Did Vikings set foot and build a settlement in Minnesota in the 1300s, long before Christopher Columbus arrived in America? Many Minnesotans believe so, and this has inspired the creation of one of the state’s more unusual and beloved attractions.
On a roadside in Alexandria, MN, stands a 28-foot-tall statue of a Viking that has been named Big Ole. Along with a sword and an unmistakably Viking helmet, Big Ole also carries a shield, clearly imprinted with the words: “ALEXANDRIA BIRTHPLACE OF AMERICA”.
Vikings in Minnesota?
The reason for Big Ole’s presence and the inscription on his shield date back to 1898. In a nearby town, a stone was discovered imprinted with what appeared to be runes. Rune stones were created by Viking expeditions in the Middle Ages, etched with the names of those who took part in the expeditions.
It’s easy to see how the locals got excited, thinking that Vikings had once upon a time visited their part of the world. The discovery was made by a Swedish immigrant named Olof Ohman, who then spread the word about the Vikings’ visit in the 12th century, citing the rune stone as evidence. It has since become local folklore that the visit happened in 1362, some 100 years before Columbus’s arrival.
Unfortunately, in 1910, the rune stone was found to be a fake. Nonetheless, the romance of the story stuck with the locals and the tale lives on to this day.
Big Ole’s Birth
Big Ole was originally constructed in 1965 by artist Gordon Shumaker, and was a huge hit with Minnesotans. The fiberglass sculpture was made for the New York World’s Fair, and was originally erected at the north end of Broadway where he struck a dominant figure over the skyline. After the fair, he was given a new home in Alexandria, and in 2012, he was moved to his present location just a couple of blocks down from his original home, facing the Runestone Museum.
While Big Ole have stolen the hearts of many, not everyone has been so kind to him. In 1967, he was set alight after being shot with a flaming arrow. At the time he was dressed in a giant Santa suit, which caught fire and caused the fiberglass structure to go up in flames. In 1996, it was the elements that got the better of Ole as a freak storm blew him over. The collapse of a nearby roof then crushed one of his legs.
Big Ole has managed to overcome all these through extensive repairs done each time he was damaged. In 2015, the city raised $26,000 to repair the cracks found on his fiberglass body.
The Runestone Museum
The Runestone Museum facing Big Ole is one of the top places to visit in Minnesota. Showcasing Minnesota’s Scandinavian heritage, the museum boasts a forty-foot Viking trading ship replica, as well as forty other artifacts related to the Vikings and their expeditions.
One piece the museum is particularly proud of is a middle-aged Nordic fire steel, a tool the Vikings used to start fires, which was found in the region. It is thought to be the only one in North America. Perhaps the most interesting item on exhibit is the original “rune stone” that started off the folklore surrounding the Viking’s 14th century visit to the state.
In addition to the Viking exhibits, the museum also displays artifacts that commemorate the area’s very own – and very American – history. On the museum grounds is a replica of Fort Alexandria, a military fort commissioned in 1862 to protect settlers from the Dakota Indian uprising. Nine original buildings that made up the fort were moved here, including a general store, a school house, a log cabin, a blacksmith shop, and more. The “fort” gives visitors a glimpse of what life was like in Alexandria in that era. It can be visited between April 1 and October 31.
In addition to the exhibits, the museum also holds activities for kids where they can make Viking shields, dress up as Vikings, and play Viking games. The activities help them learn more about these Nordic explorers and their bold expeditions.
Perhaps best of all, visitors get to see Big Ole himself overlooking the entrance of the museum right across the street. Have a photo with the beloved Viking giant is one of the most fun things to do in Minnesota.
As with the other towns and cities in West Central Minnosata, Alexandria, MN is full of surprises that make it a wonderful place to call home. Learn more about your real estate options in the area. Get in touch with us here or call us at 320.589.2159 today.