O. B. Grimley

Viknavaeringer: At Home in Norway and America

In previous blog entries we chronicled OUR NORWEGIAN SAGA—a trip taken in September 2018 that began in Bergen, continued to Kirkenes in the far north, and ended in Oslo. The focal point of the journey was a Hurtigruten cruise along Norway’s magnificent western and northern coasts. On this unforgettable cruise we visited many of the same sites that Joan’s immigrant great-grandparents, Casper and Gjertine Cornelius, had visited on their own memorable return to Norway in 1932, a trip they made after forging a full life of 45 years in America. (See Our Norwegian Saga: Arrivals and Departures)

A published account of Casper and Gjertine’s trip by John Rørvik entitled “Smaatræk fra Casper Cornelius’s Norges-Reise’’ (in Viknaværinger hjemme i Norge og i Amerika. Minneapolis, MN: Viknalaget, 1933, pp. 174-177) was written in Norwegian, and, thus hidden from those of us who know little of the language. The book in which this article appeared was published by the Viknalaget, a Norwegian-American bygdelag society formed in Minneapolis on February 8, 1924, comprised of members who had emigrated from Vikna, as well as their descendants. (Vikna was a former municipality in Trøndelag county that encompassed some 6,000 islands off the northwestern coast of Norway.) The Viknalaget’s first meeting, in fact, was held at Casper and Gjertine’s home at 2934 North Colfax Avenue in Minneapolis.

Casper’s childhood friend, John M. Johnson (Johan Michal Johannsen), accompanied them on the journey. (For more on John Johnson see our blog post: The John Johnson Cot)

Below, Greg has translated the Norwegian text of the article, opening the door to a greater understanding of the journey of remembrance that Casper and Gjertine took so many years ago.


See the article in the original Norwegian: Smaatræk fra Casper Cornelius’s Norges-Reise.


VIKNAVAERINGER [1]

At Home in Norway and America

HISTORICAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES

PUBLISHED BY VIKNALAGET, MINNEAPOLIS, MINN

EDITED BY JOHN RORVIK AND PAUL WOXENG –1933

The Casper Cornelius home, where the Viknalaget’s first meeting was held.

The Casper Cornelius home, where the Viknalaget’s first meeting was held.

Highlights of Casper Cornelius’s Trip to Norway

At the Viknalaget meeting on October 7, 1932, our former secretary, Casper Cornelius, who, along with his wife and childhood friend, John M. Johnsen, from Waldwin, Wis.,[*] had just returned from a trip to Norway, was greeted with a welcome never before seen in our laget. [2] Never have the Viknavaeringer of the twin cities come out in such strength. Everyone was excited to hear news from Norway and Vikna and from the old friends and loved ones over there. And old Casper was the man who could tell the tale.

On May 28 Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius, along with Mr. Johnsen, left New York on the Norwegian American Line steamship “Stavangerfjord,” and after a pleasant journey they arrived in Norway at the most delightful time of the year. They got to see our old homeland decked out in its most wonderful finery. We shall not take the time and space here to recount all the experiences Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius had on the voyage, but only touch upon the highlights, so to speak. In addition to greeting relatives and friends on Vikna, they visited many other places during the voyage, greeting those people whose relatives and friends they had come in contact with during their forty-six year stay in America. Upon arriving in Oslo, they were met by Professor O. B. Grimley, currently employed at the Norwegian American Line’s Oslo office. They spent a few days with Mr. and Mrs. Grimley in their cozy villa at Stabek on the outskirts of Oslo. During this time, they had the opportunity to visit many of the sights in the capital, accompanied by their hospitable host and his wife. During this time, they also had the opportunity to visit the builder Axel Bjørnstad in his office at the St. Olaf Hotel. Mr. Bjørnstad is a brother of Mrs. John Hendriksen of Minneapolis. He has the honor of having built the world’s northernmost church on Svalbard. They then traveled north to Trondheim. There they met many people well known to us. Among these were head teacher Karl Pettersen (who taught at Vikna more than 50 years ago) and teacher Julius Bolling with his wife and daughter. They also met Kaja Pettersen, a cousin of Miss Laura Eng in Minneapolis, as well as the tailor Ulsund (also a Viknavaeringer). Then they stopped and visited my (the author’s) two sisters, Miss Henny Johansen and Mrs. Marie Risvik; these two are residing in Trondheim, where they have a small sewing business. All of these friends and family, both in Oslo and Trondheim, sent greetings to the Viknalaget, as well as to their relatives and friends in this country.

