Our Norwegian Saga: Last Day in Oslo

September 23, 2018

 On our last day in Oslo we wanted to tick off a last few items on our journey’s wish list. We hadn’t yet visited the Historical Museum (Historisk Museum) operated by the University of Oslo on the Frederiks gate in the central city. The main purpose of the visit was, oddly, to visit the Egyptian exhibits, not the Norwegian ones! Egypt had long fascinated one of our members, Andrea, and we decided to mix a little Near East into the Far North. The Museum, in addition to the Egyptian exhibition, also had a gallery devoted to different arctic and sub-arctic cultures—the Saami exhibit was especially interesting. The “Coin Cabinet” had a display of coins, but most fascinating was a display of Norwegian Orders and Medals whose design, a museum display label informed us, was “superior to those of Sweden.”

Medals and Orders—Superior to those of Sweden, 2108

During Casper and Gjertine’s 1932 trip to Norway, they made several trips to Oslo. Each visit to Oslo included time spent with a Professor O. B. Grimley, someone, it appears, with whom Casper had some more than passing acquaintance.

Grimley was born in the United States of Norwegian parents, but in an unusual reversal of the typical immigration pattern, immigrated to Norway from America. He was born in North Dakota, attended Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and became professor of Norwegian language and history at the Norwegian College in Outlook, Saskatchewan, Canada. He had also served as a colonization representative for the Canadian National Railway’s colonization and immigration department. A 1926 Canadian article reported his role in bringing the first Norwegian-American settlers from North Dakota to Saskatchewan to establish farms purchased by the CNR. Around 1926 he took up residence in Oslo, having accepted a position with the Norwegian-American Line to promote travel between Norway and America.  He was active in Norwegian-American history circles as both an author and lecturer and likely that way became acquainted with Joan’s great-grandfather.  Both men were heavily involved with the fostering of ties between Norwegians and Norwegian-Americans; they were fellow historians of the Norwegian-American experience, as it were.

The Oslo Domkirke, 2018

On one of their visits to Oslo, Casper mentioned attending services at the “Our Savior’s Church” (Vår Frelsers kirke). This, we soon determined, was now referred to as the Oslo Cathedral (Oslo domkirke). One of Joan’s final objectives was to visit the cathedral and spend some small time inside—not just to see the interior, but to sit and meditate a moment on the significance, if any, of yet another intersection between her great-grandparents’ journey and her own. As we approached the cathedral, services were in session, and casual tourists such as ourselves were warned away until sometime after the noon hour.

We then decided to visit Frogner Park (Frognerparken), also prominently mentioned in Casper’s 1932 chronicle. After riding the subway for some stops, and a bit of a walk, Justin successfully navigated us to our destination; the navigation skills of his ancestors have obviously not washed out of his genome.

The park is quite extensive and contains the Vigeland sculpture installation (Vigelandsanlegget), created by Gustav Vigeland between 1924 and 1943. The first part of the installation, the Bridge with its fifty-eight sculptures, first opened to the public in 1940.  This was followed by three other features: the Fountain, the Monolith, and the Wheel of Life. The Monolith, at the highest point of Frogner Park, was not completed until 1944. Carved out of a single piece of granite, it depicts one hundred and twenty-one entwined human figures reaching to the sky. In 1932 Joan’s great-grandparents would not have seen any of this marvelous array of sculptures—all created by Vigeland himself.

A View of Frogner Park, 2018

What would Casper and Gjertine have seen? Well, possibly, Frogner Manor built in 1750 by Major Hans Jacob Scheel, and mayhaps the Pavilion located on the small Utsikten Hill. Perhaps they had also seen the Frogner baths, or the buildings remaining from the 1914 Jubilee Exhibition. We do know, because Casper mentions it, that he and Gjertine viewed a statue of Abraham Lincoln located in the park, first unveiled there on July 4, 1914, during the period of the Jubilee, which ran from May through October. Casper wrote that the statue was “given by the Norwegian people of North Dakota.”

Since its unveiling in 1914, Norwegians have gathered at the Abraham Lincoln memorial every 4th of July to pay tribute to the man and reaffirm their bonds with Norwegian-Americans.

We didn’t—couldn’t—see everything in the massive one hundred and eleven-acre park. It was too large, and we needed to get back to the Cathedral before it closed. The day, like our journey itself, was running out like the sand in an hourglass. We never located the Lincoln statue and, hurrying out the wrought iron main gate of the Park onto the Kirkeveien, we rushed back to the City Center. We promised sincerely to return someday and, like Casper and Gjertine, visit Lincoln—a tangible icon of America’s relationship with Norway.

On every journey there are sights seen, and many more not seen. Towns visited, and a multitude more bypassed. We can always only sample a smattering of what any country offers. For every landscape or monument or architectural marvel, there is another too difficult or far away to reach. And, always, there is too little time.  Every journey is a physical narrative of all that has been visited and experienced, but there is a shadow narrative, the umbral reflection of that journey, of all that has not.

As Justin and Andrea went back to our temporary home in Grønland, we ran out the clock at the Oslo Cathedral. Just a half hour or so before it closed for the day we entered. As Greg took the obligatory pictures to complete the chronicle of our visit, Joan just found a pew and sat down. The church was quiet, nearly empty. That Sunday morning on September 11, 1932, Casper and Gjertine sat in a church filled with worshippers.

Was she sitting in the same pew that her great-grandparents had sat in? Was she seeing the altar nearly as they had seen it? This was our last full day in Norway, the end of our journey, again standing in the footsteps of Joan’s great-grandparents. Such an odd confluence of events has allowed us to parallel so well the eighty-six-year-old journey of her ancestors. Will someday another ancestor, perhaps in another eighty-six years, retrace Casper and Gjertine’s path, or even our own rapidly concluding journey?

In the Oslo Cathedral, 2018

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