Did you Ever Wonder...

What monument was a gift to Iceland from the United States to commemorate the 1000-year anniversary of the Althing, the oldest parliament in Western Civilization?

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The "Leif Erikson Memorial" that stands in front of the Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavik, Iceland was designed by the American sculptor Alexander Stirling Calder (1870 - 1945) in 1929 and gifted to Iceland in 1930. The memorial was officially unveiled on 17 July 1932. The native Philadelphian is also famous for his other sculptures, "George Washington as President" on the Washington Square Arch in New York City, and the "Swann Memorial Fountain" in his home city of Philadelphia.

Easily the most photographed statue in Iceland, the Leif Erickson Memorial weighs an impressive fifty tons (a one ton bronze statue erected on eighteen granite blocks). It commemorates Leif Erickson (c.970-c.1030), the Icelandic adventurer exiled from his homeland by the Althing – the national parliament of Iceland – for manslaughter. He traveled west to Greenland, creating a settlement there in 986. Blown off course traveling from Norway to Greenland, Erikson sailed to the shores of North America (which he named Vinland) around 1000 AD, predating Columbus’ voyages by half a millennium. Following in his wake, other Norse settlers would inhabit North America for a short period in the eleventh century, with evidence of settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland.

The Leif Erikson Memorial has engraved on its base the following dedication: "LEIFR / EIRICSSON / SON OF ICELAND / DISCOVERER OF / VINLAND / THE / UNITED STATES / OF AMERICA TO / THE PEOPLE / OF ICELAND / ON THE ONE / THOUSANDTH / ANNIVERSARY / OF THE ALTHING / AD 1930". The Althing is considered the oldest parliament in Western Civilization.

Scandinavian-Americans had been campaigning for Leif Erikson Day for over a century. In 1930, the State of Wisconsin was first to officially adopt the holiday and it was not until three decades later, in 1963, that a bill was introduced to observe it nationwide. That same year, a joint resolution was entered into the Congressional Record to authorize the President to proclaim 9 October as Leif Erikson Day to commemorate the contributions of Scandinavian-Americans to American culture. This date was chosen because it was on 9 October 1825, that the first Norwegian immigrants on the ship 'Restauration' landed in New York City. Finally, in 1964, Congress requested that the President create the observance through an annual proclamation. On 2 September 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908 - 1973) made Proclamation 3610 and "...do hereby designate Friday, October 9, 1964, as Leif Erikson Day and direct Government officials to display the flag on all Government buildings on that day. Further, I invite the people of the United States to honor on that day the memory of Leif Erikson by holding appropriate exercises and ceremonies in schools and churches, or other suitable places." Each president since have done so and this holiday continues to be widely celebrated in the Upper Mid-West, states which enjoy a large population of Nordic descent.

On this day, 9 October 2021, we commemorate the 58th anniversary of Leif Erikson Day and mark more than 89 years since the unveiling of the statue erected in his honour in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Brian Todd Carey / André M. Levesque

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