Author and historian David M. Krueger in front of Penn Station on the way home from filming with the Travel Channel in NYC.
Early this summer, I took the train from Philly up to New York City for an afternoon filming session with the Travel Channel’s popular show, Mysteries at the Museum. In case you are not familiar with the show, here is a description:
“Host Don Wildman digs into the world’s greatest institutions to unearth extraordinary relics that reveal incredible secrets from the past. Through compelling interviews, rare archival footage and arresting recreations, “Mysteries at the Museum” illuminates the hidden treasures at the heart of history’s most incredible triumphs, sensational crimes and bizarre encounters.”
The episode to which I contributed is titled“Kensington Runestone, Smile! You’re Being Hijacked and Harriet the Spy” – which premieres Friday, September 30 at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT
In this episode “Don Wildman examines a stone tablet which may hold the key to America’s beginnings, a model plane connected to a hijacking and a revolver that once belonged to the first American woman to lead an armed expedition into war.”
I wish I could say more more about my contribution to the upcoming show, but I have yet to see it myself! If you enjoy the segment of the Mysteries at the Museum episode, I encourage you to get a copy of my book, Myths of the Rune Stone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America. It tells the fascinating story of why so many have wanted to believe that Vikings reached what is now Minnesota 140 years before Columbus landed in the so-called “New World.” Feel free to peruse my website to find reviews and other resources related to the topic. Let me know what you think of the episode!
It was a pleasure to talk about Myths of the Rune Stone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America with Kristian Petersen from the New Books Network. I was able to share a bit about how I got interested in the scholarly study of history and religion. I also discussed the process of how I transformed my fairly voluminous dissertation (around 360 pages) into a slim and readable volume intended to reach a broad audience. This hour-long interview provides some of the highlights of the book and touches on topics such as myth, small town life and Minnesotan civic identity, martyrdom, secularization, the Cold War, Vikings, Marion devotion, Native Americans, Christian identity in Minnesota, American civil religion, and the multiple venues for using the book in the classroom.
If you are visiting this website for the first time, be sure to explore the various resources here to help you dig deeper into the topic. To learn about how the book can useful in a classroom setting, you can read this blog post from last year. Thanks for stopping by!
Dr. William W. Fitzhugh (L) and Dr. David M. Krueger (R) holding a replica of the Kensington Rune Stone made by the Smithsonian Institution in 1948.
The Kensington Rune Stone, currently located in the Runestone Museum in Alexandria, Minnesota, is not merely a local curiosity. It has gained world-wide fame since it was allegedly unearthed by a Swedish immigrant farmer named Olof Ohman in 1898 near the village of Kensington, Minnesota. Over the years, it traveled to Europe, the New York World’s Fair in 1965, and even the Smithsonian Institution where it was exhibited from 1948 to 1949.
A September 1948 article in National Geographic quoted a museum official named M. W. Stirling who stated that the rune stone was “probably the most important archaeological object yet found in North America.” At the time, Viking enthusiasts in Minnesota celebrated this as proof that the artifact was indeed medieval in origin and, therefore, conclusive evidence that Minnesota had been visited by Norsemen in 1362. But did the Smithsonian Institution really endorse the Kensington Rune Stone as authentic? No, it did not.
After this article was released, Smithsonian officials stated that neither Stirling nor other staff members at the time were qualified to analyze runic inscriptions. They said that Stirling merely offered his “personal opinion” and that the Smithsonian took no official position. In 1955, the museum officially endorsed the conclusions of the Danish archaeologist Johannes Bronsted, who said that the inscription was not carved in the fourteenth century.
The question remains as to why the Smithsonian would choose to feature the Kensington Rune Stone even though it had been declared specious by a long line of geologists and linguists. The tireless promotional efforts of Hjalmar Holand no doubt played a big part. He was instrumental in generating popular appeal for the artifact. It seems reasonable to conclude the the Smithsonian would have welcomed the publicity (and visitor revenue) that the controversial artifact could bring.
