A Viking monarch sculpted in stone celebrates his 100th birthday today in Fargo. While the striking figure is one of the city’s most recognized, it is likely one of its least known or understood. Who is that Viking and why is he nearly hidden in a small downtown park?
In 1912, the large population of Norwegian Americans in North Dakota had no trouble recognizing the Norse conqueror. Nearly 17 percent of Cass County’s citizens were Norwegian immigrants or first generation Norwegian Americans. They proudly connected the historical dots from themselves to Rollo, one of the great Viking kings. Rollo is a major historical figure in both Norway and France.
He was originally Gange Hrolf, famous and feared for three decades of terrorizing and plundering European lands. Following peace negotiations with Frankish king Charles the Fat, which included a secure and prominent position in France and a king’s daughter as a bride, the Viking changed his ways. As part of the deal, he is said to have accepted Christianity and been baptized with a new name: Rollon, although that was anglicized to Rollo. He is credited with bringing his Norwegian followers to France in 911 AD and founding and governing Normandy.
When the Norwegian Society of America was asked by the French City of Rouen to find a suitable American city to play host to a statue of Rollo, Fargo was considered because of its strong Sons of Norway organization. The city bested other contenders that included Minneapolis, Eau Claire and Moorhead.
The French statue of Rollo is one of three created in 1895 on display in France and Norway. On its original base was a legend in French, Norwegian and English that read “For world peace Normans united. Rollo, born in 860 A.D. in Møre, Norway. Founded the dukedom of Normandy 911. His line through William the conqueror became the royal house of England 1066 and Norway 1905."
Rollo was positioned across from Fargo’s Great Northern Railroad depot as part of a Norwegian song festival called Sangerfest. His right hand stretches before him and points as if to say “here we are.” His left hand rests on the hilt of his sword in its scabbard. The Sons of Norway dedicated the statue with some 15,000 people in attendance.
In 1990 Rollo moved to a nearly hidden spot of land in the heart of the city on Fargo’s 9th street. The ceremony drew a small, scattered group of attendees. But in his new and tranquil location beneath a tiny bower of trees and surrounded by grass, Rollo can now look directly at Fargo’s Sons of Norway lodge, one of the largest in the United States.
Dakota Datebook written by Steve Stark