DULUTH — After years in storage, Duluth’s Viking-inspired ship will make a public appearance in Canal Park next week at the Festival of Sail — commonly known as the tall ships festival.
The 42-foot Leif Erikson will be on display Sunday through Tuesday, Aug. 11-14, in a parking lot along the Minnesota Slip, said Neill Atkins, co-chairman of the Leif Erikson Viking Ship restoration project.
Since 2013, the vessel has been protected inside a warehouse as volunteers search for a permanent display solution.
The ship will be moved to Canal Park on Friday, Atkins said.
“This will be the first time in more than five years that it's been out in the open on display,” he said. “The shrink-wrap will be off, and we're going to attach the shields to it.”
An elaborate dragon’s head that usually adorns the ship will be displayed separately, he said.
Organizers approached Atkins’ group in 2016 about displaying the Leif Erikson near the Pier B development during the tall ships festival, but it was too complicated to pull off without adequate time or volunteers, Atkins said.
This year, the ship is front and center, and they have more help, Atkins said.
“We've got about 30-40 volunteers set up to help us down there for the three days,” he said. “So, we've been able to plan this out, and this year it’s a major part of the festival.”
A gift to Duluth
The Leif Erikson set sail with a four-man crew in 1926 from Bergen, Norway, stopping in the Shetland and Faroe islands, Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland and Boston.
The purpose of the voyage was to demonstrate that Viking explorer Leif Erikson could have sailed across the Atlantic in the year 997. The ship wintered in New York and then sailed through the Great Lakes, arriving in Duluth in June 1927.
Duluth businessmen Bert Enger and Emil Olson bought the ship for $5,000 and donated it to the city for public display.
In the late 1920s, the city of Duluth committed to providing a permanent structure where the vessel could be displayed, but it was never built. In 1929, the ship was placed in Duluth’s Lake Shore Park — soon renamed Leif Erikson Park.
By the 1940s, the ship, made of Norway pine, was starting to rot, so it was patched up at a nearby shipyard and returned to the park, Atkins said.
Years of neglect and vandalism followed before Atkins and others came together in 1984 with an aim to repair and properly care for the ship.
In 1989, Johnson Williams Constructors and the Jamar Co. offered to build a shelter for the vessel, allowing a five-year restoration to begin in 1991. By 2000, however, the ship languished in an obscure corner of the park, covered in shrink-wrap.
According to Atkins, former Duluth Mayor Don Ness pledged $60,000 toward a permanent, 60-foot-long enclosed structure for the vessel to be built at 10th Avenue East and Superior Street, where London Road begins. Mayor Emily Larson, who succeeded Ness, has made the same commitment.
But the city’s pledge plus the $75,000 the restoration group has raised just isn’t enough, Atkins said, with estimates for the glass-and-wood structure coming in upwards of $400,000.