Stavangerfjord

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: Bygdøy and the Museums

September 22, 2018

Today dawned clear and bright, a welcome contrast to yesterday’s alternating drizzles and downpours. A clear blue sky replaced the looming gray cloud cover; it was just the perfect day for us to journey out to Bygdøy and visit the museums we had penciled into our Nordic itinerary over a year before. We were going to visit the Vikingskipshuset (the Viking Ship Museum), the Norsk Folkemuseum (Norwegian Museum of Cultural History), and the Norsk Maritimt Museum (Norwegian Maritime Museum).

These three museums, and two others we did not visit, are on the Bygdøy peninsula. The peninsula, once a true island, as one can tell by the distinctive ending on its name, is filled with parks and forests and several small, but upscale, residential areas. In addition to five national museums, it also houses the summer residence of the King of Norway. The peninsula is most easily reached by taking the ferry from downtown Oslo—the harbor only a few steps from the Nobel Peace Center, the former Oslo West Railway Station.

The ferry ride was short and uneventful; most of the transit involved the checking or purchasing of ferry tickets. Soon we were on the peninsula navigating to our first stop, the Viking Ship museum, where, among other recovered Viking-era ships, the Osebergskipet (Oseberg ship) is on display.  The Oseberg ship is an extremely well-preserved clinker-built longship of a type called a karve. The longship was, by all accounts, a seaworthy, working vessel that was later promoted to use as a funerary ship for an important personage. The karve was recovered from a large burial mound at the Oseberg farm near Tønsberg in Vestfold county, Norway, complete with grave goods and the skeletons of two women.

The Oseberg Ship, 2018

This ship held a particular fascination for our little group of adventurers because of the possibility that one of the two women found in the burial was Queen Åsa of the Yngling clan, mother of Halfdan the Black and grandmother of Harald Fairhair. Why our particular interest? As it turns out, Joan had been able to trace her Norwegian ancestry back some twenty-six generations, using a combination of Norwegian church records, historical sources, and Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla, directly to Queen Åsa. This connection, even if only possibly true, and mayhap only an exotic family story, added a particular thrill to the visit. Justin and Andrea had fully prepared for the visit, by reading William L. Sullivan’s The Ship in the Hill, a partly fictional recounting of the ship’s background story and 1904 excavation. Justin had finished the book, in fact, just hours before we stepped into the Vikingskipshuset and gazed up at the ship, with its elaborate, mesmerizing carvings at bow and stern. These carvings, in the so-called “gripping beast” style, featured fantastic creatures that intertwined as they grappled and snapped at one another.

One exhibit, amongst the displays of grave goods and carvings, had a disquieting effect on Joan and Justin. It showed the skeletal remains of two women, one older, and by the evidence, once important. The other, quite possibly a sacrifice, a handmaiden sent to accompany her companion across the last threshold. A set of skeletal teeth on one of them was starkly visible and a bit jarring. Joan felt a chill, eerily unsettled; she seemed momentarily distant.

Only later did she articulate her emotions, “it didn’t seem like the right place for them…it seemed inappropriate somehow. When I look at remains like these, I always imagine real people. I see them in my mind’s eye. I relate to them as what they once were, not the relicts that lie under the glass, under the gaze of thousands of strangers.”

Justin, terse and serious as he sometimes is, seemed similarly affected, but uttered only a single sentence, albeit one that said it all, “I read that they were buried….”

While he was referencing the book he had just hours before finished reading, his words expressed the essence of what he and Joan were feeling. The remains seemed displaced, in the wrong place, certainly not where this ancient pair had expected to be, on public view. The burial had been magnificent and intended by kin and community to bestow honor upon the deceased. Was this public display an honor?

It has to be said it was clear that, for both Joan and Justin, and maybe to some extent for Andrea and Greg, as affines to these Norwegians, there was something old and primeval unearthed in the presence of the longship. The curving prow, the fighting beasts, the swell and curve of the belly of the ship, brought up and to the surface, from somewhere deep within, a sense of great heritage, of a timeless legacy, and, yes, of kinship. There was an ineffable, inexorable feeling of attraction where past and present met, and we were balanced, if merely for moments, in a time between, when a long dead Queen reached out her hand and laid it proudly upon the brows of her children.

