By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Because of that game-day chant, most Minnesota Vikings fans know that “skol” means “cheers” in Norwegian. And Vikings fans who travel to Moorhead can learn another Norwegian word: Hjemkomst.

“It means ‘homecoming’ in Norwegian,” said Hjemkomst Center Executive Director Maureen Kelly Jonason.

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The Hjemkomst Center might be the only museum in the world that was literally built around a Viking ship. In the 1970s, teacher Robert Asp decided he wanted to build such a ship and sail it across the Atlantic.

“It took seven years to build and he did it by himself, primarily,” Jonason said. “At the beginning he felled trees and milled them.”

Asp was diagnosed with leukemia before he could see it through, so others helped him finish. The job took more than 100 oak trees to complete. When it was done, it stood 60-feet high and weighed 16 tons. In May of 1982, it set sail from Duluth with 13-crew members — including four of Asp’s own children.

Even though the boat was equipped with a diesel generator, it didn’t really come into play. The voyage was powered by wind. A week into their journey a tropical storm almost ended it all. It broke their rudder and tore a hole in the ship’s hull.

“They had nobody following them. No emergency protocol or anything like that,” Jonason said.

But they kept going, and it was a breeze after that.

“They sometimes had wind high enough to water ski off the back. They used Viking shields for the skis,” Jonason said.

After six weeks at sea they arrived in Bergen, Norway. The ship spent a year there before being placed on a freighter back to the U.S. Its final port was Moorhead, where it all began, and where visitors from around the world come to see it.

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(credit: MCSCC)

“It’s unbelievable, and then looking at the condition of her she must have just barely made it,” said Mike Chandler from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

“I came all the way from Delray Beach, Florida to see this and the Runestone,” said Charles Van Vliet.

The ship isn’t the only Viking relic you’ll find here.

“The Hopperstad is in the little village of Vik, Norway. It is the second largest of all the Stave churches,” Jonason said.

Wood carver Guy Paulson built and donated the church to the center. It took him five years to get it done. He even traveled to Norway to get the details just right, since the 28 Stave churches still standing were built in the Middle Ages.

“This is the time when the Vikings were transitioning from their multiple god religion to Christianity,” Jonason said.

The theme here is dream big, much like the builders of ships and churches once did. And hopefully visitors leave with a tip of the cap, or a “skol,” for the creators.

“We like to have people think about their own dreams. We like to tell children to dream big. And maybe their dreams will come true with a lot of hard work and dedication,” Jonason said.

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Next summer there will be an exhibit commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Viking ship voyage. The Hjemkomst Center is also celebrating 150 years of Clay County this year. Click here for more information.

John Lauritsen