Imagine Weston as home to 10,000 Vikings

Norumbega tower

The Norumbega tower. See it larger.


When you're rich, people listen to you. And you get to build monuments to wacky ideas with no proof behind them.

You can see proof of that at the far end of the Commonwealth Avenue mall, where a Romanicized version of Leif Erikson forever peers towards the Charles River and the Common - and in a small byway off River Road and South Street in Weston, at the Waltham line, where an odd stone tower in a small clearing marks the spot where Leif Erikson founded a city that lasted 350 years and at one time had a population of 10,000 people.

At least, according to Eben Horsford, a Harvard chemistry professor who became rich by inventing a new kind of baking powder, one that not only worked far better than older versions, but which was stable enough to be carried on the long voyages of a population expanding westward.

Rumford adAn ad for Horsford's Rumford baking powder. See it larger. From the BPL.

Before he quit Harvard to enjoy his riches, Horsford was part of a Cambridge social set that included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Thomas Appelton, who believed in a theory that the Vikings had visited and settled the New World long before that Italian upstart - so much so they hired a sculptor to build a statue in Leif Erikson's honor on the Commonwealth Avenue mall, only to be quashed by the potentates at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, who didn't buy the theory at all, according to an account by the Needham Historical Society.

Once liberated from Harvard, Horsford did extensive research and dug up quite a bit of land in his pursuit of the idea. Eventually, he declared he had proof that Erikson himself had lived in a house at what is now the intersection of Mt. Auburn Street and Fresh Pond Parkway in Cambridge.

But that was only the start for Horsford. In 1889, he declared that a quiet spot on Charles at the Waltham/Weston line was the site of Norumbega, the fabled city of Vikings. He built a tower there, which stands to this day.

At the base of the tower is a large plaque:

It starts by declaring that "Norumbega" was the best the natives could do at pronouncing "Norvega," the old name for Norway. It goes on to list all the things Horsford claimed he could see - even if nobody else could - including "Norse canals, dams, walls, pavements, forts, terraced places of assembly" along the river between the tower site and Watertown.

And, the plaque proclaims, Norumbega lasted from its founding in 1000 until "the latest Norse ship returned to Iceland in 1347."

Only problem, as the folks over in Needham note, no garbage: Archaeologists have never found any refuse at all - unlike at a site in Newfoundland, where uncovered garbage piles provided the proof that Vikings had actually landed there - let alone proof of canals, dams, walls, etc.

Today, it can be a little difficult to visit the tower - there are no official parking spaces near it, although there are a couple of grassy patches where one could pull off into. The tower has stairs going to the top inside, although the main passageway is blocked off by a gate, locked with a chain - a chain that is loose enough that the skinnier among us can pull the gate open just enough to squeeze in (such people should bring a flashlight, though - it gets dark in there, or so we hear):

Norumbega tower inside



Free tagging: 


The Waspy Tower Fetish Here

By on an endless hoot.

It's like some yankee counterpart to the southern Ivanhoe fetish Twain Lambasted in "A Connecticut Yankee'.

Somerville has its stone turret overlooking Union Square. Another is tucked away in an odd little West Medford Park. Mount Auburn has a fairly imposing keep over on the hill and some other form lurks in distant Duxbury.

Towers are up there with weapons as prized photo finds for me. There's a huge tank stashed in South Easton in addition to the one left to remember Patton up in Hamilton.

And there are strange towers in Lynn and Eastie that I haven't fathomed yet.


Really WASPy

By on

Read the Needham paper - it goes into an explanation of why 19th-century Brahminish types preferred the idea of Nordic explorers finding the New World before that swarthy Italian guy, to the point of having the final Erickson statue showing him more as a Roman nobleman (a bit ironic there) rather than the bearskin-clad murdering huckster he really was.



By on

Yes. It's of a piece with all the wasp crackpot racial theories from the late 19th century that later "inspired" Hitler. Good old Harvard.

