What happened: Ole Bull played a concert at the State Capitol.
When: July 15, 1856.
Violin virtuoso: Ole was a symbol of Norwegian culture, and more: a virtuoso player regarded as one of the finest violinists in the world. For an artist of his stature to visit a territorial capital — well, a modern equivalent might be the Rolling Stones playing Fergus Falls.
Back story: It wasn’t just another gig. Ole was in St. Paul to make money to pay for 17 square miles of land he’d purchased in Pennsylvania in 1852. In that part of the country, which reminded him of his homeland, he intended to build a colony.
He called it New Norway, and encouraged his countrymen to come to his utopia. Eight hundred immigrated, and just as many probably regretted it: The land wasn’t good for farming, and it was too far away from the markets. No rails, no waterways. New Norway failed. But Ole was still trying to raise money for the settlement and its dwindling number of settlers, some of whom drifted northwest and settled in Minnesota. Perhaps a few even went to the Capitol to hear Ole play. His popularity never waned in Minnesota.
Still here: Since 1897, a stone replica of Ole Bull has stood on a plinth in Minneapolis’ Loring Park, violin under his chin, bow raised to bring forth a torrent of imaginary music. There might have been former residents of New Norway present at its dedication. Not to curse him for dragging them across the ocean, perhaps, but to thank him for trying to make it up to them.