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Play portrays ‘Father of Norwegian Immigration to America’

It seems like all roads lead to Norway this weekend. Or rather, all the roads are leading Norwegians to Duluth. This weekend is full of events around Duluth with a Norwegian aspect.

Sons of Norway Convention

The Sons of Norway convention takes place at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (DECC) June 12-14. The Sons of Norway is a fraternal benefit society formed in 1895 in Minneapolis. Today there are more than 57,000 members divided among eight districts in the U.S., Canada and Norway. This District 1 convention consists of delegates from 10 states from Minnesota to Texas. The theme for the convention is “Keeping the connection flowing,” which Kris Eide, a Sons of Norway lodge member from Duluth, finds very appropriate, considering her own connection to the convention’s keynote speaker, Thomas Mannes.

“He happens to be related to me. He’s my cousin’s son, so he’s my first cousin once removed,” Eide said.

She simply calls him her cousin.

Cleng Connections

Mannes is an expert on Cleng Peerson, who is considered the “Father of Norwegian Immigration to America.” Peerson, born in Norway in 1783, helped thousands of Norwegians settle in various communities in America. One such place is Clifton, Texas, which Eide called “the Norwegian capital of Texas” due to its large historic Norwegian district.

Mannes is from Tysvær, Norway, the same town as Peerson. This prompted him to visit Peerson’s homestead while visiting the U.S. When he found the homestead was for sale, he felt compelled to purchase it and open it up to the public as a historic site.

After Mannes purchased the homestead, he returned to Norway and found he had another connection to Peerson besides his hometown. His great, great grandfather, Vigeleik Rosseland wrote a short, one act play about Peerson and the first group of immigrants that voyaged with Peerson to America in 1825.

“It’s amazing because all the characters in this play are real people,” Eide said. “It’s like these people are really speaking to us.”

The play is centered around a meeting that takes place in the home of Cleng Peerson’s sister, Kari. Peerson has returned from being in America for three years. He is looking for people interested in returning to America with him. The group poses all sorts of questions like, “Isn’t it dangerous? What about sea serpents? How much food would we need to bring? How hard would it be to leave our families and maybe never see them again?”

Mannes sent a copy of the manuscript to Eide, who translated it from Norwegian to English.

Eide decided to put on a production of this play for the Sons of Norway convention and recruited local high school students and actors to perform.

From Cleng to Enger

The play, titled “The Uprooting,” won’t just be performed for the delegates at the convention. A public performance on the grass in front of the aptly-chosen Enger Tower is planned as a part of the 75th anniversary celebrations scheduled for Sunday, June 15. Eide said the fact the the convention was scheduled during the same weekend as the the anniversary was not planned, but rather a “nice coincidence.”

“It just happened! We have our conventions planned years in advance and this just happened to work out so nicely,” Eide said.

The site of the public performance resonates with the subject material of the play, since Bert Enger was also an immigrant from Norway. Enger emigrated in 1877, only 50 years after the play takes place. Eide said Enger probably dealt with some similar issues as the characters in the play — issues such as never seeing family members again, a theme Eide knows well.

“I personally understand because when we emigrated in the 1950’s and we have people who, when we go back now, say, ‘When you left we cried all day because we thought we’d never see you again,’” Eide said.

“The Uprooting” is scheduled to be performed at 1:30 p.m. after the mayor’s speech. There is an exhibit about Cleng Peerson and Thomas Mannes at the Nordic Center at 23 N. Lake Ave.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

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