Ethnicity on Parade: Inventing the Norwegian American through Celebration

By April R. Schultz | Go to book overview

4
"The Pride of the Race Had
Been Touched":
Constructing a Festival Identity

On June 5, 1925, seventy-five thousand Norwegian Americans listened to President Calvin Coolidge praise Norwegian contributions to America. Coolidge even acknowledged their claim that a Norwegian ex- plorer actually discovered America long before Columbus. A local journal- ist reported the crowd's response: "The great roar that rose from Nordic throats to Thor and Odin above the lowering gray clouds told that the pride of the race had been touched." 1 As a preamble to this main event, five hundred Norwegian-American schoolchildren, draped in red, white, and blue capes, stood arranged as the flag of Norway. Their rendition of the "familiar and beloved" Norwegian national anthem met with "a din of applause and cheers of approval." Before the applause died down, the children transformed themselves into the image of the American flag, followed by "The Star-Spangled Banner" and the audience's continued shouts and cheering. In her later account of the spectacle, Mrs. John O. Lee argued that all those who viewed the "living flag" were "the better men and women, the better Americans for having witnessed it." In Lee's view, the transformation out of "apparent temporary chaos" signified a more important transformation. "For in what more strikingly forceful manner could be visualized the ease and willingness with which the immigrants have ever become American citizens? . . . It epitomized as nothing else did or could the underlying thought of the Norse-American Centennial." 2

This dual celebration of Norwegian and American nationalisms indeed epitomized in many ways the vision of the men and women who orga- nized the Centennial. But if the main goal was to "visualize the ease and willingness" of Norwegian assimilation to American life, the celebration of Norwegian nationalism would have been superfluous. In another state- ment about the two flags, a second Norwegian-American woman noted

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