Friday, April 12, 2013

Boston's Leif Erikson statue

I have driven by this statue hundreds of times since moving to Boston, and always in passing I say, "ooooh pretty Viking lady, I need to stop sometime and see it." Well, finally it has happened, one year later. Turns out this lady isn't a lady after all, but a statue of Leif Erikson, Viking explorer.

According to historic sources, in the year 985 a Norseman was thrown off course in a storm and sighted a new continent west of Greenland. Fifteen years later, Leif Erikson explored the continent several times and named the land 'Vinland' due to the abundance of grapes.

In the 1880's, a local Massachusetts professor believed that he had found the remainder of Norse settlements in Massachusetts. The excitement was shared by many, including sculptor, Anne Whitney. In 1887 her statue of Leif Erikson was completed and placed on Commonwealth Avenue.

More interested that "Vinland" was indeed Boston, was Eben N. Horsford. He was an American scientist best known for his interest in Viking settlement in North America and his reformulation of baking powder. Horsford had a theory that Erikson sailed through Boston Harbor, up the Charles River to Cambridge. The Longfellow Bridge over the river is also adorned with Viking ships, referring to the hypothetical voyage.

Contrary to the believers, the first Norse settlement was found in Newfoundland, Canada in the 1960's. All that has been found in the United States is a coin, discovered in Maine. Although the statue is grounded in inaccurate research from centuries past, it is still a reminder of Boston's interest in the Vikings in the 1880's.


  1. I would have thought more Scandinavians immigrated to Boston, the way they settled in cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, and Seattle. For all I know the Scandinavian presence in Boston might be just as big, even if smaller than say the Irish presence. Still, it's cool that they have some trace of Viking/Nordic culture here, between the Leif statue, the longboats engraved into the Longfellow bridge, and any other features.

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