The Hjemkomst Viking Ship, an enormous replica of a 9th-century Norwegian burial ship, may seem out of place in landlocked Moorhead, Minnesota, where the only body of water is the narrow Red River separating the town from Fargo, North Dakota. Standing under the boat’s long wooden hull evokes long voyages across icy seas, a far cry from the mini-malls and parking lots that surround it in this city.
The Viking ship, however, actually sailed from New York to Norway in 1982, and has come to represent the seafaring heritage of much of the population of Minnesota, which has the largest number of Scandinavian Americans of any state.
The Vikings were Old Norse speakers who ruled over much of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland from the 8th to the 11th centuries. Using their sophisticated long-range sailing abilities and military might, they expanded their domain immensely throughout this period. In 1960, a settlement discovered in Newfoundland, Canada, proved that Vikings had reached the Americas earlier than any other European explorers, around 1000 AD. Scandinavian Americans have long embraced this seafaring history and the early foray into the New World as an important part of their heritage. The Hjemkomst, whose name means “homecoming” in Norwegian, exemplifies this.
The ship was constructed beginning in 1974 by Robert Asp, a guidance counselor at a local middle school, in a local potato warehouse. Asp was captain of the ship on its maiden voyage from Duluth out onto Lake Superior, but died of leukemia before he could realize his original dream of sailing the Hjemkomst all the way to Norway. Two years after his death, Asp’s children finally did, departing New York City and arriving a month later in Bergen, Norway. In 1983, the vessel was finally shipped back to Minnesota, where it is currently housed in the Hjemkomst Center, alongside a replica of a medieval Norwegian wood stave church.