Regardless of what the Smithsonian’s intentions were in displaying the rune stone, it is clear that the artifact’s supporters back in Minnesota had a great deal invested in its authenticity. In the third chapter of my book Myths of the Rune Stone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America, I reveal how the rune stone emerged in the twentieth century as civic “totem,” which represented the aspirations and anxieties of western Minnesotans. The artifact became the foundation for a myth that “America” began in Minnesota 140 years before Columbus reached the Bahamas. A twenty-eight-foot-tall fiber glass Viking stands in Alexandria, Minnesota today holding a shield declaring that the town is the “Birthplace of America.”
The “H” carved by rune stone research Hjalmar Holand.
The rune stone replica had been carefully stored in bubble wrap.
As with the original, part of the inscription runs along the side of the stone.
The giant Viking statue “Big Ole” that towers over Runestone Museum in Minnesota.
In early May of 2016, I traveled to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. While there, I had the privilege of meeting with Dr. William Fitzhugh, the museum’s curator of archaeology and director of the Arctic Studies Center. William Fitzhugh is an anthropologist who conducts fieldwork and research on circumpolar archaeology. Along with Elisabeth I. Ward, he co-edited a terrific volume called Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga published the Smithsonian in 2000. Dr. Fitzhugh showed me a replica of the Kensington Rune Stone made during the 1948 visit. The replica itself is of great historical value because it shows the exact coloring and texture of the surface before it was further manipulated by researchers in coming decades. In one of the photos, an inscribed “H” is visible. The source of this marking is none other than tireless researcher Hjalmar Holand.
Last night I had the privilege of speaking at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul Minnesota. It is the home of the Minnesota Historical Society. While I was researching for my book Myths of the Rune Stone Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America, I spent many days here reading newspaper microfilm and scores of other historical documents. The event had been scheduled to take place in a smaller seminar room, but they had to move it to the main auditorium because of the crowd (167 in attendance!) I think that Mike Mullen’s recent article in the Minneapolis City Pages generated a lot of interest. Many thanks to Danielle Dart, coordinator of public programs for lifelong learners, for making this event possible. You can listen to the podcast above.
Although I have given numerous presentations on the book since its release last October, I made a special effort to locate the Kensington Rune Stone story in the long history of the American obsession with pre-Columbian Vikings in North America. Although we didn’t have credible evidence of a Norse presence in North America until the discovery of Newfoundland’s L’Anse aux Meadows archaeological site in 1960, some white Americans went to great lengths to prove Vikings reached as far south as Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and even as far west as Minnesota. They used this American “pre-history” to address anxieties related to the nation’s growing racial diversity and the troubled way that white Americans came to terms with living on land once occupied by someone else. The Kensington Rune Stone must be understood within this context. Additionally, my talk addressed the question of the artifact’s authenticity and the status of science literacy in American culture today. Information on Mike Scholtz’s documentary film Lost Conquest can be found here. CORRECTION: I mistakenly described Tom Trow as a geologist. He is actually an archaeologist. A link to his article debunking Holand’s rune stone theory can be found here.
I also include a short video below. A young woman posed a question about myths. She joked that her grandmother was very excited about her coming to see my presentation until she heard the title. She asked about how people cope when they learn that their myths are proven to be false. Here’s my answer…
From left to right: Nate Wright, Katie Oxx, Dave Krueger, Jim McIntire, and Jon Pahl.
For an author, it is always gratifying when someone reads your book carefully and takes the time to prepare a thoughtful response. Last week, Myths of the Rune Stone, was featured in a forum dedicated to the theme of American myths. Two historians, a sociologist, and a theologian delivered outstanding presentations on the relevance of the book for reflecting on important dimensions of U.S. history, religion, and culture.
