The Dala horse's Stockholm profile
The Dala horse's Stockholm profile Credit: Liz Steelman

Standing nearly six-and-half-feet tall, the Swedish American Museum’s Dala horse graced the corner of Clark and Farragut as a symbol of Andersonville for eight years. By February 2013, however, the Chicago elements had become too much for the hand-carved wooden horse, and despite a few preventative bolts to the nose, it was noticeably dilapidated. The horse spent a year being carefully tended to, and now it stands fully restored—only this time, it’s inside.

Dala horses were first crafted by Swedes in the 17th century as toys for children; today they serve as homages to Sweden. Karin Abercrombie, executive director of the Swedish American Museum, is proud that neighbors to the museum lay claim to the landmark regardless of their nationalities. “They all missed it while it was gone,” says Abercrombie. “We’ve had people come and pet it and say, ‘Oh, it’s back!'”

Chicago’s Dala horse was one of 25 commissioned at a special international celebration of the Swedish Women’s Educational Association in 2004. One side of each horse was painted to represent its place of origin (Stockholm), the other for the city it currently calls home. Only a small number of horses this size exist in Sweden, let alone the rest of the world, so the founder of the SWEA regularly checks in on their condition. Now Abercrombie can return a satisfactory report.

While the original horse will remain safe inside, a fiberglass replica will occupy the corner the wooden version was forced to abandon. “The Swedes really settled here and made it into their own little town,” Abercrombie says. “We’ve kept that spirit as the years have gone on.”

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