Then their journey continued on to Vikna, the destination that mattered the most to them. What feelings must have stirred in their breasts when they saw those familiar places again? Mr. Cornelius did not speak much of it, but it must have seemed to him as if he had just woken up from a long slumber and found everything changed. People who were relatively young when he left Norway forty-six years ago were now almost all dead and gone. And of those who were his age, there were just a few remaining. However, the islands, islets, and seaweed-strewn beaches were still the same as they were before. The infinite sea, which encircled them like a wreath, rolled its massive foam-topped waves across the shore and sent foamy spray high as it broke onto the rocky coast of Ytter Vikna. At old Lysøviken the waves were probably not that loud now in the summertime. But he had probably heard enough of that familiar sound to stir his memories. It was at Lysøviken that his father closed his eyes for the last time about sixty or seventy years ago.

Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius used their time well on Vikna. They went from place to place talking to people and brought greetings from relatives and friends here in Minneapolis. We are very grateful to them for that.

“We had a great time on Vikna,” said Casper. “The people were very accommodating to us. The most striking virtues of the people there were hospitality and cleanliness.” (Hence, we can conclude that they had not become more acquainted with the catch that Fru Guru brought in of an evening, as described by the poet Petter Dass in “Nordland’s Trumpet.”)

After this short stay on Vikna, they traveled south again to embark on a trip to the North Cape on the “Stavangerfjord.”

It was during this trip that Mr. Cornelius had an interesting experience. He was able to tell an old story about Hestmunk Kallen, Lekkea Møia, and the Torghatten through the microphone of the ship’s radio station. [3] He had heard this tale when he was just a young boy, but despite the years he remembered it well. It was also during this tour that they had an experience that many of our Norwegian-born men and women have longed for over the years — the sight of the glorious midnight sun casting its golden gleam over land and sea. It seemed as if day was enshrouded in the peace of night. Hundreds of the ship’s passengers, people from all over the world, stood on the deck at the midnight hour, watching this enchanting sight as music echoed across the still sea. Imagine what a moment that was! We understand our friend Casper Cornelius very well when he says the memory of that night will never fade as long as he lives. During the Nordland trip they visited many locations, including Tromsø, where they visited the splendid museum there. They also went to Hammerfest, among other places.

After returning to Oslo on the “Stavangerfjord” they took the train north to Trondheim, where on this occasion they visited Johannes Horsfjord and his family in their home on Ladehammeren mountain. [4] Then they traveled on to Lekka, where they visited relatives and friends of Mrs. Cornelius. They attended a church service in the church where she was a member before she was married. They also visited Lars Beniamensen Kvalø. It was there at his farm that a little girl, Svanhild Hansen from Hortavær, was abducted by an eagle earlier that summer. After visiting everyone they knew on Lekka and in the surrounding area, they made a trip to Hortavær, where Mrs. Cornelius was born. Hortavær is a group of 365 islands, with a population of approximately 100. There is a chapel there built by an Englishman named Arnestad. Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius had a wonderful time among the fisher folk out there on Hortavær.

Finally they made a return trip to Vikna, where this time they visited Pastor A. Fikkan, Lensmann [5] A. Østnes, and Karl Severeide, as well as our old school teacher Jørginus Ofstad. They also gave their regards to Andreas Benjamensen, Hans Farnes, our friend Paul Woxeng, and many more, including my own mother and siblings in Rørvik.

Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius were well pleased with their journey to Norway. Indeed, happy are those who can make such a trip.

