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Viking brought down in overtime

The Leif Erikson statue in Seattle is on its way to refurbishing, but workers took days to hack through the rebar.

March 04, 2007|Lynn Marshall | Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE — Leif Erikson stood his ground in Seattle's Shilshole Bay Marina, just as he had since 1962 -- despite his appointment with makeover artists in Kent, 15 miles to the south, and the efforts of a crew working full time to dislodge the 17-foot bronze Viking.

Workers tried concrete drills and jackhammers, and even tried to lever him out with a crane wielding 20,000 pounds of force. About 20 people attended his departure ceremony Tuesday -- but Leif remained in place.

"He's just not going anywhere," said Kristine Leander, president of the Seattle-based Leif Erikson International Foundation, three days into the effort.

"Maybe they should try to lure him down with some lutefisk."

Leif Erikson was the Viking explorer whom many credit with being the first European to land in North America, in Newfoundland, possibly as early as 985.

Leander's nonprofit foundation, which formed in 1994 and presented duplicates of the Seattle statue to Norway in 1997 and Greenland in 2000, is working with the Port of Seattle and the local Scandinavian community in a marina renovation to memorialize Scandinavian immigrants. The statue is the centerpiece of the new memorial.

Assistant project manager Jerri Miller of Artech, the company contracted to move the statue, said the problem was rebar, the steel that gives concrete forms structure.

"We thought we were just going to be able to unbolt him, bring in the crane and pull him out," she said.

When the statue wouldn't budge, the Artech crew discovered a hatch on the rear of the statue that had been used to pour concrete into the legs, solidly connecting Leif to his 30-foot-high base.

"So then we knew we needed to chisel through the base. And we kept finding more and more rebar, which really slows things down," Miller said. It didn't help that the work was being done high in the air in wet and windy weather.

On Saturday afternoon, workers finally finished chiseling through the base. Leif was lifted by crane onto a waiting flatbed for the trip to Kent. After being cleaned and refurbished, he'll return to Shilshole Marina in time for the new memorial's dedication in early October.

It isn't the first time the statue has caused trouble.

The local Scandinavian community first proposed presenting the city with a statue of the Viking in 1959.

The city parks department didn't want it, fearing it would set a precedent for every group that wanted to honor a favored son. The municipal arts commission didn't want it, either; it felt the statue had little artistic merit.

Finally the Port of Seattle accepted it for Shilshole Bay Marina, where it was unveiled as part of the Norway Day celebration at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair.

Leander says that, in hindsight, she isn't surprised Leif proved so hard to move. "Given all the controversy surrounding the statue's installation, we should have guessed it wouldn't leave easily," she said.

She notes that Leif Erikson is known as "Leif the Lucky" for, among other feats, reaching North America. "Here in Seattle," she adds, "we're thinking of changing that nickname to Leif the Stubborn."

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