V.I. residents celebrate Transfer Day

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ST. CROIX - A brisk spring breeze kept the Danish, Virgin Islands and American flags dancing Monday morning as more than 100 residents and visitors observed the annual Transfer Day ceremony in Frederiksted.

The Virgin Islands moved from Danish to American rule 97 years ago, but the ties between the Danes and Virgin Islanders remain strong and continue to grow. Observing the theme "Embracing Our Cultural Traditions as a Bridge to the 2017 Centennial" many of the speakers at the gathering at the Lawaetz Family Museum grounds, spoke of how the territory and it's former owners are both preparing for a grand celebration of their rich history, common past and common goals.

Santa Cruz Jazz Ensemble and Ebenezer Methodist Church Steel Orchestra played the national anthem and the Virgin Islands March. The musicians also played the Danish national anthem for the more than 30 Danish visitors who were in the crowd who sang along in a show of national pride.

Gov. John deJongh Jr. said the territory is three years away from celebrating a relationship that has transcended time and place. He said the committee selected to plan the centennial held its first meeting Monday afternoon and there is a lot to do and a lot more to learn. Despite some of the events that may have strained the relationship, there is no way to change history but there is always a way to learn and understand what each event means to the community, deJongh said.

Jarl Frijs-Madsen, Danish consul general in New York, said as residents of both the Virgin Islands and Denmark look back over close to 100 years, it is important to see the fusion of cultures throughout the shared history.

"Ninety-seven years ago the Danish flag was lowered but that did not end the great relationship between us," he said.

He said the Danish government is working on digitalizing archives and developing educational resources so that the current and future generations can have a real grasp of the islands' history. He said while some parts of the past are really dark, it is all undeniably part of the total experience and rich history between the territory and Denmark.

While a lot of planning will take place in the territory, Frijs-Madsen said a centennial celebration committee has also been organized in Denmark to ensure a grand celebration in the next three years.

"In three years, we will arrive at the centennial anniversary - but know that this sustainable growth is not a one-time thing, but a result of an ongoing mutual effort by both parties," he said.

Sen. President Sean-Michael Malone said in jest that he wondered if Denmark was interested in taking the territory back. He said they have always paid great attention to the annual celebration and added that conspicuously absent from the list of key players in the historical event is a representative from the United States of America.

Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen said U.S. dignitaries were in attendance at a celebratory event she hosted in honor of Transfer Day last week and there are plans for them to play a role in the observation of the centennial celebration in 2017.

St. Croix Landmarks Society board chairman Duane Howell was the keynote speaker for the event. He encouraged everyone to jump on the bandwagon for preservation and do their part to hold on to history. He said a coalition needs to be formed to continue to build on relationships between the two.

In addition to having a strong history, Howell said there are a number of benefits that can be gained in the future, noting that Denmark is leading the way with technology and there is a lot that the territory can learn.

"This should not be a single event to celebrate, but a celebration of the 97 years of history that have passed," he said. Howell encouraged those in attendance to advocate for culture and history, public access to historical archives and the St. Croix Landmarks Society.

The John Hatcher McCollum Essay Winner, Sanay Hewitt, from St. Mary's Catholic School read her winning essay that described the things she learned from her grandmother about how much things have changed over the years and how much they have remained the same.

The Carl and Marie Lawaetz Museum is the ancestral home of the Lawaetz family. Filled with West Indian furnishings and surrounded by historic ruins and tropical gardens, the museum is maintained by the St. Croix Landmarks Society.

The official transfer of the Danish West Indies to the United States took place simultaneously on all three islands at 4 p.m. March 31, 1917. Transfer Day, or Danish Heritage Day, has been commemorated ever since.

By lunchtime, the crowd on the museum grounds grew to well over 100.

They were entertained by cultural music and were taken on tours of the museum and of displays by several schools that highlighted the holiday and its historic value.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi

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