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Historic Chicago Viking Ship May Finally Get Permanent Home

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Viking Ship

The Viking ship at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. (Credit: Public Domain)

John Cody. John Cody
John Cody is a veteran reporter for Newsradio 780.
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GENEVA, Ill. (CBS) — A historic ship that has been looking for a Chicago home for years may finally get its chance.

As WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports, a crew of 12 sailed the open-hulled replica Viking ship – known simply as “the Viking” – through a North Atlantic gale from Bergen, Norway, to Chicago for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports

The boat was moored in the Jackson Park Lagoon until 1920, when it was moved to the Lincoln Park Zoo. But when the zoo expanded in 1994, the ship was moved again, and ended up exiled first in a Chicago warehouse, then at Good Templar Park in Geneva.

“It was really in great distress because of being incorrectly ported between 1994 and 2008,” said Lorain Straw.

Straw, who heads Friends of the Viking Ship, will receive title to the craft from the Chicago Park District, and plans to begin fund raising and finding the watercraft a permanent home.

The ship was constructed in 1892 and 1893 at Christen Christensen’s Framnes Shipyard in Sandefjord, Norway. It was a replica of the Gokstad, an ancient Viking ship that had been excavated in 1880, according to Friends of the Viking Ship.

Straw says Chicago first asked for the original Gokstad, which sailed in 850 AD. But Norway declined due to the delicate condition of the ship, which had been hauled from harbor mud.

So the Norwegians built an exact copy with planks hand split from green logs. The ship is about 78 feet long, 7 feet wide, and 6 1/2 feet high.

The Norwegians had Capt.Magnus Anderson sail the Viking to Chicago through one gale, up the Hudson river to the Erie Canal and through the Great Lakes to Chicago.

The ship traveled south to New Orleans at the end of the 1893 World’s Fair, and was returned to the following year to Chicago and presented to the Field Columbian Museum – a predecessor to the Field Museum of Natural History – which occupied the World’s Fair’s Palace of Fine Arts before in the days before it became the Museum of Science and Industry.

The Federation of Norwegian Women’s Societies had the ship restored and moved to the Lincoln Park Zoo in 1920. The Norwegian-American community maintained the ship as it sat in a shed near the zoo’s duck pond for many years, but it eventually began to deteriorate again, Friends of the Viking Ship reported.

When the zoo began its expansion project, the Chicago Park District sold the ship to the American Scandinavian Council. The ship then made its way to the West Chicago and finally to Good Templar Park, while its dragon head and tail were placed in storage back in Chicago at the MSI.

The American Scandinavian Council took on an obligation to maintain and display the ship, and planned at various times to have it moved to its own museum, the Museum Campus, and Navy Pier. But those plans all fell through, and the council ended up folding in 2001, the group said.

In 2007, the Viking was listed as one of the 10 most endangered historic sites by Landmarks Illinois.

Straw says she would like to see the Viking at some high visibility location such as the MSI after the park district turns over title to “Friends of the Viking ship,” which will have the vessel surveyed, and then begin collecting money for it’s complete rehabilitation.

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