Leif Erikson in no rush to journey to new places
Given its history, it seemed fitting that the fierce-looking Leif Erikson statue that for 45 years has faced Shilshole Bay refused to be...
Seattle Times staff reporter
By Erik Lacitis
Seattle Times staff reporter
Given its history, it seemed fitting that the fierce-looking Leif Erikson statue that for 45 years has faced Shilshole Bay refused to be moved on Tuesday.
The bronze figure -- about 17 feet tall, sword at his hip, battle-ax in his hand -- is to be refurbished in preparation for a new home about 200 feet away in October.
But Leif refused to budge even after workers spent eight hours drilling at his base with a concrete rotohammer and other tools, and then pounding the concrete with a plastic hammer filled with lead shot.
Leif refused to be moved even when a crane used 20,000 pounds of force to try and pull him up with a heavy-duty polyester sling.
It turned out that concrete had been poured into the statue's hollow legs, and it had set hard against the pedestal.
"We didn't want to pull harder. You pull hard enough, it comes apart," said Mike Hascall, co-owner of Artech, the company contracted to move the statue to Kent to fix any blemishes caused by nearly half a century in the elements.
So the big ceremony scheduled for noon was canceled, the two dozen Scandinavian-Americans who came to watch the move went home, and the TV crews packed up.
The ceremony has been rescheduled for noon today. Artech will work all morning to try to make it happen.
It seems fitting the statue didn't cooperate because half a century ago it wasn't exactly greeted with open arms by city officials.
The local Scandinavian community faced rejection after donating $42,000 (nearly $290,000 in today's dollars) to pay for a memorial to its source of pride. Erikson was a Viking many believe was the first European to reach America, 500 years before Columbus.
When the statue was formally proposed in 1959, the Seattle Parks Department didn't want it, according to a Seattle Times story, "on the grounds it might set a precedent for other ethnic groups."
The Municipal Arts Commission was not particularly interested, either.
After seeing a 4-foot model of the statue, a number of commission members said the statue wasn't worthy art.
One commission member was quoted, "The model is not distinctive. It isn't alive."
Finally, three years after the statue was first proposed, the Port of Seattle said it would take it for placement at Shilshole, just in time for that year's Century 21 World's Fair.
Tuesday, among those patiently waiting to see the statue hoisted up was Anne Marie Steiner, who came from Norway with her family in 1926 at age 6.
She still lives in Ballard -- which, despite many new arrivals, still has 20 percent of its population of Scandinavian descent -- and still speaks the old-country language.
"Every time we have relatives visiting, we come and take pictures of the statue," she said.
Steiner remembered the art commissioners deriding the statue.
"Because they weren't Scandinavian, probably," she said.
The Leif Erikson International Foundation (LEIF) -- based, of course, in Ballard -- is raising funds to place the statue on a new base, in a plaza with Viking art. The group's Web address is www.leiferikson.org
For $125, Scandinavian descendants can have their family names added to aluminum plaques at the new site. So far, said its president, Kristine Leander, 350 families have participated.
Erling Berg, 80, also was among those who came to watch the statue be moved Tuesday. He's a retired apartment builder who arrived from Norway in 1957, following his brother.
"My brother told me there was a lot of opportunity and a lot of work here," Berg remembered. "And there sure was."
The statue, Berg said, symbolized the Viking spirit to all those fishermen, builders and others who migrated here from Scandinavia.
His brother, Kristian, 82, wasn't at the event because he was skiing.
By the time the crane operator called it quits Tuesday, there were only a hardy few remaining to see if the workers could manage to dislodge Leif.
With a certain pride, Leander looked up at the statue and said, "That's one stubborn Scandinavian."
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or email@example.com
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.