by David Hill
The City of Thief River Falls is not known as the City of Trolls, but there are some who dwell there – 10, in fact, for now.
Unlike Norse trolls of legend who dwell in mountains, caves and under the occasional bridge, the trolls of Thief River Falls appear next to city buildings and private businesses.
Carved by Joe Wavra of Klondike Carvings in Red Lake Falls, the trolls appear in various shapes and sizes. Nordic literature, art and music gives them a variety of attributes, and many of the trolls in Thief River Falls share these attributes. Some have claws, fangs, large deformed ears and long crooked noses. Some are large, others small. Some are described as fearsome, while others friendly, protective and fairy-like. Most, however, are described as easily outwitted and having an insatiable appetite. Perhaps the appetite of trolls in Thief River Falls are sated only with attention.
Trolls are not limited to those of tradition, but have appeared in more contemporary sources. Trolls are used as a source of musical inspiration for Edvard Grieg’s “In The Hall of the Mountain King (Peer Gynt)”. They are found in “The Chronicles of Narnia,” a more modern movie. Not all are nefarious. In the popular movie “Frozen,” trolls are the adoptive family to Kristoff. These trolls took Kristoff under their wings and even though they described him as a “bit of a fixer upper” they assisted him throughout the movie. They were also family oriented and loving.
In Thief River Falls they are widely viewed as unique public art. In asking why public art is important, one researcher said public art is viewed as a nexus for gathering, and people often view it as welcoming, and adding to the aesthetics of place.
Some of the local trolls have been sponsored by the Sons of Norway lodge with donations from the lodge and grants.
The goals of efforts like these and others is to preserve the Norwegian heritage and culture in society. Birkeland said the local Sons of Norway, lodge, Snorre, believe that the trolls they are introducing to Thief River Falls are helping to do just that – and help the tourism effort in Thief River Falls.
Ole has brought visitors to the Municipal Liquor store, and smiles to countless faces.
Steve Olson, manager of the Municipal Liquor Store in Thief River Falls, said Della Burstad gifted Ole to the City of Thief River Falls in honor of her late husband, Milt. Milt served on the city council for several years and the liquor store committee. Olson, who knew Burstad well, said he’s honored to have the troll statue in front of the liquor store. He said he brings the statue inside for winter. “It’s a good fit for us,” said Olson of the troll.
Although Gustav just appeared in front of Jim Dagg’s office one day, it was welcomed. Misty Hempel who works in the office said it has been kind of fun and she has noticed people taking pictures of Gustav.
David Bergman, Explore Minnesota in Thief River Falls, explained “Public art, including roadside attractions, statues and the like are some of the most photographed landmarks when people travel. In the ‘selfie’ generation, getting a picture with an iconic piece of art is the highlight of many people’s trips.”
And the trolls of Thief River Falls have appeared on many Facebook pages and other social media, generating all kinds of interest and questions – and it’s all free advertising.
Laura Stengrim, executive director of the Thief River Falls Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, said, “The Norwegian Trolls have been a neat addition to our community and have been a factor that sets us apart from other communities our size with similar attractions. The fact that we have such a high percentage of residents of Norwegian Heritage has definitely been a draw for visitors of that ancestry. It's also been interesting to see how many people stop to take photos with the trolls around town. It's added a bit of extra flair to Thief River Falls for sure!”
Ben Sjoberg of Sjoberg’s Cable Television, said he was excited about the project right away. “It’s kind of unique, and because of our Scandinavian heritage, it kind of makes sense.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, almost 50 percent of the city’s residents are of Norwegian ancestry.
Sjoberg said he named the troll statute in front of Sjoberg’s “Lena Trollberg.” He said he thinks the project is great and would like to see it continue moving forward.
The Thief River Falls Chamber of Commerce is also excited about the project. “The trolls have helped attract business to the community,” said Ashley Nerhus, executive director. “The public really loves the trolls. I know a lot of people like to stop and take pictures with them. A lot of the trolls are located in downtown Thief River Falls, which is great! People can go downtown, see the trolls and hopefully explore some of our great businesses at the same time.”
Nerhus also said she has heard from business owners that have the trolls and they love them. In addition, she’s heard from business owners who do not have a troll as of now, but really want to get one someday.
“The trolls are really a great part of Thief River Falls and really add to our culture here,” said Nerhus.
Ty Birkeland, who serves on the Sons of Norway Lodge in Thief River Falls, said he wasn’t aware of any defined limit to the number of trolls they plan to introduce, adding that they don’t want Thief River Falls known just as the City of Trolls. There’s much more to Thief River Falls. The impact of caring for and maintaining the trolls may also limit the numbers of trolls.
Legend tells us that direct exposure to the sun could cause trolls to crack, turn into stone and possibly burst. Sadly, that’s a bit true of the wooden statues in Thief River Falls, too.
Birkeland said the SON will take care of them if they need refinishing. He hopes everyone respects the trolls.
Visitors and residents can find trolls at the following locations: Guben Hansa at Sears; Lena at Sjoberg’s; Haakon at the Chamber of Commerce office; Ture and Tori at Diamonds and Designs; Gustav at Jim Dagg’s office; Ole at the Municipal Liquor Store; Thiefer at the City Hall; Snorre at the Eagles Club; and Odvarr at the Pennington County Fairgrounds.
Another two trolls are expected to be added to the 10 already in Thief River Falls. It appears we, and the rest of humanity, are stuck with trolls. As one researcher put it, “whether they are friends or foes, trolls have stomped their footprints on the consciousness of humanity, and will continue to do so until the end of time.”
Tradition also tells us that we would be well avised to keep in good standing with the trolls.