Leif Erikson
© Wikimedia CommonsSeattle's Leif Erikson memorial statue at Shilshole Bay Marina.

Today is Leif Erikson Day. Or "Leif the Lucky" Day.

In fact, the Norse explorer couldn't have had worse luck when it came to cement his place in history.

Believed to have discovered North America in the year 1000 -- almost 500 years before Christopher Columbus would receive credit for the same feat - - Erikson remained a relatively obscure character until 1837 when Danish literary historian Carl Christian Rafn published the first scholarly analysis of the Pre-Columbian Norse exploration.

Nevertheless, many years passed until Leif the Lucky received the consideration he deserved. It wasn't until in 1964 that President Lyndon B. Johnson designated October 9 an annual American observance in honor of the explorer.

"The intrepid exploits of the Vikings of Erikson's time strike a responsive chord in the hearts of all the American people, who as a nation are today embarked upon an adventurous exploration of the unfathomed realms of space," Johnson said.

Leif Erikson (about 970 - about 1020) was the son of Erik the Red, the first European to land and settle on Greenland after he was exiled from Iceland. Leif launched an even more ambitious expedition, which was recorded in several different sagas.

According to the Groenlendinga saga, Leif heard of a land to the west of Greenland from an Icelandic trader, and went to find it.

Sailing westward from Greenland with a crew of thirty-five, he probably landed first on the southern part of Baffin Island, then sailed to the coast of Labrador on the Canadian mainland.

From a land they called Markland ("Woodland"), which is possibly Belle Isle, an island between Labrador and Newfoundland, the Vikings arrived on to a place they called Vinland, or "land of the vine."

Boasting wheat fields and grape vines, the place was probably a spot on Newfoundland's northeastern tip.

There, Erikson and his crew built a small settlement they called Leifrsbudir, or "Leif's booths." Evidence for such settlement was found in the 1960s at L'Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland.

October 9 is not really associated with a specific event in Erikson's life. It was chosen because on this day in 1825 the ship Restauration arrived in New York after sailing for 3 months from Stavanger, Norway, with 52 passengers aboard.

This was the first organized emigration from Scandinavia to the USA.

"Countless immigrants who crossed the Atlantic on voyages to the New World looked to Leif Erikson as a symbol of fortitude and a hero who did not turn back in the face of danger and uncertainty," President Barack Obama said in his last Leif Erikson's proclamation.