Friday, May 29, 2009

New American Embassy in Oslo Clears Legal Hurdle

We've got a post today from Colin about the ongoing story of the proposed move for the American Embassy in Oslo.

In a decision handed down Friday the Norwegian Supreme Court ruled that an Oslo municipal development committee had not acted improperly when in 2005 it gave its approval to move the American Embassy from the capital’s center to the less-crowded Huseby area. The court’s ruling effectively ends the legal challenge brought against the move by a local citizen’s group Vern Husebyskogen (Protect Huseby Forest) and should clear the way for further planning.

The American embassy has been located in the heart of downtown Oslo since 1959. After 9/11 increasing concerns, shared by Embassy staff and Oslo citizens, jump-started the search for a new location. Plans were eventually drawn up to move the building to Huseby, a wooded neighborhood a few kilometers outside of the city center. Local residents, concerned that the development and increased traffic would harm their neighborhood, sued the Norwegian government and the Oslo local government, charging that approval had been given without making an appropriate impact study. The Norwegian Supreme Court ruled that no such impact study was legally necessary and moreover that the citizen’s group had had its day in court.

American Ambassador Benson K. Whitney told the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet that “Building a new Embassy is the right step for our national relationship, for Oslo’s citizens and for the American and Norwegian employees of the Embassy. We are ready to continue our dialog and look forward to being good neighbors.” Margrethe Geelmuyden, head of Vern Husebyskogen, was disappointed by the court’s ruling but said the group would respect it.

The ruling doesn’t mean that construction will begin right away. Next, concerns about the compound’s planned architecture have to be addressed. You can read the Embassy’s statement about the ruling here, and read about some of the eco-friendly features of the planned building here.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Lodges in the News

It looks like this year's Syttende Mai celebrations were especially successful. There were parades, lodge events and special meals enjoyed by communities throughout the North American and Norway. Congratulations to everyone who hosted a Syttende Mai event this year!

As a little recap I've found some news stories about Sons of Norway lodges and their Syttende Mai celebrations that are great examples for other lodges who are thinking of hosting their own in the future.

Here's one about Nordkap lodge in Detroit, MI.

This one
comes from Løven lodge in Eau Claire, WI.

And here is a photo album of images from the Petersburg, AK lodge's celebration.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Chief Wiggum – Norwegian American?

Today we've got another post from Colin, this time discussing Norwegian names, The Simpsons and speculation on Clancy Wiggum's heritage. Have a great weekend everyone!

We’ve already written about Sunday’s Simpsons episode marking Syttende Mai – click here to read it if you missed it – and that reminded us of my own (unproven, highly speculative) theory about the ethnic background of Springfield’s police chief. Namely, I think that Police Chief Clancy Wiggum is a Norwegian-American.

Here’s why. I read somewhere that Matt Groening, the creator of the Simpsons, is half-Norwegian. If that’s true, it must be on his mother’s side, since Groening doesn’t look like a Norwegian name to me. According to this article from the Oregonian, Chief Wiggum is named for Groening’s mother, whose maiden name was Wiggum. That name looks more Norwegian to me, (because of the “wig“ part, more on that later) but then again last names change a lot when people immigrate, so it could come from anywhere. According to Statistics Norway’s database of Norwegian names, there isn’t anyone in Norway today with the last name “Wiggum” with two “g”s, but I see in my dictionary of Norwegian last names that there’s a similar surname with just one “g.” When I look up “Wigum” in Statistics Norway’s database and, the online phone catalog, I get over 120 hits.

So, if Matt Groening’s mother is of Norwegian descent and her last name is Norwegian, then I think we can safely conclude that Chief Wiggum is a Norwegian-American.

And now that we’ve established that, let’s not tell anyone, okay? If they actually portrayed Wiggum as a Norwegian-American on the show, we’d never live it down.

In an effort to make this post a little more educational, let’s get back to why “Wiggum” looked Norwegian to me. The first part, “wig-“ is an old spelling of the modern Norwegian word “vik” meaning “bay” or “inlet.” Because of the many changes Norwegian has gone through in the last couple hundred years, Norwegian names use lots of ways to spell “vik” (Vig, Viig, Wig, Wiig, Viik, Wik, Wiik). Many Norwegians take their last names from the farms where they or their ancestors lived, and given that Norway has so much coastline the “vik” element (in various forms) is extremely common in surnames.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Syttende Mai in Brooklyn!