The “Why Myths Matter” forum is the second in a two-year series of forums dedicated to the theme of American myths. It was held on February 24, 2016 at the Arch Street UMC in Philadelphia PA. Click hereto view information on the entire series. Speakers are listed below along with a guide to navigate the podcast. You can fast forward using the the arrow keys on your keyboard. I hope you enjoy it!
1:00 – Welcome and short reflection by Rev. Robin Hynicka – Jeremiah 10
6:18 – Speaker introductions and overview of the book Myths of the Rune Stone – author David M. Krueger
24:50 – Dr. Jon Paul – Lutheran Theological Seminary – What about the role of fantasy and playfulness in the rune stone story? References to novelists Ole Rolvaag and Louise Erdrich.
33:00 – Dr. Nathan Wright – Bryn Mawr College – Despite the dangers of myth to exclude and dominate, they are necessary for societies to function. References to Durkheim, Bellah, and other sociologists.
45:50 – Dr. Katie Oxx – St. Joseph’s University – The ways that Catholics negotiate American identity. A comparison of the “Pope stone” and the “rune stone.” References to “new materialism.” How do material artifacts act on us?
54:00 – Rev. Jim McIntire – Havertown UMC – Myth fills a gap in public discourse. Conspiracy theorists like Scott Wolter profit handsomely from propagating myths. Reflections Joseph Campbell’s book on myths.
Why do people believe myths that have been disproven by science? What is the difference between history and myth? Why have Americans fought over stories about who was here first? What does Viking enthusiasm have to do with white supremacy? This event is a conversation with author David M. Krueger about his book Myths of the Rune Stone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America. Responding speakers include historian Jon Pahl, historian Katie Oxx, sociologist Nathan Wright, and Jim McIntire, a pastor and activist.
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 2016
7:00 — 8:30 PM
ARCH STREET UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
55 NORTH BROAD STREET
Whether or not you’ve read the book, all are welcome to attend and participate in the conversation. Copies will be available for sale at the event and can be signed by the author.
Your students will be mesmerized as they ponder the myriad cultural meanings of this controversial American artifact.
It’s not too late to add another book to your spring syllabus! Myths of the Rune Stone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of Americais a multi-disciplinary text and would make a useful addition to courses in U.S history, sociology, religious studies, American studies, and Native American studies. The book is intended to appeal to both undergraduate and graduate students. It is a highly readable, slim volume at 159 pages, but it contains an additional 34 pages of notes for those looking to dig deeper. Lecture notes, discussions questions, and other resources will soon be available on this website. Below are some suggestions for how to use the book in the classroom. Intersecting themes in the book include:
Myths: how they are created, adapted, propagated over time; mythic genre i.e. Christian nation, origin, blood sacrifice, homemaking, and more.
History: collective memory, popular challenges to dominant historiography, the quest for Europeans in pre-Columbian America
Sociology: how social groups use martyrdom narratives, scapegoat theory, identity formation
Religion: theories of religion via Bourdieu, Durkheim, Girard, Tweed, Eliade, Pahl, and others; sacred spaces and landscapes, local adaptations of American civil religion, Catholic American identity
Native Americans and Race: white appropriations of Native Americans, the construction of whiteness, the ongoing cultural impact of Minnesota’s Dakota War of 1862
Ethnicity: Scandinavian American identity, immigrant religion/history
Region: Midwestern/small town identities and regional tensions
Science:Anti-intellectualism, psuedoarchaeology, pseudo-history; why belief persists when science contradicts
How the book is organized…
The book is organized thematically and individual chapters could be useful if assigned on their own. Below is a guide to the themes and time periods unique to each chapter.
Introduction: A Holy Mission to Minnesota
Opens with a dramatic civic pageant held in 1962, illustrates the high point of Kensington Rune Stone belief.
Outlines a theoretical frame looking at the rune stone story
1. Westward from Vinland: An Immigrant Saga by Hjalmar Holand
Illuminates what Viking discovery narratives meant for immigrants from Sweden and Norway in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Shows how Hjalmar Holand used the rune stone to further his ethnic aims
2. Knutson’s Last Stand: Fabricating the First White Martyrs of the American West
Links the creation and interpretation of the runic inscription to the Dakota War of 1862.
