When Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of the former President of the United States, famous for her humanitarianism, paid a surprise visit to Rovaniemi in 1950 to see Lapland and the post-war reconstruction of the city, her host, the Governor of the county, Uuno Hannula had the difficult task of organising the programme. Hannula was helped by the local mayor, Lauri Kaijalainen, who, with his assistants, found a suitable piece of land bordering the north-bound Highway 4 on which to build a cabin. The land was donated by Eemeli Karinen and it was here, at the Arctic Circle, that the welcoming ceremony was to take place.
The idea went back more than twenty years to when Colonel Oiva J. Willamo had erected a stake in the vicinity to serve as a stopping place for tourists to photograph. Neither the stake, destroyed during the war, nor the cabin was erected on an accurately measured spot. The former was erected on the spot where the Arctic Circle was assumed to cut Highway 4, the latter on the site available, which was later found to be 108 m. too far south.
The Arctic Circle cabin, which had to be erected in a week and which was designed overnight by the architect Ferdinand Salokangas, was built by Jarl Sundquist’s experienced construction crew from logs taken straight from an Ounasjoki drive. According to the instructions, the number of logs needed was the number required to “house a rather large busload of people”. There was no time for more since the first logs were taken from the river on a Saturday and on the following Saturday, as Mrs. Roosevelt’s plane was landing, the outer door was fitted in the otherwise completed cabin.
Thus, on Sunday, June 11th, 1950, the cabin was ready to receive its distinguished visitor. Many of the inhabitants of Rovaniemi who took part in the welcoming ceremony have since grown accustomed to seeing distinguished visitors from all parts of the world. The event, was, however, important as far as local tourism was concerned since it marked the first effort to attract a growing number of visitors to stop and enjoy a refreshing coffee-break, buy souvenirs and send the inevitable postcard home bearing the special Arctic Circle postmark. The cabin, which was open during the summer months, collected thousands of names in its visitors’ book every year. In 1956 it became necessary to carry out the first extension.
The City Tourist Board, set up in 1948, took over the management and development of the Arctic Circle Cabin. Activity became regular and the crush during the height season became unbearable. It was also impossible to comply with health and hygiene regulations in respect of both staff and customers. At the beginning of the 60s the active efforts of the Tourist Board brought new colour to the experience of crossing the “magic circle” in the form of reindeer and their drivers.
In June 1965, exactly fifteen years after the first Arctic Circle ceremony, a new cabin opened its doors to the public. This was designed by Lempi Purdy and both in size and fittings was considerably better equipped to serve the ever-growing number of tourists. By the beginning of the 1970s, the number of visitors had doubled in accordance with the prediction made at the roof-raising ceremony and today 90 000 visitors a year call in during their stay in Lapland. For many groups the crossing of the Arctic Circle is a ceremonial occasion which leaves an unforgettable memory.
Many heads of state and distinguished figures have visited the Arctic Circle and the Lapland landmark. These include the Secretary General of the Soviet Communist Party Leonid Brezhnev, President Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia, President Lyndon B. Johnson of the United States, President Edward Ochab of Poland, Crown Prince Carl Gustav of Sweden, the Shah of Iran, President Senghor of Senegal, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro, Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia Lubomir Strougal, and French Foreign Minister Maurice Schuman.