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They Weren’t No Dumb Clucks

July 2024
1min read

Why on earth would a band of seafaring Vikings have traveled all the way to Minnesota in the heart of North America in 1362? The notion that they did may seem absurd, but ever since the turn of the century many people have argued learnedly that it happened. They have based their claim largely on the Kensington Rune Stone, a flat rock incised with medieval Norse symbols that was allegedly discovered in 1898on the Kensington, Minnesota, farm of a Swedish-American settler named Olaf Ohman.

Despite inconclusive studies and tests of the stone and its inscription, most serious scholars long ago decided that it was almost certainly a hoax, and they identified the likely culprits as Ohman himself, who had a resentment against bettereducated people, and Sven Fogelblad, a hard-drinking local schoolteacher and cynic. Now, a series of tape recordings made in 1967 and recently released by the Minnesota State Historical Society not only corroborate that belief, but expose a third participant in the hoax—John P. Gran, one of Ohman’s Scandinavian-born neighbors, who apparently also loved a good joke as much as he, too, despised educated folk.

The following selections from the tapes, published in the winter, 1976, issue of Minnesota History , illuminate the shenanigans of the trio. Describing the hoax were Walter Gran and Anna Josephine, the son and daughter of John P. Gran; the interviewer was Walter’s nephew:

NEPHEW : Did you ever know him [Fogelblad]?

WALTER : No, I didn’t get to know him, but Fogelblad, you see, was an outcasted minister from Sweden.… A regular drunkard. … But he was educated … well, he spoke seven languages, so you see he wasn’t no dumb cluck. … And then you know when hard times come … that’s when he used to come up here and stay with Ohman … he was the head man to lay out this inscription.…

ANNA : Wasn’t Papa and Ohman working together on the Larson place and while they were resting and having lunch, Mr. Ohman … carved out some script letters and he asked Papa if he knew what it meant?

WALTER : Oh yeah, he took out his jackknife and he was setting there and he carved some runic letters … and says now wouldn’t it be fun … to make some scripts that would bewilder the whole community and the people, he said, and especially them that was educated. He was mad at people who were really educated.

ANNA : Why, he had no use for them.

WALTER : … Well, anyway, you know for a good hoax like that, Dad’ was in for them tricks.…

NEPHEW : Well now, did Ohman ever admit that he did this?

WALTER : No, Ohman didn’t. Well, you see, then as time went on, Papa was getting older and older.… He brought up about the rune stone.… He says, you know it is false, he says.…

ANNA : You see, Papa was lefthanded … and Ohman was right-handed.

WALTER : You know I seen that sculpture had been examined and it said it had been two men working on that stone and because one was a left-handed and one a right-handed man. Well, that fitted in for Dad and Ohman, but then I thought, byGod it is something isn’t it?

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