Scandinavian-American Hall of Fame
Robert Asp understood dreams — and he came to understand how a dream can lead to reality. Almost single-handedly, Asp conceived, constructed — and, near the end of his life, captained — a full-size Viking sailing ship, Hjemkomst (Norwegian for “homecoming”), a replica of the ninth-century Gokstad unearthed in a burial mound in Norway. The vessel is on permanent display at the Heritage Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead, Minnesota.
Asp was a school guidance counselor in Moorhead, and part-time carpenter in summer months. In 1971, laid up after an mishap, Asp began reading Norse history and quickly became intrigued by Viking sailing ships — also called longships or dragon-ships (referring to the carved head at the bow). Eventually Asp talked himself into trying to build a Viking ship of his own. An abandoned potato warehouse in Hawley, Minnesota became his shipyard, area oak trees became raw material— and over the next seven years the ship came together piece by piece.
In the process, Asp’s dream impacted a community, as citizens of Hawley adopted Asp and his project. From fundraising efforts to a celebration surrounding Hjemkomst’s “launch” from the warehouse and christening, it was obvious that Asp’s dream had become the dream of everyone in Hawley. It was a bittersweet farewell when Hjemkomst left the small town of its origin on its way to the port of Duluth to meet water.
A few years before his ship left Hawley, Asp was diagnosed with leukemia. But he continued to work on his creation, even through chemotherapy, and lived to test his ship’s seaworthiness on Lake Superior. He died soon after, but two years later a crew of 12 including three of his sons and a daughter sailed Hjemkomst to Norway. Through the Great Lakes, the Erie Canal, the Hudson, and at its ultimate destination of Bergen, the cheering never stopped.
Although he did not live to see the final chapter of his dream, the incredible journey – from idea through Atlantic crossing – was testament to his motto: “A dream is only a dream until it becomes reality.”