First day of official visit to the US
Their Majesties King Harald and Queen Sonja began their official visit to the US today. Their ten-day itinerary will take them to Iowa and Minnesota, and finally to New York.
The visit is part of the commemorative activities marking the centennial anniversary of the American-Scandinavian Foundation in New York on 21 October. But before arriving in New York, the King and Queen will travel to Norwegian America, where they will meet representatives of local government and other officials and visit Norwegian-American communities and institutions.
The first stop on the King and Queens official programme was Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. The first college to be founded by Norwegian immigrants in the US, Luther College now offers more than 60 undergraduate programmes in the liberal arts. The college has some 2 500 students and is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.
King Harald and Queen Sonja were presented with the Spirit of Luther Award in a formal ceremony at the Center for Faith and Life. The award ...recognizes individuals who have provided significant sustained service to the college. Nominees should be persons who have demonstrated a personal commitment to Luthers mission, quality, and character.
After the ceremony, the King and Queen greeted several Norwegian students, and watched a short theatre sketch about the founding of Luther College.
In his first official speech of the visit, King Harald took the opportunity to thank the American people for their sympathy in the wake of the terrorist attacks on 22 July:
The peaceful and inspiring atmosphere of Luther College, however, is a striking contrast to the acts of terrorism that hit Norway so hard on 22 July. I would like to thank you, the American people, for your support and compassion in the wake of these terrible events.
Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum
In the afternoon, the King and Queen visited the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. Founded in 1877, the museum documents the story of Norwegian immigration to the US. The collection encompasses more than 24 000 artefacts in addition to 16 historical buildings. The museum also holds exhibitions of Norwegian fine art and applied art, and offers classes in handicrafts such as rosemaling and woodworking as well as lectures on cultural-historical topics.
The King and Queen were given a guided tour of a special exhibition on the Norwegian-American sculptor Sigbjørn Asbjørnsen (1867-1954). This is the first time so many of Asbjørnsens works have been on display together. The exhibition is housed in a newly-renovated gallery that was dedicated today as the Asbjørnsen Gallery.
Revisiting the past
Several of the places the King and Queen will be visiting in the course of their trip are sites they visited on a lengthy official visit to the US in 1995. In 1961 then Crown Prince Harald undertook his first official visit abroad, also to the US, to mark the 50th anniversary of the American-Scandinavian Foundation.
In his speech earlier in the day, King Harald recalled his very first stay in the US, from 1940-1945, and how this shaped his relationship to the country:
I was three years old when I arrived, and by the time I returned to Norway five years later, I had come to view this country as my second home.
The war years
Then Crown Prince Olav and Crown Princess Märtha visited the US before and during World War II. Their ten-week tour of the US in 1939 helped to forge strong ties to the country. During that journey the Crown Prince and Crown Princess made the acquaintance of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, developing a long-lasting friendship that proved to be of great significance.
The Nazi invasion of Norway in April 1940 forced the Royal Family into exile. Crown Princess Märtha accepted President Roosevelts invitation and travelled to the US with Prince Harald, Princess Ragnhild and Princess Astrid. After a short stay at the White House, the family moved to Pooks Hill, north of Washington, D.C., where they remained for the duration of the war.
Her close friendship with the President and First Lady opened doors for the Crown Princess, who worked assiduously to promote Norwegian interests during her stay in the US.
Tomorrow, the King and Queen will visit St. Olaf College in Northfield and Mayo Clinic in Rochester.