It is really funny to think that mercantile oligarchs dream up crazy awful ridiculous shit no matter if it's Henry Ford, this dingbat or the new crap crop of sucky Koch's and that Adelson idiot banging his shoe like some uncouth dried cod hawker.

Donald Trump..also too!


Guess the anti-Koch stuff is

By on

Guess the anti-Koch stuff is obligatory in these parts these days. Way to go /sarcasm


Crackpot theories

Maybe inhaling too much baking powder makes you delirious.

The idea that the Norse had a settlement in the Boston area is absurd on the face of it. The idea that the Norse settle here depends on the idea that the settlement in Newfoundland was large and prosperous enough to create satellites further away from the main areas of Norse settlement. It's almost as far from Newfoundland to Boston as it is from Greenland to Newfoundland. But the settlement in Newfoundland was small, brief, and failed. It took centuries to even find a trace of it. If any Norse died farther south in this continent, they did so without a trace - and definitely without a city.

The most fascinating thing about the mythology of Norse settlement in America is the huge number of eye-crossingly improbable hoaxes it has produced. Heavener, Oklahoma? Really?


Aah someone who might explain.

By on

I saw it again today as I was covering the walk from Constitution Beach to Maverick.

It is on the Orient Heights hill and gold. I had my 250mm today and got a better look at it.

I'm guessing some religion. Aah, looked it up sorta.

A Brazilian shrine. From Constitution Beach it looks like a tower.

When I last roamed East Boston, there was still a scene at the Cardinals Nest.

The sculptor was a man who

By on

The sculptor was a man who was concealed by the Don Oriones during WWII and protected him from the Nazis. In return, he built them the statue.

It's not a Brazilian Shrine

By on

It's not a "Brazilian Shrine", it's the Don Orione Madonna Queen. It's been there since the 50s. From what I gather, the original plan was to place the giant statue of the Madonna atop the tower, but it interfered with planes coming into Logan Airport. For years in the 60s and 70s, the statue stood in front of the Don Orione nursing home and the tower just sat there doing nothing. Now the statue is attached to the tower and looks like it's sort of floating in the air. The whole thing is something of a landmark.

There's also that giant lit up cross at the tip of Orient Avenue on the hill that can be seen from Route 1. I'm not sure what that's all about. It has been there since the 60s at least.


The tower in East Boston is

By on

The tower in East Boston is part of the shrine of the Madonna, Queen of the Universe, built by the Don Orione fathers beginning in the 1950s. It's well worth a visit, partly because the whole place feels as if it dropped in whole from one of Rome's postwar suburbs, but also because it has great views over the airport and harbor. The shrine itself has a gi-normous statue of the Virgin, quite possibly the largest sculpture in town.


I noticed..

By on

when I looked it up.

I'm indifferent to sky god nonsense so our lady of the sunken bathtub stuff goes right by me.

Seen from the beach, the gold and glitz are enough to make you wonder if there is some Gold Calf or something in a box up there with strange sacrifice rituals and entrail readings.

Seriously, buddy

Just because you have no idea what it was and everyone else does, doesn't mean you have to act as if you're "above" it all. Seriously, it's just a statue -- so why all the pretentious snark?


Elmer, you're the best...

By on

I'm too old, fat and lazy to wheeze up a hill for a side show investigation.

I was way down on the beach a mere sand sliver in the corner of yet another killer photo set you so graciously share.

It certainly does pass the 'visually interesting' test.


Where is the West Medford park tower?

Can you give us more specific location?

(I assume this is not Wright's Tower in the Fells, nor the tower next to the Mystic River in MacDonald Park near Station Landing, because neither of those are West Medford)

It is called Hastings Park.

By on

I centered Google maps for you.

I played there with the Duffy kids in the early 1960s when Frankie Fontaine lived in the vicinity.

Amelia Earheart lived in the area too and knew my aunt Blanche.

My father grew up in West Medford

By on

...a few blocks away from that tower in a house on the northeast corner of Wolcott and High Streets. He once told me a story about the time when at about ten years old he and a friend climbed into an open window of the tower (which are now sealed) and then climbed to the top (the using a ladder, the interior stairs were either long gone or greatly deteriorated at that time in the early 1950s), but found that they had no way out, so they had to scuttle down the exterior (he claims from the top, but I have my doubts).