Casper Cornelius arrived in New York on September 22 after a pleasant return voyage across the ocean. At the Viknalaget meeting he offered greetings from Mr. and Mrs. Grimley, as well as from the Oslo Viknalaget. We are pleased to hear that they have a chapter there. We are also delighted that they have a Viknaværinger publication like we do. By the way, wonder if that Grimley fellow and his wife have anything to do with that! We know how interested they were in our magazine when they were living here in Minneapolis. (Mr. Grimley was our magazine’s first editor.)

We wish the Viknaværinger in Oslo good luck with their chapter. We hope that in the future Viknaværinger in Minneapolis and Oslo will become better acquainted.


[*] John M. Johnsen died on January 20, 1933, after an operation to treat a stomach condition.

JOHN RØRVIK


VIKNALAGET

The following excerpt provides some context for the publication in which the excerpt above appears. It is taken from Jacob Hodnefield’s Norwegian-American Bygdelags and their Publications, Norwegian-American Historical Association, 18: 163-222.

VIKNALAGET. In the summer of 1913 John W. Johnson of Baldwin, Wisconsin, wrote an article in Decorah-posten, appealing to immigrants from Vikna, Norway, to send a memorial gift to the old country, since May 17 of that year would be the centennial of the Norwegian constitution. A total of 2,834 kroner was collected at that time, but additions continued for a number of years. Out of this co-operation, a bygdelag came into being. The first meeting for organization purposes was held in Minneapolis February 8, 1924, at which 25 were present. A business meeting was held in Minneapolis March 7, 1924, at which a constitution was adopted. Officers elected were H. H. Ockwig, president; Adolf Larsen, vice-president; Casper Cornelius, secretary; John Caspersen, treasurer. Other founders were John M. Johnson, Alfred Berg, Jørgen Berg, Paul Woxeng, Arnold Jakobsen, Paul Sørø, and Edvard Hustad.

It was decided to hold meetings in Minneapolis the first Friday of each month, thus making the organization essentially a Minneapolis concern. There is generally a Christmas party and banquet and a summer picnic. Speeches, music, films, and so forth have featured the programs. The field of interest of the society was to be the immigrants from Vikna, Norway, their welfare in this country, the preservation of the Norwegian heritage through music, song, literature, art, and folklore, co-operation with the land of the fathers, and the growth and promotion of the bygdelag movement.

Three publications have been issued by Viknalaget. The first was Viknaværingens aarbok for 1927-1928 (Minneapolis, 1928). It has a foreword by John Rørvik and miscellaneous contents, including recollections of fishing enterprises, reminiscences of Christmas, items from Norway, and minor sketches. A second publication was Address Book of Viknaværinger in America (Minneapolis, 1929).

The third is Viknaværinger i Amerika, historiske og biografiske skildringer, by John Rørvik and Paul Woxeng (Minneapolis, 1933). There is a foreword by John Rørvik; emigrants from our district, by John Rørvik; the saga of Viknalaget; list of donors of the gift to the home district; nature, history, and community life at Vikna, by Paul Woxeng; the saga of emigration; [210] emigration to America, by John Rørvik; Norwegians in America; activities of the bygdelags; and miscellaneous sketches, verse, and greetings.

NOTES

[1] In Northern Norway the suffix  –vaeringer is added to place names to denote people from that place. Thus, Viknavaeringer = [those from Vikna].

[2] The viknalaget is a regional example of the Norwegian-American bygdelag, a society whose members come from the same community. For more on these quintessential Norwegian-American Associations see Jacob Hodnefield’s Norwegian-American Bygdelags and their Publications, Norwegian-American Historical Association, 18: 163-222.  (https://www.naha.stolaf.edu/pubs/nas/volume18/vol18_7m)

[3] Hestmunk is a reference to Hestmannen [the Horseman]. Kallen refers to the king Vågekallen and Lekkea Møia refers to Lekamøya, the Maiden of Leka, characters in a magical tale about how the granite mountain Torghatten (on the island of Torget in Brønnøy) came to have a hole all the way through it.

[4] The Ladehammeren is a small mountain near Trondheim on the Lade peninsula in Trøndelag County.

[5] In modern Norway a local police officer much like a county sheriff.

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