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Myths of the Rune Stone

Myths of the Rune Stone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Myths of the Rune Stone
    Book Description:

    What do our myths say about us? Why do we choose to believe stories that have been disproven? David M. Krueger takes an in-depth look at a legend that held tremendous power in one corner of Minnesota, helping to define both a community's and a state's identity for decades.

    In 1898, a Swedish immigrant farmer claimed to have discovered a large rock with writing carved into its surface in a field near Kensington, Minnesota. The writing told a North American origin story, predating Christopher Columbus's exploration, in which Viking missionaries reached what is now Minnesota in 1362 only to be massacred by Indians. The tale's credibility was quickly challenged and ultimately undermined by experts, but the myth took hold.

    Faith in the authenticity of the Kensington Rune Stone was a crucial part of the local Nordic identity. Accepted and proclaimed as truth, the story of the Rune Stone recast Native Americans as villains. The community used the account as the basis for civic celebrations for years, and advocates for the stone continue to promote its validity despite the overwhelming evidence that it was a hoax. Krueger puts this stubborn conviction in context and shows how confidence in the legitimacy of the stone has deep implications for a wide variety of Minnesotans who embraced it, including Scandinavian immigrants, Catholics, small-town boosters, and those who desired to commemorate the white settlers who died in the Dakota War of 1862.

    Krueger demonstrates how the resilient belief in the Rune Stone is a form of civil religion, with aspects that defy logic but illustrate how communities characterize themselves. He reveals something unique about America's preoccupation with divine right and its troubled way of coming to terms with the history of the continent's first residents. By considering who is included, who is left out, and how heroes and villains are created in the stories we tell about the past,Myths of the Rune Stoneoffers an enlightening perspective on not just Minnesota but the United States as well.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4542-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. INTRODUCTION: A Holy Mission to Minnesota (pp. 1-14)

    In the summer of 1962, the Alexandria, Minnesota, Chamber of Commerce sponsored a historical pageant for what they referred to as the six hundredth anniversary of the Kensington Rune Stone. Although the stone’s existence was unknown until it was unearthed by a local Swedish American farmer in 1898, its runic inscription told the story of a group of Swedes and Norwegians who visited what was to become Minnesota in the fourteenth century. Local residents believed this stone proved that Europeans traveled to the heart of North America 140 years prior to the explorations of Christopher Columbus. The Runestone Pageant was...

  4. CHAPTER ONE Westward from Vinland: An Immigrant Saga by Hjalmar Holand (pp. 15-40)

    The events surrounding the unearthing of the Kensington Rune Stone and its immediate aftermath are contradictory and hotly debated. As the story is traditionally told by area residents, a Swedish immigrant farmer named Olof Ohman was hard at work during the late summer of 1898 cutting down trees on his farm near the town of Kensington, Minnesota. Ohman and his sons were using a winch to pull tree stumps out of the ground in order to prepare a new field for cultivation. Tangled in the roots of one tree was a large, gray slab of stone, which they struggled to...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Knutson’s Last Stand: Fabricating the First White Martyrs of the American West (pp. 41-68)

    Although the inscription on the Kensington Rune Stone makes no reference to how the ten Norse travelers ended up “red with blood and dead,” to Holand and other white Minnesotans at the turn of the twentieth century the answer is obvious: they were killed by Indians. In an article inHarper’s Weeklyin 1909, Holand claimed that the reason for their deaths “is so plain that it scarcely needs an explanation,” yet he offered a rich, dramatic narrative to do just that. As Holand told the story, the Norsemen camped near a fishing lake in Minnesota. Some members of the...

  6. CHAPTER THREE In Defense of Main Street: The Kensington Rune Stone as a Midwestern Plymouth Rock (pp. 69-92)

    Despite the enduring appeal of the Kensington Rune Stone narrative for addressing external enemies and defending military campaigns of the past and present, it was also used to confront enemies closer to home. By the 1920s, there was more at stake in the promotion of the rune stone than justifying white claims to the landscape or bolstering ethnic power. Memories of the Dakota War of 1862 were fading and Swedish and Norwegian Americans no longer required homemaking myths to prove that they were loyal Americans. Residents of rural and small-town Minnesota during this period faced new and immediate threats to...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Our Lady of the Runestone and America’s Baptism with Catholic Blood (pp. 93-118)

    In the aftermath of the national publicity generated by the visit of the Kensington Rune Stone to the Smithsonian Institution in 1948, Minnesota’s Catholics leaders voiced their opinion about the controversial stone. Editors of the St. Cloud diocesan newspaper argued that the artifact should be permanently displayed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington “rather than remain a local tourist curiosity in Alexandria.” Because of “the Catholic historical implications” of the Kensington Rune Stone, it would best “advance the cause of history and the Catholic Church in a much more practical way in Washington rather than in Alexandria.”¹ By the mid-twentieth...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Immortal Rock: Cold War Religion, Centennials, and the Return of the Skrælings (pp. 119-150)

    The 1950s was a decade marked by a religious resurgence in the United States. Between 1951 and 1961, membership in religious congregations grew by 31 percent, outpacing population growth, which was only 19 percent during the same period. During the 1930s, a mere 29 percent of Americans believed that religion had an increasingly strong influence on their communities. That number catapulted to 70 percent in 1957.¹ Also in 1957, 96 percent of Americans identified with a religious tradition, even if they did not belong to a congregation.² During this time period, American culture was saturated with religious symbols and rhetoric....

  9. CONCLUSION: The Enduring Legacy of American Viking Myths (pp. 151-156)

    Not long after the episode at Runestone Hill, the Runestone Museum of Alexandria built a replica of the stockade first constructed in the aftermath of the “Sioux Outbreak” of 1862. The museum expansion was dedicated during the week of July 4, 1976—the nation’s bicentennial. Ten-foot-high log walls were erected to enclose a recently purchased lot adjacent to the museum. Within the perimeter of “Fort Alexandria,” the museum exhibited a collection of agricultural implements and other tools used by early pioneers to transform the wilderness into a productive landscape. In the ensuing years, replicas of a country school, a pioneer...

  10. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. 157-160)
  11. NOTES (pp. 161-196)
  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 197-208)
  13. INDEX (pp. 209-213)
  14. Back Matter (pp. 214-214)