SARANAC LAKE - This year's ocean-related Winter Carnival theme brings to mind the story of the Norwegian sailors. During World War II, hundreds of Norwegian sailors came to the area for the fresh-air cure, enlivening the life of the community in many lasting ways.
As a special event during Winter Carnival, Historic Saranac Lake will host a brown-bag lunch gathering to remember the Norwegian sailors.
When the Nazis invaded Norway on April 9, 1940, many Norwegians became exiled from their country. Thousands of Norwegian merchant seamen who were at sea at the time came to the United Sates and other allied countries in the hope of joining the war effort. As these sailors arrived at port in New York City, they were given medical examinations. A number were found to be suffering from tuberculosis and were sent to Saranac Lake for their health.
The Norwegian sailors cured in many places in the village, including the Sageman, Leonard and Walker cottages on Park Avenue, the Spear Cottage on Riverside Drive, 47 Franklin Ave. and the Robinson cottage on Franklin Avenue as well as Stony Wold Sanatorium and Gabriels Sanatorium. It is difficult to estimate how many sailors came to Saranac Lake, since records are incomplete and they were spread among many different cure cottages. It is said that the number may have been as high as 500.
During the 1940s, 16 Norwegians died in Saranac Lake - 15 men and one woman, a sea captain's daughter - and they are buried in a special section of Pine Ridge Cemetery. Two Norwegian sailors who settled in Saranac Lake, Alfred Larson and Jacob Jacobson, cared for this section of the cemetery for many years. In the 1980s, Anders Knutsen, who was living in Vermont, cared for the graves and was responsible for installing the chain-link fence that surrounds the gravesite. The Norwegian government has also helped to maintain the cemetery in past years. These 16 sailors and sea captain's daughter are commemorated with Norwegian flags at each of their stones. A memorial reads: "TIL MINNE OM NORSKE SJFOLK SOM DDE I KAMPEN FOR SITT LANDS FRIGJRING, 1940-1945" ("In memory of Norwegian seafarers who died fighting for the liberation of their country, 1940-45").
Exiled Norwegian sailors touched the lives of many Americans throughout the United States during wartime. With thanks to local resident Natalie Leduc, Historic Saranac Lake's attention was brought a memorial in Battery Park, New York City, that was established in 1982 to commemorate the Norwegian sailors. The memorial features boulders brought from Norway that read, "Dedicated in the year 1982 to the people of the United States of America by war veterans of the Norwegian Merchant Marine and the Royal Norwegian Navy in memory of help and hospitality shown during our mutual struggle for freedom and peace in WW II. In World War II 1,100 Norwegian ships served the Allied cause by hauling supplies between U.S. ports and the war theaters abroad. A sizable part of the Allied Forces were supplied by ships flying the Norwegian flag. More than 30,000 sailors and naval gunners manned the ships. Many of them looked to New York, the principal port of call, as their home port during the War. The losses were heavy: 570 ships and 4,000 sailors."
If you go ...
What: "Tales of the Sea," stories by Natalie Leduc and other history buffs on the Norwegian sailors who came to Saranac Lake for the tuberculosis cure during World War II
When: Noon Thursday
Where: John Black Room, Saranac Laboratory Museum, 89 Church St.
How much: Free
Next to the monument to the Norwegian sailors in Battery Park is the American Merchant Mariners' Memorial, dedicated in 1991 to the thousands of American merchant mariners who died at sea during war times. The statue depicts the tragic struggle of three American sailors as their boat is sinking. One of the sailors is reaching out of the water for the hand of his comrade. As the tide rises on the monument, the arm is submerged. The statue is based on a photo taken by the Nazis of their American victims following a U-boat attack. It is estimated that more than 6,500 American merchant mariners lost their lives during WWII.
The story of the Norwegian sailors is dear to the heart of Leduc. Over the years she has collected stories and information given to her from various sources. On Thursday, Historic Saranac Lake will host a discussion titled "Tales of the Sea." Leduc and other local history buffs will share memories during a brown bag lunch at noon in the John Black Room of the Saranac Laboratory. The public is invited to stop by to hear stories and contribute thoughts on the sailors in Saranac Lake. Artifacts and documents relating to the sailors and their stay in Saranac Lake will be on display.
Seidenstein, Bob (May 29, 2000) "Pine Ridge Cemetery reveals chapter of Saranac Lake's wartime history," Adirondack Daily Enterprise
Lawson, Siri Holm (March 28, 2006) "Memorials," warsailors.com