the Viking Discoveries in the new world for secondary students, young adults and adults. It is concise yet complete, historically accurate, and a good reference for the known information about the subject. See the order form on the last page of NORSEMAN NEWS for ordering information.

- Dennis L. Johnson

October 9, l999 will be the kickoff of the Leif Ericson year, with an enlarged ceremony and a grand Banquet at the Union League in the evening. Ambassadors of all the Nordic countries, Iceland, and Greenland's Premier have been invited, and are expected to attend along with many LEMC Members, honorary members, and other dignitaries. Make your plans now to be in Philadelphia for this event, see the web site ( for more information or call the LEMC office, 609 342 7500.

Nearly twenty Viking Ships have now expressed interest or registered to take part in VIKINGS SAIL2000! in the late summer and fall of 2000. Countries represented include Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Canada, and the US. These ships are operated mainly by volunteer crews and, like NORSEMAN, will need financial help in undertaking such a spectacular, but long and distant voyage. The Millennium Committee is currently raising funds to support these ships under the leadership of Member Captain Paul Govertsen, former Maritime Captain and Executive with HUAL, Inc., a major Marine Shipping Company based in Baltimore, MD.

Corporate Sponsors are being sought to support the ships, and Companies will receive a number of benefits by becoming a Sponsor, in levels ranging from $50,000 to as little as $1000. Other fund-raising efforts include a Raffle with numerous donated prizes, approaches to Foundations, individual gifts, and sales of Millennium pins, buttons, and other items. See the web site for further details on these programs. If you wish to help, send your check to LEVS at 15 West Highland Avenue, Philadelphia, PA., 19118, made to "LEMC, Inc., VIKINGS SAIL2000! Or if you prefer, you can donate directly to the NORSEMAN trip fund for this event, with checks made to LEVS NORSEMAN, Inc. Both are non-profit 501(c)3 corporations, and contributions are tax deductible to the extent permitted by law.



The l999 sailing season promises to be full and interesting, with highlights of the season summarized below.

A new program of sail training will help improve the sailing skills of all members and build experience in preparation for the VIKINGS SAIL2000! voyage from L'Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland to Philadelphia the summer and fall of 2000. Sailing/rowing adventures are planned on a number of weekends throughout the summer.

On Memorial Day weekend, NORSEMAN will join in the "Tall Ships Delaware" Festival in Wilmington, a 3-day event and Parade of Tall Ships. We will be joining two back-to-back Midsummer's celebrations in June, the first at Randolph, New Jersey on June l9, and the next day NORSEMAN will be in Jamestown, New York on Lake Chatauqua for a Scandinavian Midsummer's festival there.

Labor Day weekend will find NORSEMAN joining in the big Scandinavian Festival in Waterloo, New Jersey, one of the largest in the East. This is always a fun event for all, with lots of entertainers, vendors of Scandinavian specialties, Scandinavian foods, and a host of exhibits and participants.

We will celebrate Leif Ericson day in Budd Lake, New Jersey on October 2nd by joining with their annual Leif Ericson Day Parade and Festival, then NORSEMAN will return to Philadelphia for the annual Leif Ericson Day Festival on the Schuylkill on October 9, the kickoff event for the Leif Ericson Millennium Year which runs from Oct. 9 l999 until Oct. 9, 2000.

NORSEMAN still has several dates during the summer not committed, so if your group or city is interested in an appearance, please contact Dennis L. Johnson, President. at 215 242 3063 or via e-mail at for further information.


Long-time Viking ship member Gene Martenson was named Director Emeritus at the recent annual meeting of the Corporation. A past President, Gene led the organization's fund drive to raise money for the new ship NORSEMAN, after years of service as crew member and skipper of RAVNEN. He worked on the incorporation and by-laws of the organization when we became incorporated in l992. In recent years Gene chaired the nominating committee in addition to continuing to join the crew for most sailing events, work parties, shed construction, and appearances. He could always be counted on to make every new member and visitor feel welcome. He now retires from the Board of Directors, but promises to remain active with the Ship and our many activities. Many thanks, Gene, for your leadership, wisdom, and willingness to serve wherever needed.

Winter '99 Newsletter