Tag Archives: history

The headless norsemen

I’m low on ideas tonight, so I’ll just pass on the most recent big discovery in Viking studies.

Last summer, a collection of skeletons were excavated at Weymouth, in Dorsetshire in England. They had clearly died violently, and were judged to be victims of a mass execution. The bones were determined to be about a thousand years old

At the time of the news I suggested, on the Viking discussion board I frequent, that the bones were probably those of Vikings. My reason was that we know of only one attempt at genocide in England during the period in question, and that was King Æthelred the Unrede’s massacre of Danes in England, on St. Brice’s Day in 1002. (You’ll know about this if you’ve read West Oversea. You have read it, haven’t you? If not, click on the yellow cover in the carousel to the right. I’ll wait.)

I am so rarely right that I feel I need to preen a little here. According to National Geographic:

Analysis of teeth from ten of the dead—who were mostly in their late teens and early 20s—indicates the raiding party had been gathered from different parts of Scandinavia, including one person thought to have come from north of the Arctic Circle.

I think some Viking enthusiasts are a little embarrassed by this news, as it casts the Norse as victims. This in spite of the fact that many recent books have in fact openly portrayed the Norse as victims (of those nasty Christians).

I, on the other hand, have tried to dispute that victimization meme in my own writing.

But of course anyone can be a victim under certain circumstances. Hell hath no fury like a bunch of villagers who get the upper hand on a raiding party.

And the St. Brice’s Day Massacre is an undisputed historical fact.

More as the story develops.

Or not.

Crossing the Lines by Richard Doster

Sports reporter Jack Hall didn’t see any problem with black athletes, especially if they were good, but he didn’t want his friends to think he was chummy with them or any Negro person. That would be crossing the line. His friends felt the same way. Playing baseball was fine. It’s not like those people were sitting in the same classroom or dancing with our children.

And Jack and Rose Marie Hall had a personal interest in avoiding desegregation issues. In the previous year, 1954, their home had been bombed by someone who didn’t like Jack’s public stand in favor of the Negro player on the local team. Now, the Halls have moved to Atlanta, and Jack’s new boss, Ralph McGill, wants to look into the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott inspired by Rosa Parks. Jack is the only reporter at a meeting of community leaders who choose then-unknown-preacher Martin L. King to lead the boycott. That frontline position gets King’s house bombed within a few months, and the Halls feel a new link to a family they would rather not befriend.

Crossing the Lines is loaded with historical detail, even some casual references from the characters which are not explained to the reader. It lead me to wonder if certain characters I took as wholly fictional creations were actually based on living people. Continue reading Crossing the Lines by Richard Doster

Thanksgiving Links

Thomas J. Craughwell writes, “If Only the Pilgrims Had Been Italian.”

When the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts in 1620, lobsters were so common all you had to do was stroll down to the nearest tidal pool and pluck them out by the bushel. But the Pilgrims wanted meat, not fish — not even fish as succulent as lobster. Very quickly familiarity bred contempt: The better class of colonists scorned the crustacean as suitable only for the poor. In his journal for the year 1622, William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth colony, recorded the landing of a boatload of new colonists from England. Their arrival was a thrilling event, yet Bradford confessed that he and his fellow Plymouth residents were humiliated that they had nothing better to offer the newcomers than lobster.

Also on The American Spectator, Jay D. Homnick riffs on Georgia’s prayer for rain. “Pray today, give thanks tomorrow. Remember also that prayer is not only a means to an end, as Maimonides explains, it must catalyze each of us into reflecting upon our priorities,” he writes.

“God said, I am tired of kings, / I suffer them no more;” Emerson has an interesting poem here, Boston Hymn.

Gaius writes about the Pilgrims early attempts to live communally. This appears to be within the first seven years of their landing in America. According to what I’m reading, the pilgrims’ voyage was funding by London investors who required they work for them for seven years doing whatever profitable work they could find. At the end of those years, the survivors would receive a small share of the profits, but everything belonged to “the common fund” or that of the investors. Even the clothes they wore were owned technically by the men in London. Perhaps that’s why the colony started with a communal attitude.

Now, a little holiday advice: If you start feeling like this little guy, throw out your inhibitions and do something different. Take that walk. Eat that brussel sprout. Whatever you don’t normally do, do it. (Cute warning alert)

River Rising by Athol Dickson

I put River Rising in my Amazon cart while buying some other books—homeschool material I think—saying to myself I should buy a good book like this one, fun to spend money on myself, buy something good to read as though I didn’t have other good books on the shelf to read—books I bought for friends or family and never wrapped up or all those Graham Greene books I bought for $0.99 each and failed to read the rest of that summer as I had planned. So I bought River Rising, and when it came, I put it neatly on the shelf. It’s wonderful to have a new potential read smiling down on me from a line of other potential reads.

