Sunday, February 04, 2007
The Vikings in Waltham?
No, we're not talking about the Minnesota football team coming to town.
For those of you who have run from Brandeis with us (and who hasn't), we almost always run past a large monument just off the campus on Norumbega Road. Most days we probably never even notice or mention it, but on a previous run I had stopped to read the monument and recalled that it mentioned something about Vikings living in this area.
So on Wednesday's run with Dmitry and Frank KJ, NETT's "Viking in Residence" we stopped again and read the plaque. Of course, reading a 100-year old plaque by headlamp is not optimal, but it clearly claimed there was some evidence of Vikings having been in the Norumbega area. Well, that's all we needed.
This week, Frank and I exchanged some emails and web research and here's what we came up with.
According to several sources, the Weston monument was commissioned and built in 1889(ish) by a retired Harvard professor Eben Norton Horsford(those kooky academics) who was convinced that the great Viking explorer Leif Eriksen had found his way to the Charles River.
According to this entry on StraightDope.com, "Later in life, and with too much time and too much money (and perhaps a few too many fermentation experiments), Horsford turned amateur archeologist and convinced himself that in A.D. 1000, Leif Erikson sailed up the Charles and built his house in what is now Cambridge, Massachusetts. Horsford did a little digging (literally) and found some buried artifacts that he claimed were Norse...A few miles upstream, at the mouth of Stony Brook (which separates the towns of Waltham and Weston), he had a tower built marking the supposed location of a Viking fort and city. As if that weren't enough, he also commissioned a statue of Leif that still stands on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. "
(See a good photo of the tower and read the inscription here)
It wasn't a sole wacko out there though. According to this site, Horsford's theories were, in fact, based on some earlier ideas in the 1870s including those popularized by Ole Bull, a great Norwegian violinist and purveyor of Norse culture, who was also a proponent of the theory, first put forward by Danish scholar Carl Christian Rafn, that the legendary Vinland of the Viking sagas was in New England, and that the first European to reach our shores was Leif Eriksson in 1000 AD. Rafn was a Danish archaeologist noted for his early advocacy of the theory that the Vikings had explored North America centuries before Christopher Columbus's voyage.
Bull visited Boston to dine with writer Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and the two discussed the theory and decided to erect the statue of Leif Eriksen on Commonwealth Ave.But the statue was never made, apparently because of opposition from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, which felt that there was insufficient evidence to support the claim of the Norse discovery of America. A few years later, Horsford picked up the cause.
But alas, there wasn't much "meat" to the good professor's theories. According to this page on RoadsideAmerica.com "The tests of time and critical scientific review were not kind to Horsford's ideas, but since he had the foresight to have his theories carved in stone, you can still visit monuments to his discovery today. Crackpots, take note!"
Anyways, that's the history there. If anyone's read this far, please leave a comment on the blog to let me know if this was at all interesting or tremendously boring.
And yes, there are a few Irish Vikings left around the area....
(Photo courtesy of Frank KJ)