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Again and Again and Again

In 2016, I wrote a blog post about a replica Viking boat which had just crossed the Atlantic and was then docked in New York. I’m happy to link to it because, fortunately, I still agree with what I wrote. The picture above is not that replica, but rather a replica Viking boat that crossed the Atlantic and docked in New York in 1893. The picture above gives a reasonable sense of the size of the boat, but to emphasize how small it was, here it is with two excursion steamers and a tugboat:

The small size of the boat made the next leg of the trip possible: the boat, the Viking, sailed up the Hudson River, through the Erie Canal, through lakes Erie, Huron, and Michigan, and was an exhibit at the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. That world’s fair is famous for a lot of reasons, including popularizing classical-style architecture in the US, but its theme, officially, was to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s first trip across the Atlantic. Sailing a replica Viking boat there to prove that it was theoretically possible for Lief Ericson to have reached North America seems like, if not a direct attack on received history, certainly a maneuver toward pluralistic views. A sub-tweet some 113 years before that was possible. (Note that archaeological finds at L’Anse aux Meadows in the 1960s showed that the Vikings had, in fact, reached North America long before Columbus.)

Similar to my discussion of six years ago, the Viking was not a Viking boat. It was built using the technology of the late nineteenth century, not that of the eleventh. Amusingly enough, some of the wood used came from North America. But it was a reasonable effort at creating an accurate replica. So we now have three similar but distinct boats: those of the eleventh century, the 1893 replica, and the 2016 replica. If all three existed in a similar state of preservation (which, unfortunately, they do not) someone familiar with tool marks and dendrochronology could distinguish between them based on the details of the wood and the way that they were built, even though they’d appear identical to most observers. The Viking is still in Illinois and is currently a focus of historic preservation because its history is itself worth remembering.