The surprising origin of "The Vikings Ship" at Winter Park

Growing up in Minnesota it was a monument of sorts for me.

Anytime my family would be making any sort of road trip that would take us through the western portion of Interstate 494, I would seek it out. There, stationed up on the hill at the Northwest corner of the 494 and 169 intersection was an aged and weathered "Vikings Ship" sitting on the grounds to represent the teams Nordic roots. 

For years it was the roadside photo-op for Vikings fans near and far. Built into the hill at the end of the parking lot at the teams Winter Park training facility, it was available for fans to walk on to explore and pose for a photo of their choosing.

When we were on site for the final tour of the team's Eden Prairie headquarters I discovered that there's a bit of an interesting backstory behind the focal point.

Long before the "Legacy Ship", the old Vikings ship predecessor at U.S. Bank Stadium or the expected larger than life ship that will soon be installed at the teams new headquarters in Eagan, the old school original Vikings ship made it's way into the hands of the Minnesota Vikings. 

It might be surprising, but the ship was not a part of the original plans for the teams training facility. In fact, it wasn't even the brain child of the Minnesota Vikings. Instead, the ships origins stem from two historic Minnesota families, the Dayton's and the Bachman's.

Photo - Star Tribune 1981

For 56 years the Dayton's (Marshall Fields, Macy's) location downtown played host to the Flower Show and for years the show featured a large exhibit from the Bachman's family. Following the 1981 Flower Show Dayton's was left with an 80-foot replica of a Vikings ship that was used in the Bachman's display (pictured above).

Struggling to figure out what they wanted to do with the gigantic ship, it was ultimately decided that rather than attempting to sell the three piece structure it would be offered to the Vikings as a display piece at their new headquarters at Winter Park. 

But there was a problem.

The replica from the Flower Show was of a wrecked Vikings ship, coming in three pieces. Would the Vikings want a "wrecked" ship to be displayed outside their headquarters? This consideration was a serious one. Does displaying a wrecked vessel imply defeat? 

According to Star Tribune archives, after several executive sessions were held to talk out the decision, it was decided "that a wrecked Vikings ship was better than no Vikings ship at all."

So the three piece vessel was transported over to Eden Prairie where it sat, wrecked on the side of the hill until 2005 (photo below).

Photo - Minnesota Vikings

Shortly after the Wilf family ownership group took over the team in 2005 a decision was made to repair and refurbish the ship into a more presentable status.

The three pieces became one, the dragon head bow and the dragon tail stern were gone. As were the mounted shields on the port side of the boat. A sail with the Vikings logo was added, a new coat of paint applied and the once wrecked Vikings ship now appeared to be sea worthy (not really since it was built into the side of the hill - photo below). 

It is this refurbished form that we're all familiar with and the same form of ship that will remain on the hillside at Winter Park after the Vikings make their move this weekend to TCO Performance Center in Eagan. The team has already announced this ship will not make the move.

It's not the Legacy ship that sits outside U.S. Bank Stadium with a giant LED sail, it's not the fire breathing version that houses the team prior to game day introductions and it's not the new version that has yet to be unveiled in Eagan, but it is a piece of team history and surprisingly, it did have an interesting story behind it.

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