The rock star of Alexandria

  • Article by: BILL WARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 16, 2011 - 6:26 PM

Relic of the Vikings or ruse of a local? Either way, the Kensington Runestone fascinates.

Curious and controversial Kensington Runestone.

Photo: , Minnesota Tourist Bureau

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We had journeyed to Alexandria to check out the Kensington Runestone, and my wife walked right past it.

"Uhh, darlin' ...," I said, beckoning her back.

"Oh, I guess that is it," she noted after inspecting the drab slab.

The Runestone Museum contains some eye-grabbing items -- on Norse history, American Indian life and Minnesota's natural history -- but the main attraction is truly unremarkable in appearance, especially for something that has engendered so much controversy.

Unearthed in 1898 by farmer Olof Öhman near the town of Kensington, 15 miles west of Alexandria, the inscriptions on the 202-pound piece of greywacke suggest that Norse explorers had left it there in 1362.

Since its discovery, hundreds of experts have examined the runestone, many calling it a fake. That hasn't stopped Alexandria from declaring itself "Birthplace of America" on a shield borne by the 28-foot Big Ole statue across the street from the museum.

Authentic or not, the stone's history, depicted in a video at the museum, is fascinating. Just don't expect employees to vouch for its veracity.

"The rock is real," gift shop manager LuWanna Hintermeister said. "The rest is all what you want to think."

Oh c'mon, you can do better than that ...

"Well, I have a picture of my grandfather with Mr. Öhman," Hintermeister said, "and Grandpa didn't hang out with the dark side of the county."

  • IF YOU GO

    The Runestone Museum is open daily in summer. Admission is $6. (206 Broadway, Alexandria; www.rune stonemuseum.org; 1-320-763-3160).

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