Partners in Preservation Grant Aids in Stabilization of Viking Ship

Posted on: October 10th, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 4 Comments
The Viking Ship sailed from Norway to Chicago in 1892 for the World's Columbian Exposition.

The Viking Ship sailed from Norway to Chicago in 1892 for the World's Columbian Exposition.

I traveled to Geneva, Illinois, last week to see the results of our Chicagoland Partners in Preservation grant on the Viking Ship. Constructed in 1892 as an exact replica of a 9th century vessel, the Viking Ship sailed from Norway to Chicago for the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893 in an attempt to prove that Leif Ericksson and Viking sailors could have reached North America before Columbus.

For much of the twentieth century the ship remained in Chicago as part of the Chicago Park District, until a local volunteer group in Geneva offered to take it and raise funds for a restoration. Unfortunately, those plans never came to fruition. The ship sat neglected and open to the elements under a tarp in Good Templar Park for several years. With no plan for its stabilization, and no funding available for repairs or relocation, Landmarks Illinois placed the Viking Ship on their 2007 statewide endangered list to draw attention to its plight.

A system of cables was installed to realign the hull.

A system of cables was installed to realign the hull.

But the Viking Ship has come a long way in the past 12 months, thanks in large part to the hard work and dedication of Liz Safanda, the Preservation Partners of Fox Valley (PPFV), and many others. With assistance from a Partners in Preservation grant and local fundraising, the ship has undergone a remarkable transformation. The steel cradle carrying the ship was modified with several new supports, a system of cables and turnbuckles was installed to carefully return the ship to its proper position, the sternpost was straightened, and over a dozen frames were added to reduce stress from the many split and cracked planks.

A group of 5th grade students on a tour of the Viking Ship.

A group of 5th grade students on a tour of the Viking Ship.

While stabilization of the ship was the top priority for Liz and PPFV, they also felt that it was important to improve security and access to the Ship. This was accomplished through modifications to the enclosure that made it much more secure, and the installation of a new accessible ramp that will allow many more visitors to view the Ship -- and its repairs -- up close.

While this represents only the first step in the restoration process for the Viking Ship, it was a very significant one that gave the local preservationists the support and encouragement they needed to tackle a rather daunting project. While Liz admits that she was a little worried at first, she and her fellow "21st-century Vikings" say they were thrilled to participate in the stabilization project that saved a very significant piece of Chicago's history.

– Christina Morris

Christina Morris is a program officer in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Midwest Office.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

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4 Responses

  1. Pat Weghorn

    October 10, 2008

    I just wanted to thank you for posting this, and thanks to the Partners in Preservation and Landmarks Illinois for entering this into the grant competition last year. I live in Plainfield, Illinois and had never heard of the Viking ship until the competition, which prompted me to go visit it on the day of their “open house”. The supporters lamented that there isn’t a permanent home for the ship which would prevent further decay, and without a plan that would allow it to be seen as a benefit to the community, the money required to restore it gets diverted to other projects. Thankfully there are those who care, so it won’t be forgotten.

  2. Craig Deller

    October 13, 2008

    As one of the volunteers working with the ship, I can say the progress as been remarkable. I am a wooden artifact conservator (and it’s one large artifact!!) and I can say that Liz’s efforts have been inspiring. I hope all those with an interest join the Freinds of The Viking Ship and help us continue our work.

  3. David O. Segermark

    October 14, 2008

    Congratulations to the preservation committee!

    I remember seeing the “Viking” as a child with my grandfather! Little did I know that that viewing would lead to an avocation as Viking ship Captain, and educator in Viking Culture and Leif Ericson through the Leif Ericson Society International starting in 1974 initially and then the Leif Ericson Viking Ship, Inc. since 1992 (www.vikinghsip.org).

    I congratulate you again. Please contact me should you need publicity as we have a network that covers the USA and some European areas and may be able to help.

    Sincerely,
    David O. Segermark, President,
    Leif Ericson Viking Ship, Inc.
    http://www.vikingship.org

  4. Ray Røstad

    December 24, 2009

    I grew up in Chicago, visiting “The Viking” often – loved it. I have donated money to the ship’s preservation in the past. If I lived anywhere near the ship, I would love to work on the restoration.
    My comment, or suggestion, is simply that it would be great to see some current photos of the ship’s Dragon Head & Tail, which I’ve read are in storage at the Chicago MSI.