Alexandria, MN Part I: Runestone Museum
It was a relatively short travel day from the campground at Jackpot Junction Casino to our next destination in Minnesota. Still, Margery had time to make these observations about the southwest quadrant of Minnesota as we drove into the state:
1. There is lots of beautiful, rolling-prairie farmland.
2. There are corn fields for as far as the eye can see, but knee high by the 4th of July will not happen this year - one foot high is more like it.
3. The land of 10,000 lakes had many more in cornfields.
4. John Deere dealers are everywhere.
5. There are more Dairy Queens here than in Louisiana.
6. The vast majority of homes and farms are meticulously maintained.
7. We saw no mobile home parks.
8. Many, many homes had RVs parked on the property.
9. There are numerous small towns (under 500) that have grain elevators as their major structure.
We had an uneventful drive of about 2½ hours, and we arrived at Lazy Days Campground in Miltona, MN shortly after noon. Miltona is a small town about 30 minutes north of Alexandria, MN; and the campground is about 5 miles outside town, so it is really out in the sticks.
Lazy Days has very large sites, some of which are pull-throughs. The sites have full hookups - some with 30 amps, and some with 50 amps. The sites with 50 amps have only 50 amps. There is also free Wi-fi. The next photo shows our pull-through site at Lazy Days Campground.
And the next photo is a view of some of the sites behind us. The campground was about half full when we arrived on the weekend.
In addition to a heated pool, Lazy Days has lots for kids to do. There is a playground, a BMX bicycle dirt track, they had a wagon with some hay bales on it hooked up to a golf cart for hay rides, and their lawn mower was hooked to a train made out of plastic barrels.
The campground was nice and quiet. There was no interstate noise, and we only heard a few, fairly distant trains.
After relaxing Sunday afternoon watching the NASCAR race, we headed into Alexandria on Monday. Our first stop was the Runestone Museum, which is the home of the mysterious Kensington Runestone. On our way into the museum, we had to stop for a tourist photo with Big Ole, which is a 28-foor fiberglass statue of a Viking. The statue was made for the 1964-65 New York Worlds Fair.
Everyone always wonders what Scotsmen wear under their kilts, and Paul was also curious about what Vikings wear under their little skirts. Now he knows.
When we stopped in the museum gift shop to pay our admission, Paul couldn't resist trying on a Viking helmet.
The Kensington Runestone is a gray stone about 36 inches long, 16 inches wide, and about 6 inches thick that contains runic inscriptions on the face and on one side.
The next photo was taken from a slide show at the museum and has better lighting to show the runic lettering more clearly.
The runic alphabet was used by Germanic people, which includes Scandinavians, from about 100 AD until they adopted the Latin alphabet around 1100 AD. Many Nordic hunters and adventurers set up stones with runic inscriptions as a way of saying, "I was here." About 3,000 of them have been found in Scandinavia.
In 1898, Olof Ohman supposedly found the flat stone entangled in the roots of a tree he was clearing from his farm near Kensington, Minnesota, which is about 15 miles southwest of Alexandria.
The translation of the inscription tells the story about 6 Goths and 22 Norwegians who were on an expedition from Newfoundland to the west. The stone is dated 1362. If authentic, the stone suggests Scandinavians were in Minnesota 130 years before Columbus landed in the New World.
The stone has been a source of controversy since it was first discovered. Experts were quick to label the stone a hoax, but others who studied it declared it was quite possibly authentic. Studies indicate weathering of the inscription is consistent with an age of about 500 years. Another argument in favor of authenticity is the fact Olof Ohman wasn't well enough educated to have known about the runic alphabet to have accurately created a fake stone.
It is widely accepted that Vikings had landed in Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland around 1000 AD, but how did Viking explorers make it all the way to inland Minnesota? Some say they sailed through Hudson Strait to the north of Newfoundland and then south through Hudson Bay. There are several rivers and there are many, many lakes that lie in depressions created by glaciers during the Ice Age. A couple of wet years could have linked many of the lakes together, especially during the spring thaw.
In one location along the route, there are three boulders with triangular holes cut into the rock that are identical to holes in Norway that were created by chisels rather than drills. The holes were used to fasten anchor pins for boats.
Several relics such as the axe head below and an iron striker (right rear) that was used to create sparks for fire starting have been found in Minnesota. These implements are the same as Norse implements of the 1300s found in Scandinavia. These relics have not been found anyhere else in North America indicating they were probably not brought by immigrant settlers.
There are still many nay-sayers who maintain the stone is fake, but there is also a lot of evidence that says it could be real. It's an interesting debate that will probably never be settled.
The Runestone Museum also has several other exhibits relating to Minnesota history. In addition to an exhibit of Native American artifacts, they also have a display of animals and birds of Minnesota.
The Runestone Museum has another room with several exhibits that depict life in Minnesota in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Outside the museum is a reconstruction of Fort Alexandria. We'll tell you about the fort in our next post.