Kensington runestone.
Kensington runestone (courtesy of the Kensington Runestone Museum).

Vikings in America

Vikings in America...does our New World history begin with Columbus, or with ax-swinging sons of Odin?

A great swath of the country apparently favors the redbeards. Viking statues tower over the travel landscape -- from Deerfield, New Jersey, to Kingsburg, California, to Fort Ransom, North Dakota -- humbling our haughty bronze Columbus monuments.

Aside from these, did our fair-haired forefathers leave clues to mark their passing? Some believe that a mysterious stone tower in Newport, RI, is the oldest building in America, built by the Vikings around AD 1050. Most academics think that it was built by a Colonial farmer, or by refugees of a Chinese treasure ship, but since no records exist, how do they know?

Perhaps the most intriguing debris left by Nordic litterbugs are runestones, mighty slabs of rock with cryptic marks carved into them. Alexandria, Minnesota, has the Kensington Runestone, and the story goes that it was found under the roots of an aspen tree by Olaf Ohman, an illiterate local farmer, in 1898. Real or Forgery?

Big Ole.
Big Ole, Alexandria, Minnesota.

Locals believe that the marks are a runic inscription describing a Viking expedition in 1362. The Smithsonian Institution was less enthusiastic about the runestone's authenticity, but they couldn't disprove it, either. And what about the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Indians that missionaries later reported, living in huts "in the Viking style"?

Alexandria's claim to be "Birthplace of America" rests on their runestone. Big Ole, a 28-ft. tall fiberglass Viking statue, lets visitors know that Alexandria takes the claim seriously, as does a 25-foot-tall replica runestone on Hwy. 27, east of the the city. But the authentic item in the Kensington Runestone Museum is at the core of any Nordic parenting claims. "We know there're other runestones out there," says the lady at the museum. "But this is kind of the main runestone."

One of those others is the Heavener Runestone, in Heavener, Oklahoma. The 12-foot high monolith stands outside, shielded in a big box. According to the folks inthe interpretive center, the enscription on it dates back to AD 600-900, and tells the story of "Glome" who used the rock to lay claim to this part of the Sooner State.

As in Alexandria, the folks here do not diss other runestones, knowing that Alexandria's rock is yet more evidence that Columbus was a Euro-come-lately. "They've got their runestone, we've got ours," the Heavener folks explain. "Ours is older."

Other, less-glamorous runestones are in nearby Poteau and Shawnee. The Vikings (or some local farmers) were busy boys.

Also see: Modern Viking Tributes

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Runestone Museum

The Runestone Museum

Address:
206 Broadway, Alexandria, MN
Directions:
The Runestone Museum. I-94 exit 103. Drive two miles north on Broadway/Hwy 29, to the far north end of town. Near Big Ole statue.
Hours:
May-Oct M-Sa 9-5, Su 11-4. Nov-Apr M-Sa 10-4, Su closed. (Call to verify)
Phone:
320-763-3160
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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RoadsideAmerica.com Team Field Report

Giant Replica Runestone

Address:
6th Ave. E., Alexandria, MN
Directions:
East of downtown on the south side of Hwy 27/3rd Ave. To walk to the Runestone, turn south from Hwy 27 onto McKay Ave, then left onto to 6th Ave./Lincoln Ave.
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Heavener Runestone

Heavener Runestone State Park

Address:
CR E1460, Heavener, OK
Directions:
Sits in a ravine, inside a protective building, on Poteau Mountain, 2 1/2 m E of town in Runestone State Park, off of US 59 & 270 and east of Morris Creek Rd.
Phone:
918-653-2241
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Mysterious Viking Tower

Truro Park

Address:
25 Bellevue Ave., Newport, RI
Directions:
Downtown. In Truro Park, just east of the north end of Bellevue Ave., between Pelham and Mill Sts.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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