Illustrates how Minnesotans used the rune stone story as a way to scapegoat Native Americans and justify the white conquest of the American frontier
3. In Defense of Main Street: The Kensington Rune Stone as a Midwestern Plymouth Rock
Shows hows Minnesotans used the rune stone to restore the cultural prestige of rural and small town life
Illustrates how the rune stone emerged as a sacred civic artifact starting in the 1920s
4. Our Lady of the Runestone and America’s Baptism with Catholic Blood
Demonstrates how Catholic leaders used the Scandinavian artifact to both fashion a Catholic American identity and proselytize Lutherans
5. Immortal Rock: Cold War Religion, Centennials, and the Return of the Skrælings
Dramatizes how Minnesotans defended the rune stone as a symbol of the Christian faith.
Places the rune stone narrative in the context of Cold War religion and the fear of secularization.
Conclusion: The Enduring Legacy of American Viking Myths
Connect With the Author!
I’m the guy without the historically-inaccurate Viking horns.
I live in Philadelphia but I can speak to your classroom via Skype or other video technologies. This past October, I spoke to a graduate history seminar at St. Cloud Sate University and also at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Minnesota. In April 2016, I’ll be speaking at the Minnesota Historical Society and I am available to for lectures and discussions groups in Minnesota. Please be in touch!
Last week, my family and I traveled to Minnesota for a combination book tour and vacation. Flying across the country with young kids is no easy feat, and it is important to make sure you have all the necessary supplies i.e. diapers, favorite toys, etc. I’m particularly grateful for the brick of wet wipes my wife stuffed in the diaper bag at the last minute. They came in handy cleaning up the mess from our one-year-old vomiting four times (yes, four times!) in the rented car seat. Although motion sickness is a common ailment afflicting my side of the family, I think it might have been exacerbated by an overindulgence of pizza and (slightly) expired birthday cake on the plane. The day ended a bit more smoothly than it began as my wife and I were able to attend my twentieth-year college reunion. It was great to see many old friends and I was honored to provide a copy of my book Myths of the Rune Stone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America as a reunion door prize.
Although I’ve lived in Philadelphia for most of twenty years, we make it a priority for our boys to spend time with their Krueger grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who still live in Minnesota. It is also good to be back on the farm where I grew up. I love watching the sun rise over the vast soybean field visible from my parent’s picture window. After spending some time Sunday and Monday with the relatives, my wife and I left the boys with my sister and traveled on Tuesday to St. Cloud, where I spoke to a group of students and faculty in the history department at St. Cloud State University. I was invited by Mary Lethert Wingerd, a well-respected historian of Minnesota who wrote a blurb for my book. She is teaching a seminar this semester on public history and wanted me to talk about the Kensington Rune Stone in terms of a civic monument that both commemorated the deaths of Minnesota’s pioneer settlers during the Dakota War of 1862 and legitimated white claims to a landscape once occupied by someone else. It was a great experience to talk with people who had actually read the book and engaged its ideas critically.
Students and faculty from from the history department at St. Cloud State University.
My wife and I enjoyed an evening at the St. John’s Abbey Guest House. It is relaxing and peaceful environment and the location of a number my writing retreats in the past. In fact, my chapter on the Catholic interest in Viking origin myths was written, in part, on the St. John’s University campus. On this visit, I serendipitously met the granddaughter of one of the rune stone enthusiasts I had written about in the book. I apologized in advance if she took offense to what I said about her late grandmother. As historians, we often think we are safe writing about people who are dead, but we have to remember that we still may have to contend with their descendants!