Today we have the promised post from our own Nichole who was on hand for the Syttende Mai celebration in New York this past weekend. Enjoy!

Ah, it seemed a cool day when setting out for Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, but once taking in the sights there, I forgot all about the weather! For just over two hours in the afternoon, hundreds of Norwegians (and those with Norwegian leanings), took to the streets to celebrate Norwegian Independence with a fantastic parade.

Cheers of “Hurra, hurra for Syttende Mai!” broke out spontaneously on the street with some frequency, with smiling bystanders joining in the fun and festivities. Tons of Norwegian flags lined the streets, waving at the marchers and parade participants. Even street vendors seemed to get in the spirit.

These are a few of my favorite photos from Sunday’s celebrations.

The modern and the traditional:

Representing District 3 with, um, zeal, Roy Berntsen:

And, who knew the Scots were so supportive of Norwegian Independence? This is one of the two(!) bagpipe ensembles marching for Syttende Mai.

It was great to see so many of our international officers and District 3 officers and lodge members. Check back on the blog later this week and next for some video of this great event, as well some lovely photos of the Sons of Norway youth contribution to Syttende Mai Brooklyn!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Simpsons Strike a Chord on Syttende Mai

Did anyone happen to catch last Sunday's episode of The Simpsons? If so, you were treated to a special Syttende Mai treat as the episode had Norwegian immigrants "from Ogdenville" as the main focus of the story line. In truth, Matt Groening was making a commentary on U.S./Mexico immigration issues, but he supplanted Norwegians in the place of Mexican immigrants.

After watching the show, I got to thinking about whether Groening, the Simpsons creator, may have also been tipping his cap to the way Norwegians were treated in the early days of their mass immigration to the U.S. I mean, the fact that this episode ran on Syttende Mai couldn't have been a coincidence, right? It got me so curious, in fact, that I asked Colin, our man in the "cultural" know at Sons of Norway HQ, whether or not Norwegians had ever suffered from discrimination due to their immigrant status?

After looking into the subject a bit, here's what he found:

Not so long ago, Norwegians, Scandinavians and other Northern Europeans did indeed experience a degree of discrimination right here in the United States. In fact, the very existence of Sons of Norway is, in a sense, a product of discrimination against these new Americans. You see in the late 1800s immigrants were generally barred from buying life insurance, and so the organization was founded to provide basic financial protection to people who otherwise couldn’t get them.

Like other immigrant groups throughout history, Nordics were selected for the most difficult and dangerous jobs that other workers didn’t want. Specifically, Norwegian immigrants worked in shipping, fishing and logging; later many Finish immigrants found work in the logging camps and mines of Northern Minnesota and Michigan; and a mainly Swedish workforce in Minnesota built James J Hill’s railroad empire. In fact, Hill, a legendary tycoon, was so fond of his cheap Swedish workforce he once said of them, “Give me snuff, whiskey and Swedes and I can damn well build a railroad down to hell.” Some native-born Americans viewed the new workers from across the sea with resentment, calling them “squareheads” or “scandihoovians.”

Then, in the period around World War I America was stricken by a pandemic of anti-immigrant hysteria. Immigrants of all nationalities were ridiculed in public and the press by intolerant “nativists” who felt that America belonged only to them. Norwegian-language newspapers, for example, were targeted under the suspicion that they might be stirring up anti-war or anti-American sentiment. Many immigrants adopted American names and stopped speaking their native languages altogether.

Another particularly disturbing example of this happened in my home town, Duluth, Minnesota, in 1918. A group of vigilantes calling themselves the “Knights of Liberty” lynched a Finnish man, Olli Kinkkonen, from a tree in Duluth’s Lester Park, just blocks from where I grew up. Believing him to be an anti-war agitator the mob dragged Kinkkonen from a boarding house, tarred and feathered him, then hung him from a tree. You can read more about Olli’s story here.

At the same time Scandinavian immigrants benefited enormously from the opportunities afforded to them. Most Norwegian and Swedish immigrants arrived during the latter half of the 19th century, when America needed hardworking people to head west and settle the rapidly-expanding country. Of key importance was the passage of the Homestead Act in 1862, which gave away at least 160 acres to anyone if they simply lived on the land and developed it. Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes settled especially in the Midwest and participated eagerly in American society, getting involved in local government and founding schools and churches. They also formed Sons of Norway and other organizations like it, so that they could maintain and celebrate the heritage and culture of their old country while making the transition to their new one.

