The Viking, a longboat built by Sivert Sagstad of Seattle, lands at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition on August 30, 1909.

  • By Fred Poyner IV
  • Posted 5/05/2019
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 20773

On August 30, 1909, the Viking, a replica longship constructed by a Norwegian-American boatbuilder, Sivert Sagstad (1880-1946) of Ballard, lands on the western shore of Lake Washington near the Natural Amphitheater on the University of Washington campus as part of the festivities commemorating Norway Day at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. It represents a tangible symbol of Scandinavian culture and boat design for its creator and others in the Ballard community of Seattle and throughout the Pacific Northwest.

A Monumental Task in Short Order

As plans for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, Seattle's first major international exhibition, took shape, local heritage groups representing the Norwegian and Swedish immigrant communities were invited to be among those who contributed to the programs held during the A-Y-P-E public run from June 1, 1909 to October 16, 1909. Planning included the construction of a Sweden Pavilion and a Swedish Day, scheduled on July 31, 1909.

Not to be outshone by their Nordic cousins, members of the local Norwegian community advocated for a Norway Day to be held on August 30, 1909. The group included business leaders with Norwegian heritage from both sides of Lake Washington, such as Gerhard Ericksen of Bothell, Jacob E. Mohn, and Albert Ness. They began planning in December 1908 that initially focused on a music performance by the Pacific Coast Norwegian Singers' Association for the day's festivities, and the building of a ship similar to an original ship from the Viking era (the Oseberg ship) that had been excavated in 1904 from Vestfold, Norway.

Two months later, the group had coalesced into a Norway Day Committee, and counted H. P. Rude as its chairman, and newspaper editor Gunnar Lund as a spokesman. Lund was credited with much of the next two months' progress to push the Viking ship proposal forward. By April 1909, the committee had approved a plan to have such a vessel constructed on the eastern shore of Lake Washington, near Bothell.

Only four months remained until the grand opening of the A-Y-P Expo in Seattle.

A Traditional Nordland Boat is Built

The boatbuilder asked by the committee to construct the new ship was Sivert Sagstad, a Norwegian immigrant who had just come to Ballard in 1905 from Bergen, Norway, and established a new boatyard -- the Ballard Boat Works -- on the north shores of Salmon Bay.

Sagstad planned for the vessel to be between 60 to 70 feet in length. His design was of a type known as a Nordlandsb├ąt ("Nordland boat") -- with open cockpit, made from wood, included wrought-iron fittings, and propelled by either oar or deployed sail. These boats were used throughout Scandinavia during the Viking era and up into modern times as fishing vessels. True to its purpose, a fellow Norwegian woodcarver, H. L. Erickson, was enlisted to carve the vessel's stem and stern posts in the forms of a dragon's head and tail, respectively. Gilt paint was added to the dragon head as ornamentation. The cost of the project was estimated at $2,000, with this amount raised via a public fund drive.

Over four months, the ship took shape at a site adjacent to the Sammamish Slough across from the Bothell Northern Pacific railway station (near present-day 103rd Avenue NE and West Riverside Drive). The design of the ship derived both from details of the Oseberg ship find, and a similar Viking replica ship, the Raven, that had been constructed in Norway for the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago.

The site was temporary, and far removed from Sagstad's own shipyard in Ballard. Temporary sheds were made to shelter the wooden hull during construction. A complement of 20 new oars and a large, square-sail completed the ship as final handmade details. It was christened Viking by its chief craftsman and owner.

On August 15, 1909, the ship was launched into Lake Washington. The Bothell Sentinel reported that "the ship entered the water easily and gracefully" ("Ship Launched"). Sagstad had achieved one of the monumental boats of his career, and just in time.

Crossing, Landing on the Big Day

The committee spared no detail in its plans for the Viking on Norway Day. A pennant flew from the top of the sail, emblazoned with the name of the ship, while Viking shields adorned the sides at the oar lock ports, on both sides. A crew of 31 men dressed in Viking era-period clothing, with 20 of these rowing oars as the boat departed from its new temporary moorage on the Kirkland waterfront. The ship's complement included Captain Erik Thomle in the role of famed Viking explorer Leif Erikson; Jennie Johnson as Norway's Queen Margarita; Inga Larson dressed as a peasant bride; the Norway Day Queen, Astri Udness; and singer Albert Poeschung, who greeted onlookers by singing an ancient Norse sea ballad as the ship approached land.

The crossing took less than an hour. As the ship arrived at a quay on the western shore of Lake Washington on the University of Washington grounds, it was welcomed by H. P. Rude and Seattle Mayor John F. Miller. A parade was led by the Viking crew to the Exposition's Stadium and then to the Amphitheater. Rude read a cablegram to the audience of about 6,000, from King Haakon of Norway, who had sent his greetings to the Exposition in commemoration of Norway Day.

Following the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, the Norwegian-American sculptor Finn Frolich was given the Viking in consideration of his work to make a sculpture bust of Edvard Grieg for the University's grounds. It changed ownership a second time when the Alaska Packers Company secured it for San Francisco's Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915. It was relocated over the next two decades to several port cities in California, finally coming to rest on display in Balboa Park, where it was destroyed by fire in 1936.

Sivert Sagstad continued to build a variety of commercial, military, and pleasure boats from his boatyard in Ballard. The Sagstad Shipyard was taken over by his two sons following his death in 1946. The yard has continued to this day as the Sagstad Marina.


Sources:

Olaf Kvamme, "Viking Ship of Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition," Nordic Heritage Museum Historical Journal, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Winter/Spring 2009): 4-24; "The Viking Ship Proposition," Bothell Sentinel, March 6, 1909, p. 1; "Ship Launched," Bothell Sentinel, August 21, 1909, p. 1; "Alice Svenslid Sagstad," oral history interview, Voices of Ballard: Immigrant Stories from the Vanishing Generation (Seattle: Nordic Heritage Museum, 2001): 101-103; "Norway's King sends Greeting to Exposition," The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 31, 1909, p. 1, 11.


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