Vasa's recent history

In our storerooms, we have an interesting assortment of objects that are closely connected with Vasa’s history, even though they are not from the seventeenth century.

These are objects from Vasa’s salvage and excavation which can give us momentary glimpses and anecdotes about the history, people and society surrounding Vasa in modern times.

Here are some highlights!

The diver bench

The bench was made and used by the divers themselves during Vasa’s salvage. It stood outside the divers’ hut which was in use during the salvage period from 1956-1961. The bench has a number of makings, carved symbols and names, such as 14/7 – 1967 DYK (date of dive) and PAJALA (diver’s name).

The board with graffiti

The board, in plywood, also sat next to the divers’ hut. Dive leader Per Edvin Fälting drew images on it inspired by the dives around Vasa. Among other things there is a sketch of a diver in heavy dive equipment presenting a bouquet of flowers to a mermaid with Vasa in the background. The board has several dates and names of some of the professional divers who were employed over the years. Some are also shown as portraits, including one of Fälting himself!

The door handle

The handle was carved in wood by one of the divers, this was the door handle to the divers’ hut and is in the form of a phallus. 

A colleague recalls, “I remember Per Edvin Fälting telling of the time when Queen Louise visited the diving operations, someone had to hurriedly throw something over the door handle. She had coffee with her and crisp bread, or maybe it was cake.”

The handle was displayed in the exhibition, “Difficult things – objects and stories that upset and engage” (Swedish Exhibition Agency, November 1999 – September 2000). Before the exhibition, Christine Östling, the former head of the Preservation Department at the Vasa Museum, wrote of the door handle:

“Vasa’s salvage was unmistakably a male-dominated project. Boys with big balls and hairy chests who dived on Vasa’s wrecksite. They bored tunnels underneath the large round hull. Risking their lives, they dived in holes under Vasa, not giving up until the bulging hull came free of the mud and clay and was lifted in triumph to the surface.

“The handle was a warning to all women: Don’t come here, this is our place. An all-male society, where masculine rights played out: full of bravado but also responsibility, closeness and warmth of male camaraderie. A same-sex expression of sexuality.

Does this door handle say anything about the salvage of the Vasa and Sweden in the 1950s and 60s? I think so. This object is a timeless, ancient and topical symbol of virility placed in its specific context, in the salvage of Vasa in the mid-1900s.

Times change. How much do we change with them?”

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