Vikings invade Bay Ridge

Vikings invade Bay Ridge
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Vikings invaded the streets of Bay Ridge and the fields of Owls Head Park as the neighborhood celebrated its Scandinavian roots on May 19 and 20.

The Norwegian Independence Day Parade — which commemorates the nation’s declaration of freedom from Sweden on May 17, 1814 — broke with nearly 40 years of tradition on Sunday when it rolled its longships and Nordic beauty queens down Third Avenue from 86th to 69th streets instead of following Fifth Avenue. The parade’s committee said it made the move to boost sponsorship and increase participation in the cavalcade, which has seen flagging numbers as the Norwegian population has shrunk over the past four decades, and chairwoman Arlene Rutuelo said it was a success.

“We accomplished our goals in triple amounts,” Rutuelo said, claiming the parade got its biggest crowd in more than a decade and pointing to the Norwegian flags displayed in front of stores all up and down the thoroughfare. “Business owners who didn’t have an ounce of Norwegian blood in them wanted to be a part of it.”

Rutuelo also credited the success to the Brooklyn Norwegians Facebook page created six months ago, which she said drew visitors from both the old country and the American midwest.

“It’s pretty cool how social media has upgraded and made our parade more successful,” Rutuelo said, adding that she served several tourists at her store Nordic Delicacies, which sits on Third Avenue between Ovington Avenue and 71st Street.

Victoria Hofmo — who runs the Scandinavian East Coast Museum on Ovington Avenue between Fourth and Fifth avenues — said that plenty of out-of-towners came to this year’s Viking Fest on Saturday, which she has helped organize in Owls Head Park for the past decade.

“It’s great that people are hearing about it, and we got a great turnout,” said Hofmo, who added that she met people from Vermont at the park, where several historical re-enactment groups showed off ancient Scandinavian battle armor, dance, and refreshment.

Hofmo said she believes that newcomers and longtime residents alike will keep the heritage events alive even as Scandinavians leave the borough or dissolve into its melting pot, thanks to the many churches, civic organizations, and now social media groups Norwegians founded in the area.

“It’s not about how many of us are left. It’s about our voice, and showing what we did here, and acknowledging the people who went before us,” Hofmo said.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at (718) 260–4507 or e-mail him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/WillBredderman