Scandinavian Americans have made a significant impact on the history and culture of South Puget Sound. To celebrate these ties, Sweden’s Prince Bertil, Duke of Halland, visited Lakewood in 1958.
Bertil Gustaf Oskar Carl Eugén was born on February 28, 1912. His mother, Margaret of Connaught, was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, and his father became King Gustaf VI Adolf in 1950. Although the third son (and fourth child), Bertil became Gustaf’s heir in 1947 after his eldest brother Gustaf Adolph died in a plane crash. His brother Sigvard had been removed from the line of succession for marrying a commoner, and his sister Ingrid was Queen of Denmark. Bertil remained heir to the throne until Gustaf’s son came of age.
Prince Bertil actively promoted his country’s welfare. An avid sportsman in his youth, the “Sporting Prince” (as he was sometimes called) promoted athletics through the Swedish Sporting Confederation and the Swedish Olympic Committee. Bertil also endorsed industrial development in Sweden, leading several industrial delegations worldwide.
Bertil Visits America
Bertil’s 1958 tour was his fourth visit to America. After attending centennial celebrations of Minnesota’s admission to the Union, where many Swedish immigrants moved, he flew to Sea-Tac Airport in Washington on May 12, where he was met by Governor Albert Rosellini and other state officials.
That evening the Governor held a banquet in the prince’s honor at the Governor’s Mansion in Olympia. The following day, Bertil was the guest of honor at another dinner in Seattle sponsored by Swedish-American associations.
The next day, the final day of his Washington tour, Bertil was invited to Lakewood for a banquet sponsored by the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce at the Viking Restaurant, where 170 people attended.
“Tacoma is proud and happy to have been host today to Prince Bertil,” reported the Tacoma News Tribune, “….Tacoma lately has become closer to Sweden in time because of the air service over the Artic regions. But people draw nations closer than time can do, and Prince Bertil’s visit has renewed the bonds of friendship so well appreciated here.”
The Viking Restaurant
The Viking, “Tacoma’s most unique restaurant,” opened at 9702 South Tacoma Way in 1951. It served Scandinavian food as well as American steaks, chicken, seafood and the “Deluxe Viking Burger.” It was owned and operated by Hemming and Majalisa Benson, David Benson and Mr. and Mrs. C.O. Benson.
The restaurant was a community gathering point, especially for Scandinavian Americans. An annual Leif Erickson celebration was held there for many years. According to owner Majalisa Benson, the restaurant was popular with soldiers from Fort Lewis (now JBLM) and a number visited after returning home from the Korean War, having heard about it from their friends.
Tacoma Chamber of Commerce Reception
The Viking Restaurant was spruced up for the royal visit with a copper service and flower arrangements in miniature Viking boats. Waitresses wore Swedish folk costumes. Blue skies and snowcapped Mount Rainier could be seen through the windows. “Beautiful country,” Bertil was heard to say in a British accent, “Most beautiful.”
The banquet was attended by Fort Lewis officers, Tacoma city officials (including Norwegian-American Mayor John Anderson), and Swedish consular officers. Judge Bertil E. Johnson and Fred C. Hansen organized the two-hour Chamber of Commerce banquet.
Bertil enjoyed the meal, polishing off his plate in seven minutes. “My only regret,” he said, “is that the plates are not large enough.” He also lamented, over a cup of coffee, that the smorgasbord was becoming somewhat less popular in Sweden during that time.
The prince was presented a certificate from Clinton Reynolds, President of the Automobile Club of Washington (now AAA Washington), making him an honorary member. “If you get in any trouble on the highways of the state of Washington, we’ll take care of you,” Reynolds joked. This prompted Judge Bertil Johnson, the master of ceremonies, to quip, “I might have something to say about that!” Johnson also joked, “The Prince and I have had quite a discussion over our first names. We have come to the conclusion that he was named after me because I was born first.”
As a celebrity, reporters listened with interest to the prince’s opinions on cars (a hobby of his) and his hopes for Volvo and Sweden’s economic growth. “We are industrializing tremendously,” he said, “No longer is Sweden to be regarded as a nation of fishermen and carpenters.” But for politics, he had no comment. “I’m non-political, you know,” he said, “All I can say is Sweden would be neutral if there should be another world war.”
After the luncheon, Bertil left in Rosellini’s car for Portland. He was met at the border by Oregon dignitaries. From there, he went to Los Angeles to catch a plane back home.
In 1973, Bertil’s nephew was crowned King Carl XVI Gustaf. With his nephew’s permission, Bertil could finally wed Lillian Davies Craig, a Welsh commoner he met in 1943 while working as a military attaché in London. They had kept their relationship quiet. Bertil died on January 5, 1997, at his home in Sweden.
The Viking Restaurant closed in the 1970s. Majalisa Benson herself moved back to Sweden in 1972. She told Tacoma News Tribune reporters that she wanted to introduce hamburgers there. She was a little late as Max (a popular Swedish burger chain) opened in 1968, and McDonald’s opened its first Swedish location in 1973.
Although Prince Bertil never revisited Tacoma, the area’s rich Scandinavian heritage and current ties remain strong to the present day.