Leif Eriksson Was Here: Boston’s Vinland
Once upon a time the great Norse explorer, Leif Eriksson, plundered his way up the Charles River to swanky Weston, Massachusetts where he then proceeded to disembark from his fierce dragon-prowed longship and initiate the first European colonization of North America. Only it wasn’t that great since the effort failed after a few short years and the native skraelings chased all the Norse men and women back to the icy wastes of Greenland. And also, it happened in Newfoundland, not Massachusetts. But that didn’t stop a bunch of stuffy old guys from proclaiming otherwise back in the late 1800s.
One of the main culprits who promulgated this phenomenon was Eben Norton Horsford, a chemist to whom I devoted a Heroes of Norse Proliferation posting during the not-so-glorious autumn of ‘014. The graphic icon above and the images below are all depictions of the tower and its associated plaques that he had erected in 1889 on the spot along the Weston/Waltham border where he thought Leif Eriksson had done the whole Vinland thing, only Horsford was also convinced that the settlement was known as Norumbega, a long-forgotten fabled city known to early European explorers. Horsford thought Norumbega was a corruption of Norway/North-Way/Norvega.
Many other wild and crazy Boston brahmins got on the Norse bandwagon during this era since it was considered anti-Irish to do so and therefore high-fashion since they were basically a bunch of dirty rat bastards, but thanks to them we now also have Leif Eriksson hanging out on Commonwealth Avenue, Viking ships on the Longfellow Bridge, and a highly degraded rune stone next to Mt. Auburn Hospital. Unfortunately, they’ve all pretty much become disavowed; they’ve essentially been forgotten, and most people just don’t care. The prevailing attitude seems to be: “Why would I want to go admire Leif Eriksson’s local memorial when I could go to Walmart instead? I hear they’re rolling back prices on poorly-made, child-labored Chinese goods that I don’t need again.” Nonetheless, they still serve as a pleasant reminder of great Norse accomplishments (as well as some interesting local history), and it is in this vein that I believe they should be appreciated. So, to that effect, I have compiled some of my own photos and basic location information here.
And lastly, at the bottom of this page, I’ve also provided links to other sites that have more detailed information. One of the links even contains information about Viking monuments outside of New England for those of you that may be feeling underprivileged right about now (of course, that’s not an issue for anyone living in Scandinavia).
Norumbega Viking Tower in Weston, Massachusetts
Cool stone tower situated on Norumbega Road in Weston devoted to the legendary North American Viking settlement.
This faded runic carving reads: “This tower was erected by Eben Norton Horsford A.D. 1889”
For those of you who live nearby and might be interested in checking out the notorious Norumbega Tower in person, I have compiled the following aerial maps to help show you where it is (also, google maps recognizes “Norumbega Tower, Norumbega Road, Weston, MA 02493” to help you find your way).
Leif Eriksson statue in Boston, Massachusetts
Leif looks more like a Roman or Greek than a Norseman here, but at the time this was meant as a compliment. The statue exudes pomp and splendor at the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and Charlesgate East.
Supposed site of Leif Eriksson’s house in Cambridge, Massachusetts
A stone slab erroneously marks the spot of Leif’s house at the intersection of Memorial Drive and Gerry’s Landing Road in front of Mt. Auburn Hospital.
Looking at the Charles from the spot of Leif’s “former” home.
Cambridge Skating Club
Home to the Cambridge Skating Club, this building is clearly modeled after Norse architecture. Located at 40 Willard Street.
As you can see in the close-ups, those red things sticking out near the top are the 3D equivalent of cartoon dragon heads.
Here’s a view of the Longfellow Bridge with Boston in the background. The stone facade features romanticized Viking ships. It’s named the Longfellow Bridge after Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who used to live in the area and liked Vikings so much that he wrote this poem, among others.
And here’s a closeup of one of the bridge’s longships. It’s not a very good photo. Sorry.
Viking Tower in Newport, Rhode Island
So this one’s a little further afield than those listed above, but it’s still totally relevant. It’s not every day that you come into contact with what could have been, but wasn’t, a genuine Viking stone tower…unless you live near Touro Park in Newport or Norumbega Road in Weston, Mass.
Look at that.
This is a close up of the appropriate text on the placard at Touro Park, where the tower is located in Newport.
Very informative article on the history of the Leif Eriksson memorials and Norumbega Tower from the Needham Historical Society in Massachusetts. Also covers Norse peculiarities of Dighton Rock, Longfellow Bridge, Boston Board of Trade building, and Harvard University’s Weld Boat House.
Great page by local New England Viking enthusiasts that covers the Leif Eriksson memorials, as well as Thorvald’s Rock, Dighton Rock, and the Viking Tower in Newport, Rhode Island. Also features an alternate explanation of Norumbega.
A jolly, good fellow by the name of Peter van der Krogt has compiled an extensive list (with photos) of all the Leif Eriksson monuments around the world. Good, educational fun.
Bottom portion of this Smithsonian page contains information about and a photo of the Norse coin that was found in Maine.
And if you know of any New England Viking sites not mentioned here, let me know and I will add them! I’ll also update this site with more photos whenever I am able to pay my respects at the historical sites that I have not yet visited.
Lastly, check out the new webshop for Scandinavian Aggression T-shirts, including one featuring the Norumbega graphic at the top of this posting. The back of the shirt looks something like this: