Created By: North Dakota State University
Robert Asp was born on February 13, 1923, in Thief River Falls, Minnesota, to Charles Asp, a Swedish immigrant, and Inga Iverson Asp, the daughter of Norwegian immigrants. Asp married Violet Rose Foldoe on June 2, 1946 and they had seven children together, Douglas, Roger, Marjorie, Vicki, Thomas, Deborah, and Gregory. He made his career working as an educator and school guidance counselor. It was when he was serving as the school guidance counselor of Moorhead Junior High School that he began to dream up the idea of building a viking ship and sailing to Norway. While attempting to earn extra money and helping out a neighbor in 1971, Asp fell from broken scaffolding and broke his leg. While he was recuperating, his brother Bjarne brought him books on ship building and on the vikings. From then on the idea that he should build a ship would not let go and he began to build his dream.
Asp began planning. He chose the Gokstad Ship in Norway, which is a burial ship dating from around 800 A.D., as his inspiration. Since he still had work as a guidance counselor, he worked mainly in the summer, doing all the tree logging and making friends with sawmill workers who would plane the trees for him. At first he thought it would only take 15 trees to make the ship. He ended up using over 100. Asp needed to find a place to put all that lumber to use and ended up using an old potato warehouse in Hawley, Minnesota, as his construction site. It was rented to him for $10 per year. In 1973, two years after his dream was conceived, Robert Asp brought all his gathered wood to the newly christened Hawley Shipyard and began construction.
Tragedy came to the Asp family in 1974, when it was discovered that Robert Asp had leukemia. While he fought the cancer he continued to work on his ship, often with the help of friends and family. At first he received little attention or help from the community but soon the ship building site became a tourist attraction and fundraising efforts soon followed. Asp juggled trips to the twin cities for radiation therapy, his work at the school, and his dream building for six years until July 17th, 1980, when the front of the Hawley Shipyard was demolished to allow the ship to be pulled out by semi. The christening of the ship occurred in Hawley and was done so by Hannah Foldoe, Asp's mother-in-law and a Scandinavian immigrant. The ship was named Hjemkomst (YEM-komst), which means "homecoming" in Norwegian and signified Asp's dream to return to the land of his ancestors.
The ship was ready but was landlocked. The Atlantic Ocean, separating the United States from Norway, lies roughly 1500 miles from Hawley, Minnesota. However, Duluth, Minnesota and Lake Superior, with their way out to sea, was only a 4 hour drive from there. The ship, its captain, his family, and volunteers traveled overnight to get the ship to Duluth. On August 7th the ship was launched in Lake Superior and made a short maiden voyage around Lake Superior. The rest of the summer and into the fall, adjustments were made on the ship to help make it seaworthy. In October, Asp slipped on the deck and broke his leg. He never fully recovered from that, and, coupled with complications from leukemia, Robert Asp passed away on December 27th, 1980.
The Hjemkomst and Asp's story does not end there. It was decided that the ship would still sail to Norway, in Asp's memory, in order to fulfill his dream. The year of 1981 saw preperations for the journey, including training in a crew and bringing in an experienced sailor from Norway who would serve as the Hjemkomst's captain, Erik Rudstrom. Finally, in May of 1982, the ship began its journey, starting with a sailing across Lake Superior, reportedly the toughest part of the journey. Aboard the ship and part of its crew were four of Robert Asp's children, sons Roger, Doug, and Tom, and daughter Deb. The full crew of 13 arrived in New York on June 8, 1982. Then they continued on their journey. The Hjemkomst ran into a tropical storm about 500 miles off the coast of New York three days after setting sail and suffered a crack in the hull. It was able to be blocked and the decision was made to carry on, as it would be twice as difficult to head back to New York.
Robert Asp's dream was fulfilled on Saturday, July 17th, 1982, when the Hjemkomst reached the shores of Bergen, Norway. However, the crew would have to wait until Monday to land the ship, as most Norwegians were on their weekend holiday. On July 19th, the Hjemkomst docked at Bergen to crowds of people, including King Harald of Norway, friends and family from the Red River Valley, and thousands of Norwegian citizens. It then made its way to Oslo, Norway, where it completed its journey.
Today, the Hjemkomst is housed at the Hjemkomst Center, built specifically to shelter the ship. It is a reminder of the powerful human spirit and a testament to one man's dream.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Moorhead Historic Preservation Walking Tour