Obelisk Stands Tall 112 Years Later

What is this pillar and why is it at North Dakota State University?

On May 17, 1904, it was estimated that 3,000 to 5,000 students were sprawled around the campus lawns, in their holiday attire, to witness the unveiling of the Bjornson Memorial Obelisk.

During the unveiling, the buildings were dressed in lavish decorations and sported not only the American flag but the Norwegian flag as well.

This monument was put up in recognition to Bjornstjerne Bjornson, a great Norwegian writer  of 1903 who received the Nobel Prize in literature.

Bjornson’s writings are still used in Scandinavian countries today, and he can also be commemorated for the writing of the Norwegian national anthem, the lyrics of which are actually engraved into the back of the obelisk.

At the time, about 30 percent of NDSU’s student population were of Norwegian descent, and due to the overwhelming population, Herman Fjelde, along with 12 other citizens of Fargo’s neighboring country decided to honor their country of origin.

The date they chose was very special to Norwegians and is a day called “Syttende Mai,” or the 17th of May, which is Norwegian constitution day.

This statue also brought a prominent Norwegian figure to the campus, in 1939.

Crowned Prince Olav made an appearance at our college and commemorated Bjornstjerne Bjornson by laying a wreath in his honor.

Today, the monument still stands near Putnam Hall.

In the early 1900’s people were very proud of not only America, but their countries of origin as well.

When asked, people would identify with both countries, such as Norwegian- Americans, or French- Americans.

Bruce Maylath, an English professor at NDSU, said that as people have begun to lose their close ties with their countries of origin, they begin to identify with “a nation more prominent today, BisoNation.”

“When people forget the past or ignore it; we tend to get ourselves into trouble,” Maylath said. “It is still useful for students to know the importance of the obelisk, and understand the extensive history behind it.

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