Leif Erikson Day and Bellringer's March - Two Andersonville Traditions
By: Gloria Evenson
Andersonville’s 1988 Leif Erikson Day opened October 13 with what may seem a curious sight to first-time visitors to the area. A group dressed in Viking and Swedish folk costumes, as well as modern-day street clothes, and led by a person loudly ringing a bell, began a procession north up Clark Street from the Swedish American Museum, 5211 N. Clark, to Catalpa, and then back again down the other side of the street.
As the group passed by various shops, workers came out carrying brooms and you could hear the busy swishing sound of sidewalks being swept clean up and down the street. Many workers waved to the passing group and shouted, "Hello!"
This "Bellringer’s March" is a weekly tradition in Andersonville, and takes place Saturday mornings at 10:30 a.m., weather permitting, in an effort to keep area sidewalks clean. Some older persons may also remember a time when the shopkeepers washed their sidewalks.
Once the Bellringer had done his duty, Leif Erikson festivities continued with a mini-concert by the Sverige Barnen Children’s Group at the Swedish American Museum. Sverige Barnen, which means the children of Sweden, is a Chicago-based organization directed by Irene Strom which introduces its members to various aspects of Swedish folk culture. Though only four of this group’s fifteen members were present, they put forth an exceptional medley of traditional and modern Swedish songs, folk dances, vocal solos and even a violin solo.
Also at the Swedish Museum was a unique exhibit of Viking head sculptures on wood by artist Al Grzelak of Flossmoor. Each piece had its own personality and expression. Mr. Grzelak has done the sculptures as a hobby for 15 years. He says it takes him from six hours to three days to complete one of his characters.
Down the street at the Fiery Clockface Bookstore, was an open house with a large buffet table and a cake for Leif Erikson Day (cut with a sword by viking-clad David West). One of the store’s two window displays featured material on Leif Erikson and the other on Christopher Columbus (who is recognized October 10).
Leif Erikson Day is proclaimed October 9 each year by the President of the United States, Governor Thompson and Governors of several other states in honor of Viking explorer "Leif the Lucky," who is reputed to be the first European to set foot on North American soil in approximately 1000 A.D. Leif Erikson Day is observed annually in Andersonville on whichever Saturday falls closest to October 9.
The present day "Bellringer’s March" was originated in 1963 by Sonja Sterlov, who recruits different volunteers to serve as Bellringer each week. The Bellringer for the October 13 "March" was Rev. Earl Gasquoine of St. Anthony of Padua Church. Area merchants, residents, and anyone else interested is encouraged to join the "March." Viking and Swedish folkwear was an added touch for Leif Erikson Day; it is not mandatory.