When I first moved to Westby, I had never seen so many blond-haired, blue-eyed people in my life. You don’t have to look far to realize why, since you will find evidence of Norwegian heritage throughout town. If you enter town from the South, you’ll be greeted by this warrior directing foes of the Norsemen to the battlefield (also known as the school’s sports facilities).
While the school mascot is the mighty Norsemen, the friendly Norwegian gnome is surely the town mascot.
You’ll also find messages by and for Norwegian-speakers at important community landmarks. My current office was once actually the Westby State Bank, and my team works right next to the original vault:
Knut, the vault guard, will swiftly kick you out for misbehaving. (One of my co-workers painted this!)
While you dine at the popular Borgen’s Café on Main Street, you’ll notice some writing above the booths that reads: “Hvor gode folk er hommer ander gode folk.” I’m told this translates to: “Where good folks are, good folks gather.”
The messages at the town library are translated for book-seekers still studying their Norwegian.
When I told my co-worker that these pieces must be by the same artist, because the designs look so similar, she replied,
“Well, it’s “Rosemaling.”
“You don’t know what rosemaling is!?”
I am now informed that rosemaling is this distinctive type of decorative, flower ornamentation used in Norwegian art.
If you are not yet convinced of Westby’s strong Norwegian pride, come visit us the week of May 17th, Syttende Mai in Norwegian. Syttende Mai, also called Norwegian Constitution Day, is the biggest celebration of the year in Westby. All weekend long, there are activities to celebrate this date on which the constitution of Norway was signed in 1814, and the nation was declared independent from Sweden. There are all kinds of events from a rømmegrøt eating contest to historical tours of the local cemetery. While you might not be able to attend them all, you can’t miss the big parade on Sunday.
It is customary for the Westby royalty to help with and take part in the many Syttende Mai festivities. This traditional Norwegian costume worn by men and women on Syttende Mai is called bunad. The bunad is still worn today in Norway for celebrations such as weddings, confirmations, and baptisms. Bunad is designed to represent the regions or towns with which you feel an attachment. (http://mylittlenorway.com/)
A group of Norwegian immigrants organized the Sons of Norway as a fraternal benefit society in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1895. Their mission was to protect fellow Norwegian families from the financial hardships experienced during times of sickness or death. Since then, their mission has expanded to include the preservation of Norwegian heritage and culture. They are now the largest Norwegian organization outside Norway. (http://sonsofnorway5.com)
Today, there are many districts within the Sons of Norway organization. Within each district are Lodges. Westby’s Solvang Lodge 58 was organized by a group of women of Norwegian descent in 1916 for the Daughters of Norway. In 1950, these Daughters of Norway merged with the Sons of Norway and joined together in Solvang Lodge 457. (http://sonsofnorway5.com)
This float, modeling a longship, pays tribute to the Scandinavian Viking past. As you may know, the Vikings, also called Norseman, are famous for their seafaring skills and violent raids in Europe during the 9th, 10th, and 11th centuries. Bands of Vikings would navigate the seas around Europe in their longships and mount raids, striking quickly and unexpectedly at cities and towns along the coasts. (Ironborn, anyone?) Their burning, plundering, and killing earned them the name vikingr, meaning “pirate” in the early Scandinavian languages (www.britannica.com). While the Vikings’ expansion in the Baltic lands and in Russia can reasonably be attributed to the Swedes, the nonmilitary colonization of the Orkney Islands, Faroe Islands, and Iceland was accomplished by the Norwegians. (www.britannica.com)
With the exception of Ireland, no country contributed so great a percentage of its population to the United States during the waves of immigration in the 19th and early 20th centuries. No less than 750,000 Norwegians emigrated to America from 1825 to 1915, and Wisconsin was the major focus of settlement between 1838 and 1864. (Fapso, 2001) While I cannot claim any Norwegian ancestry, I truly enjoy Westby’s pride and celebration of their heritage.
Fapso, Richard J. Norwegians in Wisconsin. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society, 2001.