Leif Ericson Hurrah: Peter Andersen

Leif Ericson Parade organizer Peter Andersen.

Photo by Ralph Morang.

It only lasts for a few minutes but surely Leif Ericson would have appreciated it. For that small moment in time - each year in October - the Norse explorer who actually was the first to "discover America" (there were others already here) is celebrated with a parade of people, many in indigenous dress, in downtown Durham.

They mark the fact that Leif Ericson arrived here in 1,000 AD, more than 400 years before Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue. The parade began back in 1977 when two men of Scandinavian descent, both Seacoast residents, decided to give their fellow countryman his due with the (very) short parade.

In recent years it's been organized by Peter Andersen, whose father is Danish. "It's important to know your heritage and celebrate it with like-minded souls," Andersen says of the parade. "I cherish the little connections that I have through the generations." Among those connections, the tools from his grandfather that he uses as a general contractor and the Leif Ericson saga. "That was passed down to me and I cherish that too," he says.

Why all this effort for Leif Ericson?
We believe that everybody's hero deserves an hour of recognition on an appropriate day and at an appropriate hour.

The "appropriate hour" is 6 a.m. Why then?
Because Leif Ericson discovered the North American continent in early 1,000 AD. We hold it on the Sunday before the official National Leif Ericson Day, Oct. 9.

How and when did the parade get started?
The parade was started when Noble K. Peterson and Mel Neilson, both of Scandinavian descent, were doing their laundry at the Durham Laundercenter and sharing breakfast at Young's early in the morning. They decided that Leif needed his own day and time of appreciation, so they marched from the Laundercenter to Young's in his honor.

Is it true that the parade is only 25 steps long?
It's 25 steps long because that is the distance from the Durham Laundercenter to Young's Restaurant.

Does Leif have a slogan?
The parade participants chant "For noble deeds and daring done, we all salute Leif Erison. Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!"

How many people participate?
We've had anywhere from the original two to over 100. All ages take part. It's a family event. Some families come every year and their kids grow up participating. Some wear traditional Scandinavian folk costumes and some dress as Vikings. (No horns, please. Vikings did not wear horns.) Others parade in their beautiful Scandinavian sweaters and wave Scandinavian flags. Young's kindly serves us cake; we aren't sure if it's out of fear or appreciation for the crowd. You'll have to be the judge.

Why does Christopher Columbus get all the attention?
We don't make disparaging remarks about other people's heros.

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