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World's Columbian Exposition Viking Ship A Burden Park District No Longer Wants

By Chris Bentley in News on Jun 29, 2012 8:20PM

The Gokstad replica at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. (Creative Commons 3.0 license)

In 1893 the Viking docked in Chicago, completing a 4,000-mile journey from Norway to the World’s Columbian Exposition. It was a hand-made replica of a 1,000-year-old Viking ship named the Gokstad.

Like many Norse explorers who sailed to the New World in oaken ships resembling the Gokstad, the Viking never made it back to Scandinavia — a fact that’s starting to bother its owner, the Chicago Park District.

It could cost more than $3 million to restore and relocate the ship for display in a museum. Instead a cash-strapped Park District hopes to transfer its deed for the World Expo relic over to a non-profit, Friends of the Viking Ship. But so far that organization has only announced it will pay for responsibilities "related to education" about the ship.

The original deed charged the Lincoln Park Commissioners to care for the ship, but that group became part of the Park District in 1934. Sixty years later, they foisted it off on the American Scandinavian Council, who agreed to pay for the ship's upkeep. Unfortunately for the Viking and the Park District, that group dissolved in 2001 and ownership reverted to the Park District.

Landmarks Illinois declared the ship one of its ten most endangered historic sites in the state in 2007. The Viking remains dry-docked in Geneva, Ill.