I was amazed at everything that Colin found. I had no idea how prevalent discrimination against Scandinavians was here in the U.S. and I think it's a very interesting topic that a lot of folks may not know about. Now, I'm guessing The Simpsons were trying to make a little different point, about showing a little more tollerance towards newly arrived citizens, but I like to think the show was also giving a wink to the interesting history of Scandinavians in America and celebrating their successes.

Today in History: Ingvar Ambjørnsen-Haefs

Today is the 53rd birthday for the famous Norwegian author, Ingvar Ambjørnsen-Haefs. Doesn't sound familiar to you? Well he's the guy who wrote the books Utsikt til paradiset, Fugledansen, Brødre i blodet and Elsk meg i morgen.

Still doesn't ring a bell?

What if I told you that those four books comprise the "Elling Trilogy" (nevermind the fact that a trilogy is technically supposed to be three)? Getting warmer? Yeah, Ingvar is the guy who wrote the story that eventually became the 2001 Oscar nominated movie, Elling. The story is a very quirky, fun and emotional one that most people would enjoy. In fact, when the film was released here in the U.S. the Sons of Norway hosted a premiere at the Lagoon Cinema in the fashionable Uptown Neighborhood of Minneapolis, MN.

Also, for those who have already seen the Norwegian version of the film there were plans as late as 2004 for an English version to be filmed. At the time Kevin Spacey was attached to produce and to play the title role. Unfortunatley, due to a number of issues that film was not to be. Too bad.

For those of you who are interested in seeing the Norwegian version, which I highly reccomend, call the Sons of Norway HQ and ask for Colin in the Media Lending Library. He can help you check out Elling, or one of our many other films, for a lodge event.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hurrah for Syttend Mai!

Today millions in Norway, the U.S. and Canada are celebrating Norway's 195th Constitution Day, also called Syttende Mai (17th of May). The celebration marks the signing of Norway's constitution in Eidsvoll, which declared Norway to be an independent nation.

Celebrations are happening today in most major U.S. cities and if you want to see what's going on in your neck of the woods, check out the Events Calendar at

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Norway Wins Eurovision!

I just heard the news--Alexander Rybak, representing the country of Norway, has won the annual Eurovision contest! If you'd like to see some video of the winner, click here.

Hearty congratulations to Alexander and Norway on this great accomplishment!

Norway in the Eurovision Finals Tonight

Tonight Norwegian Alexander Rybak will compete for the championship in the Eurovision Song Contest, a huge and arguably bizarre annual event broadcast across Europe. Rybak has been widely considered by the Norwegian press to be the heavy favorite in this year’s contest, which is estimated to be the largest non-sporting televised event in the world.

Rybak is a 23 year old fiddle player and singer. Born in Minsk, Belarus, Rybak moved with his parents to Norway when he was four and has been a musician for most of his life. Rybak competed in Norway’s version of American Idol, but became a household name in Norway only this spring when his song “Fairytale” swept the Norwegian qualifying rounds for Eurovision.

Eurovision – called Melodi Grand Prix in Norway – is a yearly contest broadcast across Europe where each participating country sends one artist to perform a song live on television. Viewers then vote through their national stations to determine the winner. The contest is an elaborate, garish media event where showmanship counts at least as much as music.

Europe will decide the winner later tonight, but in the meantime, click here to judge Rybak’s song for yourself.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Time Capsule Found in Seattle

I just received a very interesting e-mail from our Leif Erikson lodge in Seattle, WA. According to the communique I received yesterday a time capsule, possibly dating as far back as 1915, was discovered by demolition crews at the site of the Mountaineers Club, formerly the Norway Center building, located at 300 3rd Ave West in Seattle.

The History
Apparently on January 24, 1915, Leif Erikson Lodge and the Daughters of Norway lodge Valkyrien worked together in laying the cornerstone for Norway Hall at 2015 Boren Ave. This is where the local Sons of Norway lodge would meet at until it was decided, in 1949, that a new location was needed.

