On this spot the replica Gokstad Viking Ship “Hjemkomst”
was built between the years 1974 – 1980 A.D.
Robert Asp, a junior high school counselor from Moorhead, MN had a dream…a plan to one day build a Viking “long boat” ship of his own and to sail the ship to Norway. Asp came to Hawley in late 1973 looking for a building in which to build his “dream ship.” The first load of lumber was unloaded in December into the old potato warehouse that stood here. It was a prefect size for the construction and housing of the ship. The city council and clerk agreed to lease the building to Bob for $10.00 a year. During construction, local people, international visitors and the governor of Minnesota came to view the progress.
Shortly after the keel was laid, Asp was diagnosed with leukemia. This did not stop the dream. His determination inspired others who helped him with the work and encouraged him.
In 1978 when the ship was half finished, the Hawley Chamber of Commerce led an effort by community organizations to raise funds to complete construction and the eventual trip to Norway. There were bake sales, dinners, buttons and t-shirt sales, postcards, booklets, wood scrap souvenirs, autographed photos and individual contributions. A “Viking Holiday” celebration program and dinner was held in September 1979 at Hawley School. The crowd was so large that many local people were turned away. That weekend, a city of 1,800 friendly people increased to 9,000. In October at a dinner and dance, a check for $6,500.00 was presented to the Asps. During a 3-year period, some $40,000.00 was raised locally to aid Asp in completing his dream.
After almost 9 years, the ship was completed.
The next step was to remove it, so the front wall of the potato warehouse was removed. On July 17, 1980, the ship saw daylight in front of a large crowd. The ship was moved across the street to “central park,” hoisted on a semi-trailer rig and the dragonhead was attached. An elevated platform was built so that spectators could view the inside of the ship. The move was well publicized with reporters (two from Norway) and TV camera crews. July 27th was Christening Day at which time the shop was given the name “Hjemkomst,” which means homecoming in Norwegian. The ceremonies were held on the platform in front of the ship with many dignitaries present, including Bob and Rose Asp. The Norwegian Consul General was the guest speaker. In addition to speeches, the program consisted of a Norwegian folk dancing performance by the local “Hjemkomst Dancers,” the Hawley High School Band, Norwegian songs by local groups and soloists, a comic routine and old-time fiddling music. Bob Asp’s mother-in-law christened the ship.
The ship spent the next 10 days at the Hawley Rodeo Grounds and thousands viewed it there. In the evening of August 5, 1980, the 222 mile trip to Duluth began via semi-truck, escorted by Highway Patrol. Two days later, with the Asp family on board, the Hjemkomst was launched using two giant cranes of the Duluth Port Authority. There was a deafening roar of whistles, shouts, cheers and sirens from a large crowd on hand, many still selling fundraising souvenirs.
The rest of the summer, the ship was tried out under sail and the prospective crew members got vigorous training. Bob stayed on board during this time and the last Saturday in September was his final sail as he had fallen and broke his leg shortly before. The injury and leukemia were too much and he died December 27, 1980, but the dream did not die with him. The crew carried on with the preparations for the upcoming voyage. The crew included three of the Asp sons and one daughter; two Norwegian sailors; and the captain from Norway.
On May 11, 1982, the voyage began. A large delegation from Hawley was in Duluth the see the ship leave under sail. The voyage across Lake Superior was rough and stormy, but the ship continued through Lake Huron and Lake Erie, through the Erie Canal, down the Hudson River, into New York Harbor, with thousands cheering all along the way. Repairs needed to be made after the ship hit a steel piling in the harbor.
But soon, the Hjemkomst sailed out into the Atlantic Ocean and after three days, encountered a violent storm with 30’ high waves. Some damage was done, but repairs were made and the trip continued. During times of dean calm, the crew rowed the ship, having no engines. The crew was in touch daily with this area via radio and British media helicopters and planes kept track of the progress on photos and television.
The actual arrival of the ship was on a Saturday, so it had to “lay to” until Monday morning so the Norwegians could enjoy their customary weekend off. On Monday morning, July 19, 1982, the Hjemkomst was rowed into a slip in Bergen, Norway harbor. A large gala welcome celebration with fireboats spraying water and ship horns sounding was enjoyed by a few Hawley residents present and many Norwegians. The band played both the American and Norwegian National Anthems, followed by a moment of silence in honor of Bob. It was an emotional moment for all. After a short stay in Bergen, the ship sailed to Oslo where the King of Norway came on board with congratulations.
The crew flew home and the ship remained in Oslo until it was returned on a merchant ship, then trucked back. On the way to it’s final destination in Moorhead, the truck stopped overnight in Hawley. The occasion of this last visit was used to dedicate this site, “Bob Asp Park.”