Philadelphia: NOT the Birthplace of America? Whaaaat?

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Philadelphia is commonly referred to as the birthplace of America. This is not surprising given that it is the location where both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were written. This claim, however, is contested by a small town in Minnesota. A large fiberglass Viking statue towering over Alexandria boldly declares that “America” began in what is now the American Midwest. My book Myths of the Rune Stone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America tells the story of how the unearthing of a mysterious runic artifact from an immigrant farmers’ field in 1898 inspired a myth that challenged many of the orthodoxies of U.S. history. Although the rune stone was declared by most scholars to be fraudulent, Minnesotans used the artifact to argue that their region was as significant to American history as the traditionally historic tourist destinations of Philadelphia and Boston. Read chapter three of Myths of the Rune Stone to learn more about the civic and regional aspect of the Kensington Rune Stone story.

“Big Ole” the Viking in Alexandria, Minnesota. It was constructed for an exhibit at the New York World’s Fair in 1965.

Last night, I had the privilege of speaking at the monthly Nerd Nite gathering held at Frankford Hall in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood. My talk centered on how the rune stone story exemplifies that America’s preoccupation with discovery myths and birthplace narratives often serve to marginalize the history of North America’s first residents. Additionally, I noted that Kensington Rune Stone phenomenon  demonstrates that Americans have long struggled to discern the difference between history and myth, science and pseudoscience. I think these themes appealed to the Nerd Nite crowd, which is often comprised of grad students, scholars, and others interested in history, science and popular culture.

Myths of the Rune Stone has been getting a lot of attention in Minnesota over the past month. My latest interview went out to 45 radio stations last weekend! Additionally, it has started to get national attention thanks to a review at the blog Religion Dispatches. I’m glad that the book has finally made its Philly debut. Please do contact me if you would like me to speak at an event in the Philadelphia region.

One thought on “Philadelphia: NOT the Birthplace of America? Whaaaat?

  1. Where is everybody? I feel like Will Ferrell in that jogging scene.

    David, you said “I noted that the Kensington Rune Stone phenomenon demonstrates that Americans have long struggled to discern the difference between history and myth, science and pseudoscience.”

    Yes, but it’s all in the interpretation. And who is qualified to interpret?

    Here we have a discussion involving a mythical or even a real birthing of America—not on the East Coast, but from deep within the hinterland. As you noted, the idea doesn’t make much sense, especially with Big Ole in the picture, and it seems to leave the American Indians short-changed in the usual analysis. However, we need not look at the situation in the usual way. We can try to qualify a different kind of analysis, perhaps by shifting the traditional paradigm just a bit.

    Of course, we need to recognize that the very first persons to come to what is now America came from somewhere else, if one goes back far enough. These people were at one time outsiders coming to a new, unpopulated landscape. No humans evolved in America, contrary to some “Native American” beliefs. We must believe science over political correctness in this, right?

    I am a native American, though I’m not an American Indian. I’m a native American, perhaps without the capital N, because I was born here. I’m a native to this soil, to a place where a hospital still sits. When I eventually die, I will be disposed of here in the land where I was born. I am as much a native American as American Indians are, who are born here. See? Conversely, someone of American Indian blood born overseas is not a native American (but with exceptions for military and government personnel). To be perfectly accurate, the Birthplace of America is where the first people (Asians, most likely) landed or came overland to explore and settle…that spot. Obviously, that spot is undeterminable.

    But, the Birthplace of America from a Scandinavian immigrant descendant’s point of view (the local point of view), certainly should not be the city of Alexandria, Minnesota, since first and foremost the KRS was not even discovered there; it was discovered nearer to Kensington, hence the name. However, even this is not correct, I postulate, since the KRS is only a memorial stone, not an historical document having to do with the purposeful birthing of a new nation and linked to a specific spot, such as, say, Philadelphia–erroneous land claim theories about the KRS to the contrary.

    But, if one wants to speculate where this unique spot really may be–this original birthing of America from Europeans coming to America, one would want to look three-score or so miles farther west from Alexandria and Kensington, to the specific place where certain dwindling waterways merge…waterways which begin at different ocean sources. The location where this natural feature takes place happens to be heavily populated with what are recognized by many astute researchers as being medieval Norse evidences (specifically, multiple stoneholes and petroglyphs).

    Since we may assume by logical speculation that such an important merging place was likely explored well before the Chippewa River area of the KRS, we might also speculate that this is a good candidate-location for possibly dubbing the “Birthplace of America,” from a European point of view.

    I think it is now generally understood that two main clusters of medieval Scandinavian evidences exist in this aforementioned Upper Midwest region; one being in the general Kensington area, and the other being farther west, where Big Stone Lake and Lake Traverse merges. I propose that this latter strategic merging-place might likely be called the “Birthplace of America,” at least from a medieval Norse point of view.
    (But, Vinland on America’s East Coast would seem to qualify, too–depending on one’s definition of what the “birthing” of America means…and from whose perspective.)


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