Decades of Viking shenanigans
May 19, 2022
Forty-five years ago, Kathi Hammer was helping Carol Hall at a concession booth downtown, during Little Norway Festival. When, all of a sudden, Hammer got kidnapped by Vikings. Shortly after earning her freedom she was holding her daughter, Cari, when a photographer came up and asked who they were.
Hammer thought he was just a tourist, until a few weeks later when she saw a picture of them on the front page of the Southeastern Log, a popular publication in Southeast at the time. Under the image it read: Largest crowd ever for food and fun at Little Norway Festival. To this day, Hammer still displays that memory on her wall.
Now, it's doubtful Jim Stolpe aka "Fundar" was in on that one, because his Viking career began around 1980 and extended into the early 2000s. But he definitely got in on his fair share of "kidnappings."
For the vast majority of Stolpe's experience as a Viking, they were allowed to go onto commercial flights and mess with people. It didn't matter if you were a crew member or a passenger, if you landed in Petersburg during Little Norway Festival, prior to Sept. 11, 2001, your immediate future travel plans were subject to delay by Viking.
"One time we took a stewardess off and evidently she missed the flight, but she did get on the southbound jet," Stolpe says, unable to contain his laughter. "It was funny for us, probably not as much for Alaska Airlines."
But he says, the company used to put "extra people" on those flights to "help out in case things like that happened."
Stolpe especially enjoyed when Vikings grabbed people from downtown, took them to the harbor and forced them to row the Viking Vessel. To this day, he can still picture his fellow Vikings standing above those poor souls, screaming and yelling, "Row faster! Row faster!"
And there is no way Stolpe will ever forget when the Vikings brought the commandant of the Coast Guard aboard. He got a little wet after a side wave hit the vessel, then looked around and asked, "So, where are your life jackets?" This prompted one of the Vikings to "power down his beer," hand it to the commandant and say, "Here hold this!"
Plenty of fun times were had by Stolpe and the boys, but he isn't about to pretend alcohol isn't a part of being a Viking at Little Norway Festival.
Heck, in the 80s, he remembers the local Chamber used to pony up money for Vikings to go into stores, grab workers, take them to the bar and buy them a drink. It didn't matter if it was a hardware store cashier helping a customer or not, the Vikings just whisked them away, leaving behind many patrons with puzzled looks on the faces.
One year, they drove around town "liberating" things. Along the way, Stolpe and some others decided to swiftly liberate a pair of outboard motors from the United States Forest Service (USFS). This act was witnessed by two USFS employees, who just stood by and did nothing. What could they do?
Once the Vikings had their haul, outboards and all, they brought the array of treasures out during the pageant and playfully asked those in the audience, "Is this yours? Is this yours?"
Unlike the show the Vikings put on today, early on Stolpe admits the guys dressed much sillier. He cannot help but chuckle thinking about the days of wearing gunny sacks over shoes for leggings, packing swords made of plywood and "lots of really bad furs."
Preparation for Little Norway Festival usually began in January. This process may have involved bartering for furs or picking up other items to add to their garb.
But one very memorable year, Stolpe scored big time while working in Sitka. He came across a man looking to get rid of a tour bus and after some finagling, Stolpe became its proud new owner. It was immediately sent back to Petersburg.
"The guys here were like, 'Let's put this on there, let's put that on there,'" he says. "And that started the Viking Bus or whatever they call it now."
Stolpe jokes about how that established the "Myth of Fundar the Viking," but he is quick to point out that many people came together and helped bring the bus to Mitkof Island. And if anything, that's what he loved, and still loves, most about the Valkyrie, the Vikings and Little Norway Festival-it's all about community spirit.
Every once in a while, Stolpe will still get the urge to "gear up" and be Fundar again. But until that happens, he'll just keep attending the festival in regular clothes and admire the commitment of the current generation, those like Don Spigelmyre and his wife, Julie.
Spigelmyre was stationed here in 1999, serving in the United States Coast Guard (USCG) the first time he attended Little Norway. The presence of the Vikings was unlike anything else he'd ever seen.
"Those guys, for me, were bigger than life," Spigelmyre says. "I was like, I gotta do that-I gotta be a part of that!"
Luckily, he befriended some Vikings and that fall he attended his first meeting. He soon became Harbor the Barbarian. Julie also became a Valkyrie, and Spigelmyre believes they were the first married couple ever let in the group.
