Happy Leif Erikson Day!
Break out the horned helmets, because your new favorite Viking-themed holiday is upon us.
It’s Leif Erikson Day—which to some, is only an obscure reference to Spongebob Squarepants. But it’s also a day that should remind the city of Boston of its fake Viking heritage, because there once was a guy who told everyone that Leif Erikson landed in Massachusetts.
Eben Norton Horsford was a chemistry professor at Harvard in the late 1800s. He became rich after inventing double-acting baking powder, and was obsessed with convincing people that the original Bostonians were not the pilgrims, but rather the Vikings. So much, in fact, that he claimed to have located the lost Viking city of Norumbega on the banks of the Charles River.
To make all of this seem official, Horsford sank some of his fortune into erecting a statue for Leif Erikson on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall in 1887. He also established a granite plaque in Cambridge that supposedly marks the spot where Leif Erikson built his house in the year 1000— this spot was also conveniently a short walk from his home. While both of these places are perfect spots to celebrate Leif Erikson Day, let it be known that there has never been any proof that Leif Erikson, or any Viking, settled in the present day United States. The only real evidence of Vikings in North America comes from a 1960 archaeological dig that proved there was a Viking settlement in Newfoundland, Canada.
Erikson’s travels involved a venture to “Vinland,” which Horsford believed was present day Cape Cod. In another effort to persuade Bostonians that this was true, Horsford built a tower in Weston and dubbed it “Norumbega Tower.” The tower features a plaque declaring that Erikson landed on Cape Cod before discovering the Charles and starting the Norumbega settlement. He explained the spot where he built the tower was probably where Erikson settled because “Norumbega” was probably the Algonquin tribe’s word for “Norway,” and the area pretty much looked like descriptions he’d read in stories of Viking discovery.
Horsford wrote numerous books and articles about the Vikings’ ties to Massachusetts in addition to funding and building the statue, tower, and plaques. His work doesn’t seem to have any basis in factual evidence, but perhaps the invalidity of it all can be overlooked on a day like today.