On June 7th of that year a site for a new building was purchased and construction began on what would become the Norway Center, at the corner of Third Avenue West and West Thomas Street at the foot of Queen Anne Hill. The cornerstone dedication of this building took place on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1950.

The Mystery
Because of the use of different locations for meetings, it is not known whether the newly found time capsule was orginally placed under Norway Hall in 1915 and relocated or initially created and sealed at the time of the dedication of the Norway Center in 1950.

The Unsealing
Upon the discovery of the time capsule Russ Oberg, President of Leif Erikson Lodge 2-001, Sons of Norway and Tom Stang, Retired Consul of the Royal Norwegian Consulate and a Past President of the Lodge were called in. Together they decided to unseal and open the time capsule at the current home of the the Leif Erikson Lodge at 2245 NW 57th Street in Seattle. Members of the Sons of Norway, the Valkyrien Lodge, Daughters of Norway and the Norwegian Male Chorus will be in attendance. The unsealing will be held at 3 pm on June 7th.

Being a nostalgic kind of person I find this kind of thing to be very cool and am left wishing I could be in Seattle when they crack open the time capsule. I'd love to hear from anyone who is planning to attend the opening ceremony. I think our readers would love to hear more about the time capsule and its contents.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Hurra for Syttende Mai!

Syttende Mai is one of the most visual celebrations of our connection to our heritage, with parties and parades taking place wherever there is a population with ties to Norwegian heritage. How will you celebrate the independence of Norway?

We’ll be reporting from one classic celebration in Brooklyn, New York. Marking this important holiday since 1952, Bay Ridge hosts one of the largest Syttende Mai gatherings in the United States.

Joining District 3 and President Dan Rude, Sons of Norway’s Nichole will be on hand to document the event and report (semi-)live! With 10,000 expected marchers lining up under the theme of “Norse Mythology,” and 100,000 spectators, this will surely be an exciting celebration!

In addition to the large parade, Sissel Breie, Consul General of Norway, will be on hand to present a short program before the annual Church rally that ends the day in a typical Norwegian-American fashion: with food and music.

Check back here for pictures and video of the over 20 participating lodges!

What will you do on Syttende Mai? Where are the notable celebrations in your community? Share with readers in the comments section!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Norwegian Director Takes Tribeca by Storm

This week Norwegian film director Rune Denstad Langlo was named Best Emerging Filmmaker at Robert De Niro’s prestigious Tribeca Festival in New York City. Langlo received the honors for his first narrative feature film “Nord (North)” described as “a road movie without a road.” Starring Anders Baasmo Christiansen (who played a key role in the 2003 romantic comedy “Buddy”), “North” tells the story of a has-been athlete who discovers he may have a child and so undertakes a long journey via snowmobile across Northern Norway to confront his past. While no North American release has been planned yet, the prize reportedly kicked off a bidding war for distribution rights in Europe.

While Nord is Langlo’s first fiction film it’s hardly his first project. The Trondheim-born director also directed the feature-length documentaries “Alt for Norge (Too Much Norway)” and “99% ærlig (99% Honest).” You can read an English-language interview with the director here and see the trailer (in Norwegian, with no subtitles) here.

And remember: even though Nord isn't set for a U.S. release yet, all is not lost. You can still get your Anders Baasmo Christiansen fix by calling the Sons of Norway Media Lending Library and requesting "Buddy".

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Who's Tweeting?

It's amazing to me to see who is on Twitter these days. And no, I'm not talking about Ashton Kutcher, Britney Spears or Oprah. Rather, I'm referring important Norwegians, like Helga Pedersen, who is the deputy leader for the Norwegian Labour Party, Mona Sahlin and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.

Oh, and don't forget that Sons of Norway is on Twitter as well. It's a great place to go to keep up with everything going on at Sons of Norway. You can check us out here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Today in History: A Government in Exile

On this day in 1940 Norway formed a Government in Exile in London. However the story really begins almost a month earlier on the afternoon of April 9, 1940. Following the initial Nazi invasion of Norway the Storting knew that it would be pursued, oppressed and possibly dissolved, so it convened and unanimously enacted the Elverumsfullmakten (Elverum Authorization). This authorization granted the Norwegian Cabinet full powers to protect the country until such time as the Storting could meet again. This effectively gave full governmental control to King Haakon VII and his cabinet while they were in London.