I tell myself I should read more and blog less. I say it with a weak voice from behind my gullet, which regularly questions my motives and actions. When I read, it asks if I shouldn’t be writing; when I write, it asks if I shouldn’t be reading or gardening or cleaning, parenting, diapering, fixing, or working on something more profitable than writing what-is-it-again. Moments of clarity or passion prevail at times, of course, or you wouldn’t know me in these words.

I didn’t have a newborn at the time I bought the book. She’s four months old, and the book was acquired a several months ago. I didn’t have her then, so I didn’t have to hold her gassy tummy and wiggly arms. She’s such a precious thing, spit-up and all, and there’s a patch of spit-up cheese on the carpet there, sweet wife, if you would grab a towel while you’re up. I didn’t have the princess tiny when I bought River Rising, so I didn’t have that delay on reading it. Continue reading River Rising by Athol Dickson

Lars Walker, down the mean streets

I picked Cousin Trygve up at the airport on Friday afternoon. I took him home to Blithering Heights (“Is this Mrs. Hermanson?” he asked when he saw my car. Probably the only time that’ll ever happen). He gave me Sissel Kyrkjebø’s latest CD as a gift, and I played it while we got acquainted. We settled into a language system—he spoke English to me, and I spoke Norwegian to him. It seemed to work out best for both of us that way.

On Saturday morning, not too early, I drove him down to Kenyon, to show him the grave of Martha Swelland, my great-grandmother and the half-sister of his great-grandfather (I think I’ve got that right. I lose track). I also showed him the farm where the Swellands had lived, along with the farm where I grew up, which is just next door. I took him through Monkey Valley, the inspiration for Troll Valley in my novel Wolf Time, and the original, long-abandoned town site of Epsom (also prominent in Wolf Time).

Here’s the mystery he’s hunting: My great-great-grandmother, Mari Olsdatter, the mother of Martha Swelland, had a child out of wedlock before marrying Haldor Syverson, my g-g-grandfather. When they and their children emigrated to America in 1881, they brought that child along. He was a young man by then, and his name was Ole Nielsen.

This Ole Nielsen had fathered an out-of-wedlock child himself before emigrating. This child grew up and lived his life in Norway, and he was the ancestor of Cousin Trygve. Cousin Trygve made contact with me on the basis of the story of Lars Swelland, which I told on this blog a while back. I was the first relative on that side he’d ever been able to find in America.

His quest is to find out what happened to Ole Nielsen over here. Nobody in Norway ever heard what became of him. Nobody in my family seems to know either. So I wanted to do what I could to try to help him in that. But I wasn’t very hopeful. Asking questions, as I’ve said more than once, is not my strong suit.

On Sunday I took him down to Zumbrota, Minnesota to meet Cousin Dorothy. Cousin Dorothy is my dad’s first cousin, a Swelland by birth. She’d told me over the phone that she didn’t know much, but was happy to have us come down for lunch.

Dorothy and her husband gave us a lovely lunch in their pleasant house. In the manner of all Great Detectives, I did my best to draw her out, priming the pump with my own memories of my grandmother (her aunt) and others in the family.

Finally she said, “You know, you ought to go to the Severson Reunion. They hold a reunion down in Iowa every year! I think I’ve got the invitation around here somewhere.”

Bingo. The Seversons were precisely the family we were trying to make contact with. Dorothy couldn’t find the invitation, but she gave me the name and address of the man who sent it. Turns out he’s actively involved with the Vesterheim Norwegian Immigration Museum in Decorah, Iowa (where I’ll be traveling for the Nordic Fest this coming weekend).

A relative who organizes family reunions and is involved in the immigration museum. I think it’s just possible he may be able to help us.

Who says Avoidants can’t be great sleuths?

Unfortunately, our resource guy doesn’t seem to be at home right now. I’m awaiting his call-back. I drove Trygve up to Fergus Falls today and passed him off to some relatives on the other side of his family.

But I’m feeling pretty Sherlockian today. I’m debating whether to start smoking a pipe, or to adopt the more socially acceptable habit of mainlining cocaine.

from “America the Beautiful” by Katharine Lee Bates

As a precursor to tomorrow’s national holiday, let me repeat the lesser verses of “America the Beautiful” by Katharine Lee Bates (1859–1929):

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,

Those stern, impassioned stress

A thoroughfare for freedom beat

Across the wilderness!

America! America!

God mend thine every flaw,

Confirm thy soul in self-control,

Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved

In liberating strife

Who more than self their country loved,

And mercy more than life!

America! America!

May God thy gold refine,

Till all success be nobleness,

And every gain divine.