Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Vikings in Boston

When I was sailing on the Charles River during college, I occasionally wondered why the Longfellow Bridge between Boston and Cambridge had Viking ships on it:

A little research reveals that the answer has a strange connection with baking powder. Eben Horsfeld revolutionized bread-making in the 1890s when he developed Rumford's Baking Powder. Inspired by a Norwegian superstar and nationalist and a mysterious stone, he became convinced that the Viking Lief Ericson had landed in Cambridge, which he called Norumbega, and funded monuments and research to that effect. The Boston elite, threatened by new Irish immigrants, quickly seized on this concept, since it showed that the cleaned-up Viking, and not Catholic Columbus, had first settled their sacred city. A century later, it was discovered that the Vikings did reach America first, though never Boston.

Statue of Leif Erikson, erected in 1887, on Commonwealth Avenue

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