Hint of Norway in Brooklyn
Bay Ridge will celebrate its Norwegian heritage this weekend with a Viking Festival on Saturday and the 58th annual 17th of May Norwegian Constitution Day Parade on Sunday. As founder of the Scandinavian East Coast Museum and organizer of the Viking Festival, Bay Ridgeite Victoria Hofmo perhaps knows more about the Scandinavian legacy in Bay Ridge than anyone. Continue reading below for an interview with Hofmo, and be sure to read Harold Egeln’s story, ‘Song of Norway’ Is Now ‘Song of Brooklyn,’ on the weekend’s upcoming festivities.
Eagle: Historically, there is a large Scandinavian Population in Bay Ridge, correct?
VH: Historically, the Scandinavians have been settling in NY since the Dutch. Hans Hansen Bergen was the first Norwegian to get a patent for a farm from the Dutch in Brooklyn about 1640.
Eagle: When was the height of Scandinavian immigration to the U.S.? And what was the chief impetus for their migration?
VH: The waterfront is what attracted the Scandinavians to New York, especially the Norwegians, the poorest of the group, who were under Danish and Swedish rule for 500 years. A concentration of Norwegians developed around Red Hook and the Gowanus in the 1840s. They moved up the waterfront, as the area became more crowded, to Park Slope, Sunset Park and Bay Ridge. The height is around the 1930s and then again during WWII when many merchant marines were homeless and settled in Brooklyn after the war’s end. The chief impetus for immigrating was work. In the 1940s, approximately 60,000 Norwegians lived in Brooklyn, predominantly in the Bay Ridge/Sunset Park area.
Eagle: How has the Scandinavian population left its mark on Bay Ridge?
VH: Through the values and social order. A friend of mine who is of Italian descent told me that her father remembers the Norwegians scrubbing the front stoops and sidewalks. They have been good citizens. They have also made an impact on the architecture, green space, and beloved public access to the waterfront we share. Lutheran Medical Center, the Norwegian Home & Health Center, Augustana Home, the Norway Times, dozens of churches, are just a few of the institutions they have built.
Eagle: How has Bay Ridge left its mark on its Scandinavian population?
VH: The extent that Bay Ridge has left its mark on the Scandinavian population is almost mythological. There was so much cross-cultural travel and immigration. In the south of Norway they have a Brooklyn Day. There has been a book and exhibition about those that returned and brought American style to Norway.
Eagle: On your web site you decry the myth that all Scandinavian immigrants became farmers in the Mid-west, as the Scandinavian enclave in Bay Ridge attests. What other misperceptions are there about the Scandinavian population?
VH: That they are all homogeneous. That they integrate completely. That the Irish and Italians contributed more than they did to building New York. I could argue otherwise.