Leif Erikson not a “Viking”
by Blaine Hedberg
Many of us are great admirers of Leif Erikson, and wholeheartedly believe that he was the first European known to have sighted America in the year 1000, which resulted in several Norse attempts to settle in L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, and several other locations, almost five centuries before the famous voyages of Christopher Columbus. Historians have longed studied Yale University’s Vinland Map, and the famous Kensington Runestone on display at Alexandria, Minnesota, Runestone Museum, and in spite of all the efforts to prove dis-genuine, scholars are using modern technology to prove otherwise.
The first Europeans to reach America came by way of Iceland and Greenland. These were farmers, hunters, fishermen and their families, looking for a new home. Believed to have explored the North American coast as far south as New England, and northwards to the Arctic, these early explorers left some clues about their travels to North America. Their settlements in Greenland, abandoned in the 16th century, had lasted more than five hundred years, and now remains of their settlements in Newfoundland, has been discovered. Knowledge of their route to North America, preserved in Europe within the writings of the Icelandic Sagas, provided clues of a coastline that scholars eventually found in North America.
All of these historic facts, taken from the Icelandic Sagas and written more than three centuries before the voyages of Christopher Columbus, can make us proud that an Icelander with Norwegian roots was the first European to reach North America.
Why celebrate on October 9? The first organized emigration from Norway was in 1825 when a group of fifty-two individuals left Stavanger, Norway on July 5, and arrived in New York, with the addition of one baby born onboard the ship, on October 9, 1825. In 1925, at the 100th anniversary celebration of their arrival, hundreds of thousands of Norwegian-Americans gathered at the Fair Grounds in St. Paul, Minnesota, to celebrate. The keynote speaker was President Calvin Coolidge, who acknowledged Leif Erikson as the discoverer of American due to the research by Norwegian-American scholars such as Rasmus B. Anderson and Ludvig Hektoen. Hektoen, a pathologist in Chicago, was born in Westby in 1863, the son of Peder P. Hektoen and Olave Thorsgaard. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson, backed by an unanimous Congress, proclaimed October 9 “Leif Erikson Day” in commemoration of the earliest arrival of a European on North American Soil.
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Leif Erikson Day celebration planned for fall
Westby festival set for Oct. 9
DOROTHY ROBSON for Westby Times
Scandinavian leaders and historians in Westby gathered on March 12 to discuss holding a special event this fall to honor Leif Erikson.
Event organizers plan to celebrate “Leif Erikson Day” on Oct. 9. The city currently hosts two annual community festivals, the Snowflake Ski Jump in February and Westby Syttende Mai in May. For a number of years Westby also hosted “Høst Fest” during October, an event that fizzled out due to a lack of support. Renewed interest in bringing back a fall festival sparked plans to celebrate “Leif Erickson Day”.
Many people believe Leif Erikson, was the first European known to have sighted America in the year 1000, almost five centuries before the famous voyages of Christopher Columbus. Erickson’s sightings resulted in several Norse attempts to settle in L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, and other locations.
President Grover Cleveland, along with Ludvig Hektoen (a Westby native) started a modern day movement in 1925 to celebrate “Leif Erikson Day”. Decades later in 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a bill and proclamation proclaiming Oct. 9, as “Leif Erikson Day”.
“Leif Erikson Day” is now celebrated annually in many communities across the United States.
Plans to host a celebration in Westby later this year are in the inaugural stages, but events will be plentiful and announced as plans are finalized. Public input is welcome at the next planning meeting at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 7. The location of the meeting has yet to be announced soon, but will be posted in the weekly “What’s Happening?” community calendar inside the Westby Times.
Ideas for the event are welcome and should be submitted to Eric Leum via email at Westby.Leif.Erikson.Day@gmail.com or by phone at (608) 632-6431.