Our 2021 Road Trip #38: The Viking Diaries

Runestone!

Authentic ancient letter or a Flintstone tablet bearing the headline “Bat Boy Spotted Lighting Leif Erikson’s Funeral Pyre”?

Minnesota and Vikings are a peanut-butter-and-jelly sort of classic duo that we’ve seen paired before, like that time in 2014 when we visited a museum in Moorhead that told the story of one man’s dream of building an impressively detailed, fully funcitoning replica Viking ship. We appreciated the man’s courtesy in taking ownership of his results and refusing to pretend it was a real Viking ship he found buried in his backyard. Every small-scale museum has a story to tell, each according to its own beliefs and stubbornness.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. We were each raised in a household that couldn’t afford annual out-of-state family vacations. We’re geeks more accustomed to vicarious life through the windows of pop culture than through in-person adventures. Eventually we tired of some of our self-imposed limitations and figured out how to leave the comforts of home for the chance to see creative, exciting, breathtaking, outlandish, and/or bewildering new sights in states beyond our own, from the horizons of nature to the limits of imagination, from history’s greatest hits to humanity’s deepest regrets and the sometimes quotidian, sometimes quirky stopovers in between.

We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.

Technically not even 2020 stopped us. We played by the new rules of the interim normal and wandered Indiana in multiple directions as safely as we could. This year the long-awaited vaccines arrived. For 2021 we agreed we had to go big. Our new primary objective was Yellowstone National Park, 1500 miles from Indy…

Forty minutes southeast of Fergus Falls is the city of Alexandria, MN, whose roots date back to the 1870s and whose hometown heroes have included 9-1-1 costar Peter Krause and Academy Award Nominee John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone). We glimpsed moments of creativity before arriving at our target attraction.

Big Ole statue!

28-foot-tall Big Ole is the town’s beloved mascot.

cattle statues!

These cattle statues weren’t the first fake livestock we saw on this trip.

Once upon a time in 1898 in nearby Kensington, local farmer Olof Ohman uprooted a rather large tree on his property and claimed to find an unusual object entwined in its roots: a stone slab weighing over 200 pounds and covered in ostensibly Scandinavian writings. Upon its revelation it was declared magnificent archaeological evidence of the Vikings’ unrecorded incursions into the reaches of what would one day become America. Huge if true.

Its inscription bore the date 1362, nearly 300 years after the end of the Viking Age. Some of its runes were deciphered into fragmented gobbledygook. As early as 1910, multiple scholars had declared it a hoax. A fan base formed for the Kensington Rune Stone and persisted anyway. Predicated on this unshakeable fervor, the Runestone Museum opened for business in 1958.

Runestone Museum!

Because it’s hard to fill an entire museum with a single object, the place also exhibits items from various moments in general history, some more specific to Alexandria than others.

moccasins!

As with your standard natural history museum, indigenous artifacts are on hand as a sort of Chapter One.

eagle claw necklace!

A heavy-looking necklace made from eagle talons.

Joy Harjo, Remember.

A poem by Muscogee author Joy Harjo. I once attended a poetry reading she held at my college circa 1991.

river life diorama!

Mixed-media dioramas combine mannequins, taxidermy, artifacts, replicas, and dynamic photographic art.

stuffed bear and tepee!

A stuffed bear lurks in the simulated neighborhood.

bear and tiny Viking ship!

The juxtaposition of a larger bear and a tiny Viking ship typifies the multicultural composition of fandoms at play.

olde Minnesotan family!

A typical Viking family after they first wake up in the morning and before they don all their heavy weaponry.

Kensington Rune Stone!

The star attraction, that alleged Rune Stone.

Olof Ohman with Runestone!

Alleged discoverer Olof Ohman posing with the alleged Runestone.

Runestone discovery map!

Map to the alleged discovery zone amid the many, many lakes in the area.

cash register!

Vintage cash register that might have once been used to ring up Runestone merchandise and Viking supplies.

Sears Roebuck catalog!

Those who couldn’t obtain their Viking necessities locally could order through the Sears Roebuck catalog.

high wheel bicycle!

Viking culture might’ve lasted longer if it enjoyed more modern inventions such as the high wheel bicycle.

suffragette clothes!

The extinction of the Vikings led to such unexpected consequences as suffrage and Sunday hats.

1940s desk!

Smartphones may have replaced literally every single object in this photo, but they’ll never replace the Viking spirit.

WWII Newspaper!

This wouldn’t have happened if there were still Vikings. They totally could’ve sailed down from Oslo and clubbed the Axis powers into so much lutefisk paste.

Ultimately, belief or disbelief in the Runestone is in the eye of the beholder. I will admit, I never saw postulates to one nagging question: if it was a hoax, who benefited?

Just the same, on our way out I picked up a souvenir from the gift shop that may have been the most truthful and convincing document I could find: a copy of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology.

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my faint signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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