Columbus Day, Disney's Maelstrom, & My Norwegian Heritage

A Disneyfied version of my Norwegian heritage with the kids. Author's collection.
Congratulations to everyone who is taking the day off today in celebration of Columbus Day. But why are we doing this? Though government employees enjoy the holiday away from work, only 14% of private employers recognize this second-tier holiday. But why celebrate at all?

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue ... 

Yes, yes. We know. But what did this accomplish? Discovered America?

Nope. As the record clearly shows, America's indigenous peoples were here long before. In cities like Seattle and Minneapolis, Columbus Day isn't recognized. In lieu, the day is celebrated as Indigenous People's Day.

First European in America? Nope. Not correct. Erik the Red made it to Greenland and established a colony there; he lived ca. 950-1003. All about 500 years before Columbus. And if you don't accept Greenland as part of the Americas (many don't), Erik's son - Leif Erikson - extended his Viking voyage as far west as modern-day Newfoundland, Canada.

Thus, it was the Norse Vikings who were the first Europeans to set foot on North American soil. As someone who is 25% Norse, I suggest we abandon the false holiday of Columbus Day.

I'd like to see a nationally celebrated Vikings Day or Erikson Day, but that isn't going to happen. So how about that Indigenous Peoples Day? Absolutely. I'd go with that.

In the meanwhile, I'll share my column from last week about the closing of another Norwegian landmark. The Maelstrom ride at Disney World's Epcot shuttered in favor of a new ride to open next year featuring the cast and song of Frozen.
Do you wanna build a snowman?

If you have children or have been around children in the past year, those words conjure up the sounds of a young Anna singing to her sister Elsa in Disney’s hit animated movie, “Frozen.”

My daughter has been enthralled.

In some ways, I really like the movie. Its main premise is that two sisters are able to achieve a happy ending together. That Disney was finally able to produce an animated classic princess movie without the need for a hero/rescuer male prince is refreshing and sets a good example for our daughters: their success depends on their own actions.

But I’m also disappointed in Frozen. Moreso, I guess I’m disappointed in the movie’s economic power to change things.

I’ll cut to the chase. In Orlando, at Walt Disney World’s Epcot World Showcase, Norway’s Maelstrom ride closed on Sunday. For the last time, trolls cast a spell against intruders to the Northcountry sending them “back … back, over the falls.”

The Viking ship carried visitors through the fjords of Norway where one encountered trolls, Odin, polar bears, and living trees. It was one of my favorite rides at Disney World.

And that's probably because I’m a little biased.

I’m one-fourth Norse and I loved even the Disneyfied-version of my ancestry. The Maelstrom provided a little education about the people, the land, and the enchantment of Norway. One would expect nothing less from a ride which was, in part, paid for by the Norwegian government.

Epcot’s World Showcase features eleven nations and, conceptually, one can learn something about each of the depicted countries’ cultures when exploring the Showcase. Entertaining and educational, I’ve always been fond of the layout. But I’ve always been partial to Norway and her Maelstrom.

The ride opened in 1988 as Norway was the last country to join Epcot’s World Showcase. Other changes have been made through the years, but this one hurts a little bit. I’ll miss those trolls.

Although most of Epcot is quasi-educational (when compared to other amusement parks), I can’t disparage the for-profit Disney Corpration for abandoning an admittedly-aging ride in favor of one of the company's biggest blockbusters.

I’ve made it to Disney World four times in my life. Twice as a child, once in college and again just this past summer. (Were this column produced by Disney, Olaf, from Frozen, would sing a song here about summer.) On the last trip, my children experienced the Maelstrom and its 28-foot drop into the North Sea. In fact, I think we experienced the Maelstrom 4 or 5 times.

But those seeking to find the spirit of Norway will have to go elsewhere (perhaps Norway itself?). For the Maelstrom is closed.

I suppose now I need to … let it go?
A version of this column originally appeared in the Jessamine Journal on October 9, 2014It should not be republished without permission.