Alexandria calls itself "the birthplace of America" -- a bold assertion for a town in central Minnesota. The claim is based on a block of rock covered in cryptic carvings, the infamous "Kensington Runestone."
Alexandria's celebrated slab, a 200-pound graywacke stone, was "placed in Douglas County by the Vikings in 1362," according to its explanatory sign in the Kensington Runestone Museum. Its inscription reportedly describes an expedition to the area made by 8 Goths and 22 Norwegians.
The Runestone was found in 1898 under the roots of an aspen tree by Olaf Ohman, an illiterate Swedish immigrant farmer. Its local popularity peaked in the 1920s, when a group of prominent businessmen unveiled plans to house the rock in Kensington inside a 200-foot-tall replica of the Washington Monument. Those plans fizzled in the Great Depression, and 30 years later the Runestone was moved into the museum in Alexandria.
The Smithsonian Institution has pooh-poohed the Runestone's authenticity, but they haven't been able to disprove it, either. And what about the blond-haired, blue-eyed Indians that the missionaries later reported seeing in the area, living in huts "in the Viking style"?
East of town stands another hard-to-miss landmark: a giant replica granite Runestone, 25 feet tall, erected by the Alexandria Kiwanis in 1951. It's stayed here except for a brief expedition in 1964, when it traveled to the New York World's Fair in a miniature replica Viking dragon boat, which was driven to The Big Apple on the back of a flatbed truck. The dragon boat is another memorable artifact on display in the Runestone Museum.