Many of you reading this probably know all about Atterdag College. On the other hand, some of you probably don’t know about it.
First off, Atterdag is not in the college football playoffs, in part because the traditional Danish folk school no longer exists. But in the early 1900s, shortly after Solvang was founded by a small group of Danish immigrants, Atterdag College was one of the town’s centerpieces, created specifically to attract other Danes to settle in the village.
Until it closed in the early 1950s, the school was a purveyor and defender of the Solvang lifestyle, teaching about the customs and history of Denmark, while also serving as a meeting hall, church, performing-arts venue, gymnastics center and, conveniently enough for recent arrivals, a boarding house.
Those types of multi-functional community facilities are no longer practical. Life today moves far too fast and is too complicated to accommodate a one-size-fits-all building.
At the risk of belaboring the obvious, the Danish village not only survived, it has prospered. Its heritage is evident to all who drive into town, greeted by a statue of Hans Christian Andersen and another of the Little Mermaid. Folks who have visited Copenhagen know what that’s all about.
Solvang’s Danish-rooted residents probably don’t need a history refresher course, but for newcomers and folks who just want to know, we have a suggestion — visit Solvang’s Elverhøj Museum of History and Art.
That was among the stops for Henrik Bramsen Hahn, deputy chief of mission and ambassador from the Embassy of Denmark, on his recent visit to this area, with special emphasis on his two-day stay in what everyone has come to know as the “Danish capital” of America.
“The museum is truly a unique place,” Hahn said, adding that the Elverhøj deserved high praise for its mission to “preserve the memory and legacy of Danish culture.”
One item enjoyed by the ambassador was the museum’s diorama of Solvang circa 1920.
The ambassador’s visit coincides with the Elverhøj’s celebration of its 30th anniversary held at the museum, 1624 Elverhøj Way, between 1st and 3rd streets.
The museum is housed in a home built in 1950, and later occupied by internationally-recognized painter/sculptor Viggo Brandt-Erichsen and his wife Martha Mott, an accomplished artist and teacher in her own right.
We could tell you more of that history, but why not go see it for yourself. The Elverhøj is a magical place to visit, even if not a drop of Danish blood runs in your veins. That seems very unlikely, given the six-degrees-of-separation theory, which essentially says most of are related in some way, however distant the relationship may be.
The Elverhøj has gone through several iterations over its lifetime, and in each change, more pieces of Solvang history, culture and tradition was added. The name “Elverhøj” is from Denmark’s most famous folk play, and the word translates to “elves on a hill.”
Again, we may be giving away too many of the museum’s secrets, and there’s no need to spoil what we guarantee will be a thrilling history experience.
We have learned quite a lot from the museum, and from Ambassador Hahn’s recent visit as he explained the long and lasting relationship between Denmark and the United States. It’s more than history and culture, including strong military and business connections that benefit both countries, especially in the area of high technology. Denmark has more than 700 companies in the United States, providing jobs for 17,000 American workers.
Strong connections, indeed.