Humbled—yet stirred—by the great antiquity of what we had seen, we headed to the Norsk Folkemuseum to pick up the thread of Norway’s cultural history and follow it for just some centuries further. The Folk Museum is actually a fairly large complex consisting of indoor exhibit galleries and an “open air” museum similar to the one we had visited in Trondheim in 2003. The gallery exhibits focus on Norwegian folk art traditions, Norwegian folk dress, Saami culture, and even the history of Norwegian knitting!

The traditional carvings, regional folk painting styles, and complex textile patterns we saw in the exhibits brought home to us the significance of the traditional and decorative arts in Norwegian life—arts that are even to this day honored, preserved, and practiced. Our small collection of Swedish and Norwegian crafts at home certainly seemed unimportant and miniscule in the context of the museum. But both collections, the large and the small, signify a reverence for Norwegian folk tradition, in Norway today and among Norway’s scattered descendants in America.

Folk Arts of Norway, 2018

The outdoor exhibition was extensive, with relocated and restored farm buildings of all types: homes, granaries, outbuildings, and barns. There was a reconstructed “old town” with a collection of shops and dwellings from the cities and towns of bygone times in Oslo. There was a striking stavkirke (stave church), and also some examples of buildings from summer dairy farms called seters.  Many of Joan and Justin’s female ancestors from the Sogn og Fjordane region had been summer dairy milkmaids, or seterbudeia, residing the entire season temporarily in cottages on the seter. Our cameras were busy, recording rooflines, steeples, lintels and doorways, chronicling the everyday constructions that must have been home and hearth and neighborhood to generations of Joan and Justin’s ancestors.

Justin and Greg at the outdoor museum on Bygdøy, 2018

We could have spent longer on these extensive grounds, but a tourist’s day is finite, and there was one museum left on our itinerary. A little bit of a walk took us to the Maritime Museum. While Joan’s maternal grandmother’s ancestors had emigrated from the small farms along the Nordjord, her maternal grandfather’s people had come from islands off the Western coast, Vikna and Leka—the islands we had passed earlier in the week. They had farmed, but also extensively fished, living as they did, in constant contact with the sea. They had been skippers, mates, and crewmen on a myriad ships and pursued the Norwegian cod in the Lofoten Islands for generations. Many of her ancestors paid for their unspoken contract with the Norwegian sea using the only currency that mattered, their lives.

The Maritime Museum captured quite effectively the long and entangled history of Norway and the sea. A history of fjord sailing, coastal navigation, and transatlantic crossing. A history of fighting, fishing, and freight; a history of the transportation of a great portion of an entire people to America via emigration, and, now, lately, of luxury cruises and tourist amenities. One exhibit, quite striking, allowed visitors to imagine themselves on a vintage cruise ship, perhaps an early iteration of the vessels that first began to take passengers on tours along the Western coast to the North Cape. We could climb the wooden staircase up and down from panoramic lounge to dining room, and to the first- and second-class cabins. We had a clearer visual sense of how Casper and Gjertine’s 1932 journey must have been. Later, we stumbled upon a large-scale replica of the MS Stavangerfjord, the very ship that had transported her great-grandparents from Oslo, to Bergen, to Trondheim and finally up the coast to the northernmost tip of Norway, the eighty-six-year-old journey that we had, to some great degree, just replicated a few days before.

A Scale Model of the SS Stavangerfjord, 2018

However, as exciting as our discovery of the Stavangerfjord was, one of the most affecting exhibits was not this large model, but a very small painting by Christian Krohg in the maritime art gallery, entitled, simply, “The Herring Are In” [Silda kommer]. It depicts Norwegian fishermen in the street of a small town, putting on slickers and running for their boats. Two women are leaning out of windows, watching them hurry away to the sea. Their postures express a mix of hope for a bountiful catch and of unspoken fear. Joan and Greg remember the fiskerbondekona statue in the Rørvik town square we saw fifteen years ago—a fisherman’s wife looking out to sea with an expression of both expectancy and dread. The Norwegian sea is the source of life and health and wealth, but also of unexpected violence, death, and sorrow.

Silda kommer by Christian Krohg, Oslo Maritime Museum

Thoughtful, we returned to the ferry, navigating our own way back home by water and then by land. We turned in, after a cobbled together dinner of sandwiches, thinking already of our last full day in Oslo tomorrow.