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​Thingvalla, K.N. Julius, and the Deuce

by Sabrina Hornung | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Culture | August 1st, 2018

Thingvalla Cemetery - photograph by Sabrina Hornung

Thingvalla Cemetery can be found in rural Pembina County, just a couple miles outside of the small town of Mountain. The most prominent landmark is a large monument dedicated to K.N. Julius, an Icelandic poet known for his great wit, satire, and drinking ballads. Behind the monument is an American flag, North Dakota flag and an Icelandic flag. This gesture is indicative of the area’s relationship to not only its Icelandic roots but to Iceland itself. Groundskeeper Leslie Geir said, “We have five or six tour groups from Iceland come through each year. They read several of his poems and pour a little bit of Brennivín (Icelandic schnapps) to toast him.”

The monument was constructed in 1943 seven years after his death. After the elements eventually took their toll, it was reconstructed in 1999 in conjunction with the 100th Annual Deuce of August celebration or “The Deuce” as it is affectionately referred to by the locals. The President of Iceland was even present for the unveiling of the monument as well as a host of other activities surrounding the Deuce. Making him the first foreign head of state to visit North Dakota.

This year Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland, will be in attendance for the 119th Annual Deuce of August Icelandic Celebration in Mountain with a population close to 100. The Celebration will take place from August 2-5. The Prime Minister will attend on Saturday, August 4. She will take part in the morning parade and will be the keynote speaker at the Heritage Program on Saturday at 2 p.m. in the Mountain Community Center.

Back to the monument...

The satirical poet Kristján Níels Jónsson Júlíus was born near Akureyri, Iceland in 1859.

In 1878, he found himself westward bound and immigrated to Winnipeg, from there he moved on to Duluth, and in 1893 he moved to Thingvalla Township near Mountain North Dakota. He was mostly self-taught and had very little formal education before leaving Iceland. He never married and had no children but he did stay with the Geir family and even wrote a poem for one of the girls.

He worked most of his life in Thingvalla. He worked as a farmhand, did masonry work, and also worked as a gravedigger at Thingvalla.

Geir shared an anecdote relayed from his grandfather from the days when Highway 34 was just a trail, his family owned the pastureland adjoining the graveyard. The boys were looking for a stray sheep as dusk approached. They got a good scare once they heard a strange voice coming from the graveyard with no one in sight. They later found out that it was K.N. singing as he was digging a grave.

Another unique feature of the cemetery are the efforts made to maintain the grounds.Within the past few years there was a restoration project in which the stones were moved and a slab of concrete placed beneath them to make sure they were level. This also aids in ease of mowing making Leslie’s job a little bit easier.

The K.N. Júlíus memorial isn’t the only memorial on the grounds. It is also the former site of the Thingvalla Lutheran Church. The church was dedicated August 9, 1893 and burned in an accidental fire June 3, 2003. A living prairie memorial garden was planted within the foundation and a reproduction of the altar statue also stands at the head of the garden. The statue was created by Bertel Thorvaldsen, who was the son of an Icelander who settled in Denmark in 1892. The Thingvalla Congregation purchased a 6 foot replica to stand at the head of the garden. The twisted remains of the church’s bell is also present in the wild flower garden. It is a true testament to the intensity of the heat generated from the fire that day.

IF YOU GO:

Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland,

Saturday, August 4, 2 p.m.

Mountain Community Center, Mountain ND

The Deuce celebration lasts August 2-5

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