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Myths of the Rune Stone

Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America

2015
Author:

David M. Krueger

Myths of the Rune Stone

Why the Kensington Rune Stone myth matters to American culture

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. 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.

David M. Krueger’s multi-faceted analysis of the ‘cult’ of the Kensington Rune Stone adds to recent scholarship on collective memory and the invention of identity. I know of no other study that so effectively traces change over time in both audience and allure of a foundational myth that allows it to persist despite almost universal scientific rejection.

Mary Lethert Wingerd, author of North Country: The Making of Minnesota

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 Stone offers an enlightening perspective on not just Minnesota but the United States as well.

Myths of the Rune Stone

David M. Krueger is a scholar and teacher with a PhD in religion from Temple University and a master’s degree from Princeton Theological Seminary.

Myths of the Rune Stone

David M. Krueger’s multi-faceted analysis of the ‘cult’ of the Kensington Rune Stone adds to recent scholarship on collective memory and the invention of identity. I know of no other study that so effectively traces change over time in both audience and allure of a foundational myth that allows it to persist despite almost universal scientific rejection.

Mary Lethert Wingerd, author of North Country: The Making of Minnesota

Myths of the Rune Stone moves far past the Rune Stone’s legitimacy to explain how and why the stone fascinated and even obsessed such a wide swath of Minnesota’s European-descended population. The heart of this book is the story it tells about the persistent renewal of the Rune Stone story across a century of doubt.

Jon Butler, Yale University

Highly entertaining.

Norwegian American Weekly

Krueger’s book is a thoughtful examination of the competing claims of Nordic-Americans, Catholics, Christian fundamentalists, and Minnesotans in general to turn the KRS into a foundational support for their various efforts to find a place atop the American social hierarchy. It is well worth the read and a rewarding reading experience.

Jason Colavito

Krueger digs deep into how its myth demonstrates a complicated relationship with history, heritage, and belief in Minnesota and America itself.

Minnesota Monthly

By tracing the evolution of the Rune Stone story, [Krueger] helps us to understand the needs and motivations that give rise to these myths. Perhaps these insights can help us to form sharper distinctions between historiography and myth-making.

Religion Dispatches

Myths of the Rune Stone

Contents

Preface
Introduction: A Holy Mission to Minnesota
1. Westward from Vinland: An Immigrant Saga by Hjalmar Holand
2. Knutson’s Last Stand: Fabricating the First White Martyrs of the American West
3. In Defense of Main Street: The Kensington Rune Stone as a Midwestern Plymouth Rock
4. Our Lady of the Runestone and America’s Baptism with Catholic Blood
5. Immortal Rock: Cold War Religion, Centennials, and the Return of the Skrælings
Conclusion: The Enduring Legacy of American Viking Myths
Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Myths of the Rune Stone

BOOK TRAILER

 

UMP blog: The Kensington Rune Stone Legend and the Catholic Church

The Kensington Rune Stone legend (so named for a nearby settlement at that time) is based on an inscribed stone that was unearthed from Swedish immigrant Olof Ohman's farm field in 1898.