Lincoln in Oslo

Spent most of yesterday in and around Frogner Park–first going through the Vigeland Museum, then wandering for hours among the sculptures in the park, sustained only by key lime pie and coffee from the park cafe. I am at a loss to describe the extent and effect of these works of Gustaf Vigeland. Maybe later. For now, I offer some observations about two direct connections between Oslo and our home in North Dakota.

First, among the exhibits in the Vigiland Museum are numerous plaster casts for works destined to be rendered in stone or bronze and emplaced elsewhere. In a corner stands Henrik Wergeland, Norway’s great romantic poet, as fashioned by Vigeland. This took me by surprise, although it should not have. Immediately I realized that this was the plaster version for the bronze Vigeland would have cast for Island Park, Fargo; it stands there still.

The second thing we went looking for. In 2014 Governor Louis B. Hanna of North Dakota traveled to Oslo to dedicate a bust of Lincoln in Frogner Park. The bust of Lincoln was a gift from the people of North Dakota, as duly authorized by the legislative assembly, to the people of Norway in celebration of the centennial of their independence from the tyrannous Swedes. Hanna, as befitting a leader of the Progressive Era, loved monuments. Moreover, there were political overtones, for Hanna, a Republican, delivered the casting of Lincoln, founder of his party, to the people of Norway, immigrants from which comprised a substantial part of the voting population of the state of North Dakota. And yet the journey, and the gift, transcended politics. They spoke to a common love of liberty, the kinship of peoples of good will. This is why during the Second World War, the Lincoln monument in Frogner Park was a gathering place and symbol of hope for the Resistance.

Here stands Lincoln today. God willing, this monument will again become a symbol of liberty and hope across oceans and borders.

Thomas D. Isern

Professor of History & University Distinguished Professor, North Dakota State University

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