The Life Quixotic

A Brooklyn woman speaking in the NYTimes City Section:

I didn’t really think about my background until I was in college at Sarah Lawrence and I wrote a paper about the Norwegians in Bay Ridge. I realized that information about them was very scattered, and I thought, wouldn’t it be good if there were a central place to do research?

I tried to put an archive together, but nobody wanted to house it. Eight or nine years later, the Norwegian Seamen’s Church in Manhattan said, “We have no space for an archive, but we can get you an exhibition.” I did an exhibition and people gave me things. That’s how it started.

Now we have thousands of artifacts in the basement of the parsonage at my church. We have books in Norwegian, records from the Norwegian war, photographs from the Viking junior band, a music band for kids. We have a handwritten menu from a Norwegian restaurant on Eighth Avenue offering fish cakes and dumplings for 5 cents. Somebody gave us a book of anti-German songs from when Norway was occupied.

We have a beautiful photograph, that looks very innocent, of a woman in her Norwegian costume with a flag, but it’s a radical, nationalistic picture because it’s the “clean flag.” They used to call the Norwegian flag combined with the Swedish one the “dirty flag” because they’d been under Swedish rule for 100 years and they wanted their independence. They gained it peacefully in 1905.

We’ve looked at different spaces for the archive. One idea was to get a boat because the waterfront was very much part of the story. For example, the different shipping companies used to have lifeboat races right past here, I think until the ’60s, and Norwegians won a lot. As for a home for the museum, I’m open to whatever makes sense. We started looking into houseboat possibilities. Somebody recommended a barge. If the boat doesn’t work out, we’re looking at other spaces because I can’t wait.

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