A Tale of Two Cities
The twin statues of the ”Norwegian Lady” are located in ”sister cities” Moss, Norway, and Virginia Beach, Virginia. Facing the open sea, the statues appear as though they are still searching for the lost souls of a ship’s disaster over a century ago.
On March 27, 1891, the Norwegian barque Dictator was lost in a storm off the coast of Virginia Beach. The ship’s home port was Moss. On its ill-fated voyage, the ship carried lumber from Pensacola, Florida en route to West Hartlepool, England. Sailing along the east coast, the Dictator hit several storms and was partially disabled. In Norfolk, Virginia, necessary repairs were to be made before crossing the Atlantic Ocean. On board the ship were a crew of 15 as well as the captain’s family.
Shortly before reaching the port, the Dictator grounded on a sandbar just 300 meters from the shores of Virginia Beach. As the main mast fell to the deck, the two lifeboats were destroyed. Despite the vigilant efforts of the U.S. Coast Guard and the town’s residents, only 10 of the 17 persons aboard were rescued, among them the captain. The captain’s pregnant wife and their son had drowned in the rescue attempt.The deceased were buried in Norfolk while the Norwegian Consul and charitable organizations aided the survivors.
Following the disaster the Dictator encountered, the ship’s wooden figurehead washed ashore. Retrieved by a tourist, the manager of the Princess Anne Hotel ”adopted” the figurehead and placed it in a position facing the ocean near the boardwalk. There, it would stand as a memorial to those who succumbed to the storm and shipwreck. The “Norwegian Lady” quickly became a landmark on the boardwalk and stood for more than 60 years.
As a result of the harsh weather and salt air, the figurehead slowly eroded. In 1953, Hurricane Barbara damaged the memorial so significantly that it was removed and placed in storage. Unfortunately, within a few years the Norwegian Lady disappeared, apparently stolen or destroyed by accident.
News of the missing figurehead reached Moss, and the two cities began fund-raising drives to raise money to replace the memorial with a bronze statue. Erik Bye, a Norwegian t.v. personality with ties to America, took interest in the story of the figurehead and was instrumental in raising awareness in Norway. With the help of a generous donation from the Norwegian Shipping Association, sufficient funds were collected to pay not only for one, but two statues.
Norwegian sculptor Ørnulf Bast was commissioned to create the replicas of the figurehead – twin statues. On September 22, 1962 the statues were unveiled in ceremonies in Moss and Virginia Beach. Since then, the Ladies Auxiliary of the Virginia Beach Fire Department places a wreath at the base of the statue. A similar ceremony is held in Moss. Officials from the two cities have several times ”exchanged places” and paid respects to the duplicate Norwegian Lady.
The base of the statue in Virginia Beach carries the following inscription: ”I am the Norwegian Lady. I stand here, as my sister before me, to wish all men of the sea safe return home.”
In 1974, the Virginia Beach City Council extended and invitation to Moss to officially become a sister city, and Moss subsequently accepted the invitation.
The Norwegian royal family has visited the statue in Virginia Beach. On October 13, 1995, Her Majesty Queen Sonja placed flowers at the base of the statue. Most recently, on Sunday, April 21st, His Majesty The King’s Guard marching band visited Norfolk and Virginia Beach on the 51st anniversary of the Norwegian Lady statue.