Vikings in New England

By on

It's very interesting, and the Newport tower is one of many places supporting theories of where the Vikings landed and what the "Vinland" they were referring to really was. Most notable is the story that Viking armor and a sword was found in a tomb on Rainsford island in Boston Harbor, thought to be the remains of Thorvad, son of Erik the Red. Like Newport tower, Dighton rock is another possible sight, but from what I have read, historians and archeologists think both of these sites are less likely to be Viking. We do know that they had a confirmed settlement in Newfoundland called l'anse aux meadows.


Maps and stuff

By on

Adam, thanks for posting this and visiting the tower! I became instantly fascinated by this whole story a few years ago after encountering a couple of curious street names (e.g., Norumbega Street) in Cambridge. Also, don't forget there is a small stone monument to the supposed Viking landing at the Mt. Auburn / Fresh Pond intersection you mentioned.

Anyway, just wanted to link to some of Horsford's maps and things that I dug up at local libraries and online a while back. Ignore the text because it mostly summarizes the Needham Historical Society thing, but I hope some of the images and other references will be of interest to some people.


Thingvalla Street!

By on

Thanks for that link! I'd never heard of Thingvalla Street before, but I think that's my new favorite street name.

Of course, let's not forget that other homage to Horsford - Norumbega Park on the other side of the Charles, where the Marriott is now.

There is a Norumbega Castle

By on

There is a Norumbega Castle in Camden Maine; it is now a B&B. Also Bangor Maine has a Norumbega Hall. This is because Norumbega was thought be some people to be near the Penobscot River not the Charles River.


Maine was Massachusetts until the Missouri Compromise.

By on

So you have place myths from that angle too.

There was a plaque along the Charles near the Arsenal that refers to the Treaty of Watertown, an essential document to define early Maine that was negotiated with Native Americans in Watertown.

It may still be there if brass looters haven't carted it off for scrap.

And the Northern Counties will be ours again.....

By on

after I execute on my diabolical plan for re-annexation - whoooohhhhhhhhhahaaaahahah!!!

(I'll save you the next post - "and I would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for you UHubber kids and your stupid dog!!!")


Be careful not to roll back

By on

Be careful not to roll back too much history, or we'd lose Martha's Vineyard to New York.

Count Rumford and the Appletons... whee!

By on

Rumford was from Woburn but went back to the old country, hence Count.

The Appletons seem to be one of the ancient yankee oligarch families and had an extensive farm up in Hamilton that now belongs to the Trustees of Reservations.

They were founders of Harvard and when the old library was torn down in the early 1900s to make way for Widener,some of the finials ended up on Appletons farm.

They look strange up there. Stark things amid a pastoral setting.

So we have a pasty white people cult system centered around vikings to diss the swarthier sorts.

Sounds about right.

My fellow wasps can be a handful when they get a belly full of crackpot.

It's even worse when they are billionaires on a mission to restore feudalism.

You'd think they'd just sit back and flog some puppies or something but nooooo.


Very cool! Thanks for that link.

By on

I spent about 20 minutes reading the online version. Some great stuff there. I'm going to download and read the whole thing.

The relevant section quoted above is on page 66, btw.


Also too.. Sudbury Aqueduct in Wellesley

By on part of a trail system called the Charles River Link Trail.

It goes from the footbridge next to Arthur T Gregorians in Newton Lower Falls to a meeting with the Bay Circuit Trail in Medfield.

There are two castle keep style structures to support the aqueduct. It's like a pattern.

The Longfellow Bridge Viking motif, the baking powder mogul, the remote control inventor in Gloucester with his castle, the Fuller Family at Mount Auburn.

These things are generally of a period as if the old wasp overlords felt a need to go all Ivanhoe on the immigrant hordes of the early 20th century.

It's strange to see it all rehashed with even dumber arguments in the 21st, only a different cast of pots calling out kettles.