The years between 1940 and 1945 were a very bleak time for the patriotic citizens of Norway. This was because the country was occupied by a large number of German Nazi soldiers who took away many of the people’s freedoms.
On April 9, 1940, Germany invaded Norway and set up an occupational government, first by Nazi officials from Germany and later by a puppet regime made up of Norwegian Nazi collaborators. Despite many executions and other severe repercussions for noncompliance, many Norwegians continued to resist the Nazi dictates.
“During Germany’s occupation of Norway in World War II, the Lincoln bust, (in Oslo’s Frogner Park), became the site of silent anti-Nazi protests. Each July 4, beginning in 1940 and until the war ended in 1945, Norwegians turned out by the thousands to gather around the statue with their heads bowed in silence.”
The bust along with the inscription of Lincoln’s words in his Gettysburg Address, “Government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” served as an inspiration for the oppressed Norwegians. Lincoln’s bust was a gift from the citizens of North Dakota, and it was presented to Norway on July 4, 1914. It was given to mark the 100-year celebration of Norway’s independence from Denmark.
On May 17, 1814, the Norwegian Constitution was signed declaring the country to be an independent kingdom, and Syttende Mai ("17th of May") is an annual celebration in that country. The idea of giving Norway a bust of our 16th president was conceived by North Dakota Gov. Louis B. Hanna after he attended the 50th anniversary commemorating the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1913. Although Hanna was not of Norwegian descent, he was well aware that 33% of the residents of North Dakota were of Norwegian lineage. In 1912, Norway bestowed to North Dakota’s Norwegian Americans a statue of Duke Rollo, a 10th century Viking chief.
Hanna chose Lincoln, not only because he preserved the Union and emancipated the slaves, but because he signed the Homestead Act, which provided land to many of the North Dakota immigrants. Hanna also believed that Lincoln “symbolized the common ideals of human freedom and national unity that helped solidify the ties of ancestry between Norwegian immigrants to North Dakota and their country of origin.”
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Hanna’s first task was to find a talented sculptor who could create a suitable bust of Lincoln. To do this, he appointed a five-member committee of North Dakotans who were considered experts in appraising art, especially the art of sculpting. On that committee was Dr. Herman Fjelde, a Fargo obstetrician who had secured sculptures for Como Park in St. Paul, the North Dakota Agricultural College (now NDSU), Concordia College and the Wahpeton State School of Science. He was also the brother of Jacob Fjelde, a talented sculptor who died suddenly in 1896, at the age of 36.
Also on the committee was Mary Goodrich Deem, a college art instructor who worked with Lorado Taft, a noted sculptor and instructor at the Art Institute of Chicago. The committee hosted a competition and “Paul Fjelde’s work was considered the best.” Fjelde, from Valley City, the son of Jacob Fjelde, was a 21-year-old student at Chicago’s Art Institute where he was a protege of Taft. Gov. Hanna met with Fjelde, and the young artist assured him that he could do it.
After Fjelde completed his model, the full committee traveled to Chicago to view his work, and they liked it. With that completed, Hanna then persuaded the 1914 North Dakota Legislature to appropriate money for the statue. Hanna assembled a delegation to go with him to Norway to present the statue to the Norwegian citizens.
As co-leader of the delegation he chose Smith Stimmel, a prominent Fargo attorney and former North Dakota state legislator. Prior to Lincoln’s assassination on April 15, 1865, Stimmel had been one of the president’s bodyguards. Hanna also contacted North Dakota’s most famous poet, James Foley, and asked him to write a poem about Lincoln. Foley’s poems had been printed in the Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, The Century and The Youth’s Companion, as well as many of the country’s major newspapers. Up until Dec. 1, 1913, Foley had also been Gov. Hanna’s secretary.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, Fjelde was busy completing the bronze bust of President Lincoln. When he was done the bust weighed 500 pounds, and upon seeing it Stimmel commented that “the bust was a most remarkable likeness” of Lincoln. Stimmel was very knowledgeable about how the president looked, since he saw Lincoln on a daily basis for over four years.
When the bust was placed on its red granite base, the entire structure stood 8 feet tall. It was then shipped to New York where Hanna could pick it up on his way to Norway. On June 8, 1914, Hanna, his family and his delegation left Bismarck on their way to Norway. Members of Hanna’s family included his wife, Lottie, his son, Robert, and his daughters Jean and Dorothy. It also included Jean’s husband, Ed Clapp, from Fargo.
Shortly after arriving in New York, they boarded the steamer Kristianfjord on June 12, and arrived in the Norwegian coastal city of Bergen on June 21. They then traveled 190 miles to the capital city of Christiania, which was expanded and renamed Oslo in 1925.
On July 4, “in brilliant sunshine and ideal summer weather,” a crowd of 35,000 Norwegians gathered in Frogner Park for the dedication and unveiling of the statue. There to receive the statue on behalf of the people of his country was King Haakon VII. Dorothy, Hanna’s daughter, unveiled the Lincoln bust stating, “The God of Nations knew that at the time the country needed a strong man, a man of courage and convictions, a man of power and integrity, and Lincoln was certainly the right man in the right place.”
Gov. Hanna gave a speech praising Lincoln and the Norwegians who had settled in North Dakota. He then read Foley’s poem. Peer Stromme, editor of Normanden, a Norwegian newspaper published in Grand Forks, gave the next speech in Norwegian. Stromme was also a noted author of Norwegian novels and had been a pioneer Lutheran pastor in eastern North Dakota. Stromme’s speech was followed by one by Stimmel, who talked about his recollections of President Lincoln.
When that was completed, the formal ceremony ended, but many of the people remained in the park for hours, talking amongst themselves. Still today, on the Fourth of July, Norwegians gather around Fjelde’s bust of Lincoln to reflect on what the statue symbolized during the dark days of World War II.
It is the only statue in Frogner Park created by an American sculptor.
“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at firstname.lastname@example.org.