"For us, not living and growing up here, being accepted in by the older group like Jim (Stolpe) and the crew that brought us in, it was pretty special," he says. "It made us feel like a bigger part of the town and the community."
Prior to leaving the USCG in 2014 and moving to Petersburg for good, Spigelmyre was stationed in Cordova, Sitka, Ketchikan and Michigan. Yet, he still made it to Mitkof to be a Viking every year during that stretch except one, and he thinks Julie only missed three trips back, maybe four, because she was taking care of the couple's young son.
"That's how important that kind of friendship is," Spigelmyre says. "It's like a family-we're truly like a family."
During the festival, Vikings interact and take pictures with hundreds of adults and excited youngsters, every day. While some visitors are noticeably afraid to approach them, others are full of curiosity. It's also not uncommon for parents to "thrust" couple-week-old babies into Spigelmyre's arms for a quick photo.
For him, these are all very meaningful examples of why he's a Viking. He looks at them as "mascots," someone that can inspire residents and visitors, of all ages, to have an experience where they say-let's go back to Little Norway.
"We want to promote wholesome fun and, maybe, a little fear," he says, "but all in good humor."
For next year's festival, the Pilot is hoping to write about the evolution of the Valkyrie. Their former Queen, Valerie Ing, is planning to take time off work so she can attend and partake in the fun for the first time in "too many years."
As for this year's festivities, be sure to check out the Little Norway Festival Pageant on Thursday night. Friday afternoon means a 4 o'clock start to the parade. Temsco will be flying a helicopter with the USA and Norwegian flags.
On Saturday, folks can head downtown and watch a pet show. This is a new event, that organizers are hoping becomes an annual thing. There are three categories. First there will be a fashion show, where dogs or any other pets that wish to can strut their stuff and show off their individuality.
That's followed by a talent show/best trick contest, and finally an obedience challenge. The obedience portion will be a "sit and come challenge" with treats and obstacles to distract the animal. Gifts and prizes are guaranteed for participants, along with lots of moments to smile about. The show starts at 11:30 a.m., and will run about an hour.
And right afterwards, crowds can hang around and see the Petersburg Police Department take on The Petersburg Volunteer Fire Department as they go head-to-head in a race pulling two ambulance vehicles. Sunday brings the end of the festival and an opportunity to enjoy a pancake breakfast at St. Catherine's Catholic Church.
“Valhalla” towed to Wrangell while Viking crews slept
From the Petersburg Press, May 24, 1978
Petersburg’s Viking ship, “Valhalla” was stolen, and towed to Wrangell early Saturday morning, May 20, by an anonymous group of S.E. Pirates. The “Valhalla” was towed from it’s mooring near the Coast Guard floats about 12:30 or 1:00 according to witnesses from boats tied up nearby.
The “on duty” Vikings for the Festival showed up ‘boatless’ when they set off for their days work of terrorizing Petersburg villagers and visitors.
Hi Lee, appointed “skipper” of the Valhalla said in an interview last week that he was, “very irritated”, about the Saturday incident since the ship was an expensive and irreplaceable item. The boat is very precious to many people and the prank, “went a little too far”.
Lee and Palmer Thomassen received permission from Petersburg Fisheries to use their chartered aircraft to fly down to Wrangell to retrive the boat wich was tied up at the Union oil dock in Wrangell.
Lee reported that although several had gathered around the Valhalla, no one took credit for, or indicated, who might have done the “dastardly deed”. Lee said he was very irritated by the incident initially, but said he felt better after seeing that no damage had come upon Petersburg’s symbolic ship.
The Union Oil agent in Wrangell donated the required fuel to get the Valhalla back to Petersburg. Lee said he left Wrangell about 1:00 and arrived in Petersburg abut 7:15 p.m. Saturday.
The skipper said they experienced engine trouble as they entered the Narrows but Magnus Jakobsen, a City of Petersburg mechanic was able to repair the problem. Jakobsen was reportedly fishing at the south end of the Narrows that day.
Lee said they swung by Petersburg Fisheries when they got back to Petersburg to let folks know that the Valhalla was back in Petersburg safe and sound. The Fish-O-Rama was in it’s concluding stages about that time.
Lee said the Valhalla engine was not used to take the boat to Wrangell because the tiller had been removed from the boat and taken home, to prevent operation of the boat.
Fire safety traditionally dictates that boats not be locked to the docks, which was the case opf the Valhalla. In case of fire, it sometimes is necessary to have to move boats away from the docks to insure the safety of adjoining craft.