Dighton Rock Museum
While one really famous rock in Massachusetts sucks up all the attention in the history books and during tourist season, another mysterious rock passes time almost unnoticed.
Dighton Rock has been here for ages, most of them sitting in the Taunton River. What makes it different from every other rock is that one side of it is covered with cryptic carvings. Various theories over the years have attributed these scratches to the Wampanoag Indians (first suggested in 1680), the Phoenicians (1781), the Vikings (1837), the Portuguese (1918), and the Chinese (2002).
The Vikings were the favorite for a time, especially among the Protestant elite of New England, who wanted America's discoverer to be someone, anyone, other than Catholic Christopher Columbus. That effort ended long ago -- but the Norsemen haven't entirely vanished as viable candidates. After all, who built this nearby mysterious tower, and who's bankrolling local businesses such as Viking Cleaners (Newport), Viking Drywall (Hope), and Viking Tuxedo (Middletown)?
Dighton Rock, all 40 tons of it, was hauled out of the river and onto the shore in 1963. Ten years later it was enclosed in a big glass box and a museum was built around it. When we stopped by, Park Service employees Milt and Bob were sweeping out the place. There is no staff, and we were the only tourists. "It's not visited all that often," said Milt. "You don't see too many people," added Bob.
The rock shares space with a replica of another rock, Profile Rock (the real one is about five miles away), made of 50,000 pieces of slate. "Looks just like it," said Bob. There are no Dighton Rock souvenirs at the museum, and certainly no dragon boats or Viking re-enactors to pose with. The rock is lit from below to make its carvings more visible, but about all that we could make out was the word JESSE. Jesse James? "Maybe it's Jesus, who knows?" said Bob.