By Dick Purinton
This year we recognize the 150th year of the arrival of four young Icelanders on Washington Island, an event that began an emigration movement, one that grew over the succeeding four decades.
This milestone will be observed this year in Iceland, as well as on Washington Island.
Coincidentally, 2020 also marks the 80th anniversary of the Washington Island Ferry Line. The new ferry Madonna is expected to be christened in early June, prior to starting its routine in regular ferry service.
In July of 1970, during the 100-year anniversary of the first Icelandic settlers on our shores, another new ferry had been constructed at the Bay Shipbuilding yard in Sturgeon Bay, and it awaited christening. Ferry Line owners Arni and Mary Richter had chosen the name Eyrarbakki, after the Icelandic seacoast town from which early Island immigrants had emigrated.
This became a meaningful way to tie Washington Island history with the current day. But, in a sense, that naming also evolved into a larger Island marketing campaign, one that celebrated both heritage and uniqueness, setting Washington Island apart from other Door County or Wisconsin communities.
The actual christening ceremony, the breaking of a bottle of water on the vessel, was performed by Gertrude Andersen. She was the first child born on Washington Island to Icelandic immigrant parents. She was also mother of Hannes and grandmother to Christine, names familiar to many.
Water was drawn from a well in Eyrarbakki especially for that occasion, and then flown by Iceland Air to New York, and on to Chicago. The water container was then driven to the Island, in time for the christening ceremony.
A variety of other activities were also slated for the 1970 centennial celebration. The Door County Advocate(July 16, 1970) outlined the planned events:
Island’s all set to celebrate centennial
It won’t be long now!
Washington Islanders have waited 100 years to royally celebrate their centennial and the line-up of events promises to exceed even this hospitable community’s fondest expectations.
They’re going all out!
With Mrs. Arni (Mary) Richter as chairman of the event, the Icelandic Centennial’s calendar of events is chock-full of excitement.
The fun starts Saturday morning (July 18) at Rock Island State Park where Conan Eaton, prolific Washington Island author, will conduct a guided tour. The delightful speaker has much to tell; he’s currently writing a book about Rock Island and its history.
Richter’s brand-new ferry, the Eyrarbakki, will be christened at 2:00 p.m. Saturday when Mrs. Gertrude Anderson breaks a bottle of water from the harbor at Eyrarbakki, Iceland. Richter, descendant of one of the Island’s first four settlers, had the water flown in.
After Mrs. Anderson, who is now 96 and has the honor of being the first Icelandic child born on the Island, christens the Eyrarbakki, there’ll be free refreshments at the big “Kafficana” (coffeepot) on the dock. Entertainment will be provided by a group of bearded residents singing “Ballad of the Beards.”
The evening meal will be held at the Community House with Minnesota State Treasurer, Val Bjornsson, an Icelander, as speaker. Percy Johnson, town chairman, is master of ceremonies, and costumed island girls will dance.
Karly’s Bar is the scene of the big dance Saturday night with music by the Bjarnarsons, a talented Island family whose specialty is playing a variety of instruments—including an electric mandolin.
Centennial services will be held at both Island churches Sunday morning. At noon there will be a fly-in fishboil with 80 planes expected. The boil will be at the airport.
Proofreading in 2020
A few notes regarding the above news story: Arni Richter was the grandson of Arni Gudmundsen, the second of two Arni’s to immigrate to this country, and he was not a descendant of one of the first four settlers. Christening water flown from Iceland was drawn from a village well in Eyrarbakki, and not from the harbor itself. Mrs. Andersen’s name had an “sen” rather than an “son.”
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