SideLines: Waiting on Norwegians who never came

It almost sounded like an early 1960s movie or something straight from Paul Revere: “The Norwegians are coming!”

Have no fear, like the Beatles invasion of 1964, this was a peaceful visit.

This particular group of Norwegians made up a large part of a 77-car Scandinavian entourage driving the 3,389-mile Lincoln Highway from coast to coast. The trip is commemorating the 100th anniversary of the first transcontinental hard surface road in the country.The group, which shipped members’ cars to New York before starting its journey, was scheduled to make various stops of historical interest during the 26-day trip.

We had heard one of the scheduled stops would be at the historical marker on the campus of Kishwaukee College last Wednesday. The marker commemorates the “seedling mile” of the Lincoln Highway, when a mile of dirt and gravel was paved over in October, 1914.

It sounded like an interesting story. It’s not every day you get a group of Norwegians stopping by for any reason, let alone in a car parade. The problem was we didn’t know exactly when they would stop, if at all.

You might think, with me being half Norwegian, I might have a little insight into their itinerary. Sadly, I didn’t. The whole thing was as Greek to me as to my colleague, Curtis Clegg, who was working on the story with me. (Curtis, I believe, is of German descent. I’d never say anything to him, but I wondered later if maybe that had something to do with what happened. Being only half Norwegian, of course, I don’t know for sure, but it’s possible the Norse may still have some lingering resentment over Germany’s occupation during World War II. As in most things, though, I’m probably wrong.)

Since their website and social media didn’t reveal much, we had to resort to some old-fashioned journalism, the kind you saw Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman doing in “All the President’s Men.” In other words, we had to work the phones. Unfortunately, neither the media rep at Kishwaukee nor the spokesperson at the Lincoln Highway’s national headquarters in Franklin Grove knew much more than we did. Neither did the guy I emailed in New Jersey, who must have thought I was crazy, and who could only tell me the entourage had passed through there a few days earlier.

It was pretty much up to us to be on the lookout. But how do you spot a Norwegian in the first place? Since they were driving their own cars, would there be a long line of Volvos or Saabs bearing “Land of the Midnight Sun” license plates? Would they be blaring “Immigrant Song” or, heaven forbid, “SOS” over their stereos? Most importantly, would they be driving on the right side of the road?

If they stopped to gas up or grab a snack, would they all be skinny, blond, blue-eyed Bjorn Borg lookalikes? (Or was he Swedish?) Or, as a dead giveaway, would they all be wearing Minnesota Vikings T-shirts?

Would they stop anywhere else? Would they, for instance, make a detour south to Norway, Ill. to visit the site of the first permanent Norwegian-American settlement in North America? Or maybe they’d cut up north to grab a few trinkets from the gift shops at Little Norway in Blue Mounds, Wis. They also could have stopped at the house of my aunt and uncle in rural Malta, who have a really nice collection of authentic Norwegian plates and embroidered rugs. Being Norwegian, though, the drivers have probably already seen them.

Like good troopers, Curtis and I camped out at the college. It’s one of those things: if you go, they won’t stop, if you don’t go, there will be a huge celebration. Despite occasionally calling out “free glogg” to passing cars we thought might be in the entourage, no one stopped.

Even though this wasn’t the story we were hoping for, I used all I had to come up with this little account so at least we have something to show for our efforts.

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