Highly placed sources inform me that Rollo is going to stay where he is. Now, if you’re not part of that prairie subculture known as Norwegian, or its institutional expression, the Sons of Norway, you may be wondering what I’m talking about.
Just north of the Kringen Lodge of the Sons of Norway, in Fargo, stands a grand statue of Rollo the Viking. This current location is not the original one for the statue, a story I’ll get around to in a minute. It was thought, too, that Rollo might have to be moved again, but as I said at the start, it seems not. North Dakota State University, which is redeveloping the two-block area in the middle of which stands Rollo, plans to leave him right there.
Early in the twentieth century the Norwegians of the northern plains bestirred themselves to establish their collective memory through monuments. This was a thoroughly masculine enterprise carried on by Norwegian men who had moved from the country to town and taken up business or professions.
The monuments are all male, but for the most part, they represent the softer, cultural side of Norwegian identity. They commemorate poets, authors, and thinkers such as Henrik Wergeland, Hans Nielsen Hauge, Bjornsterne Bjornson, Ivar Aasen, and Henrik Ibsen.
No so Rollo the Viking, a.k.a. Rollo the Walker, or Rollon in French, also Rollo of Normandy, or going back to his roots, Gange Hrolf. One of my fine seminar students, Jared Sullivan, who dug up the history on the Rollo statue, introduces his subject thus: “In the year 912 Gange Hrolf, the tenacious Norse marauder who had terrorized the various kingdoms of northern Euyrope for the last three decades, agreed to a peace bargain proposed by the Frankish ruler Charles the Fat. In reward for abandoning his role as ruthless pagan pillager and being baptized into the Christian faith, Hrolf was given a duchy northwest of the Frankish capital of Paris.” Thus Rollo the Viking became Rollo of Normandy.
Now let’s consider the question why the rapacious Rollo is included among the poets andsensitive guys more commonly depicted in Norwegian-American monuments. In the first place, his story has a sort of picaresque appeal. Traditional biographies lead us to believe Rollo did not choose a life of plunder, but was driven from his homeland by King Harald the Fairhair in a dispute over succession.
Thus propelled into a life of pillage and carnage, Rollo proved powerfully good at it-such that when his fleet carrying an army of Danes approached France in year 911, Charles bought him off. The Frankish monarch married his daughter off to the Norseman and made him the first Duke of Normandy. The son-in-law, in turn, agreed to accept the Christian faith and to defend his new home against all the other Viking warlords out there.
So, in the memory of Norwegian Americans, Rollo led their people to the faith and something like civilization. Not only that, owing to the subsequent Norman conquest of England, the kinsmen of Rollo claim to be the founding fathers of the English monarchy and civilization, too. And thereby, by extension, it was the Norwegian-Norman-English people who founded the United States, too. And thus the Norwegian immigrants are not foreigners but rather are the true, old stock of Americans, more American than the Daughters of the American Revolution. You see how neatly this business of collective memory works out?
Anyway, the original site of the Rollo statue, dedicated on Syttende Mai in 1912, was downtown alongside the Great Northern depot. He was moved to his present location on Syttende Mai of 1990. And there he remains, symbol of-whatever he means today.