On Wednesday, we ventured down to St. Paul where my first stop was to have coffee with one of the peer reviewers of my manuscript, Jon Butler, a former Yale University professor and perhaps one of the most recognizable names in the field of American religious history. It was great to swap stories about our experiences of growing up in rural Minnesota. Both of our fathers were farmers! After talking with Jon, we made our way to the Amsterdam Bar and Hall for a quick dinner and then proceeded to Subtext Books for my scheduled book talk. In addition to many book store patrons, several of my high school friends showed up as well. We had a robust conversation about the role that myths play in human life and what the rune stone story reveals about the anxieties, aspirations, and values of Minnesotans. [Podcast forthcoming].
While my friends gathered for drinks after the book talk, my wife and I made the two-hour trek back to Alexandria to relieve my sister of child care duty. She got to enjoy an abundance of “auntie time” with her two active nephews and I think she was finally ready to get some rest! First thing on Thursday morning, I made my way to the KXRA radio station for a live interview on a popular local talk show. That evening, I spoke at a book event sponsored by the Douglas County Historical Society. It was held at a senior living facility and was attended by a very eclectic crowd: a combination of die-hard rune stone enthusiasts, local historians, public school teachers, clergy members, former high school classmates, members of my family, and other concerned citizens who wanted to know what this hometown boy was going to say about the town he left behind. Many of the questions centered on the authenticity of the Kensington Rune Stone rather than the cultural phenomenon enveloping it. If you listen to the recording, you can hear one Viking enthusiast pelting me with questions. He later told me that through a divination ritual known as dowsing, he had discerned the exact names and burial locations of the Norsemen he claimed had visited Minnesota in 1362. Despite the digressions into pseudoscience, I was impressed that so many locals were willing to think critically about an origin myth that has defined the community for decades.
Although I enjoyed many of the parts of the book tour, I think my favorite events took place on Friday. I left early in the morning for a long drive to Minneapolis where I was interviewed by philosopher Peter Shea for a cable access TV show called “Bat of Minerva” (a Hegelian reference). The hour-long interview is scheduled to air on a future Sunday morning at 12 am. If Minnesotans are not already asleep by that time, it is quite likely that this rather slow-paced interview with me will help them get there. Following the interview, I gave a lecture on my book at the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota. If you watch the video below, you will hear some really great questions posed by graduate students, faculty, and other scholars interested in multidisciplinary research. We had a great conversations about the distinctions between history and myth, and the relationship between religion and science. I’m especially grateful that Jeanne H. Kilde, chair of the religion department, and several prominent historians who were in attendance.
Finally, in the video, you will notice an attendee who posed several questions about why I do not consider the Kensington Rune Stone to be authentic. That person is none other than Scott Wolter, a History Channel celebrity and host of America Unearthed. Wolter is surely the most well-known and controversial figures in the rune stone story. His research methods have been criticized by many in the scientific community, including one of his former research partners. Yet, his fantastic theories about the Knights of Templar traversing the North American wilderness in the fourteenth century have piqued the interest of millions of Americans who yearn to imagine a pre-Columbian America populated by more than just Indians. You’ll have to read my book to learn more about my thoughts on the tradition of myth making in American history.
The event at the U of M was the last of my book tour for the week and I dedicated Saturday to family activities before we headed to the airport on Sunday morning. It’s a good thing we brought along extra wipes for the return trip, because, as you probably guessed, an affliction of motion sickness struck again. I couldn’t have been happier to return the car seat to the rental company. There is only so much cleaning one can do with wet wipes.
I stayed up really late for this live interview. It was past midnight in Philly! However, it was well worth it. Al was very generous with his time. I had been promised 15 minutes, but he had me stay on for the whole hour. If you listen to start of the second hour of his program, it becomes clearer that Al is sympathetic to the arguments of those who still claim the rune stone is authentic.
Al Malmberg show description: “It’s a show fit for the “Station That Serves A Nation.” WCCO’s Al Malmberg brings late-night listeners fun, engaging and interactive talk with a Minnesota twist, weeknights from 11 p.m.-2 a.m. on NewsRadio 830 WCCO!”