Viking Headstone or Big Old Rock?

Return to Thorvald's Table of Contents

Legend Lives of Ancient Norseman's Link to Hampton

By Sean Murphy, Staff Writer

Hampton Union - Friday, October 2, 1998

At first glance, the rock on display at the Tuck [Memorial] Museum doesn't look like anything special. It's several feet around, looks mighty heavy and, if you found it in the woods, you might think it was just any other rock.

But decades of local lore and more than one ghost story have drawn plenty of attention to this not-so-common stone, and there's no sign of the interest abating.

According to information pieced together from historical records, magazine articles and old stories, this stone just may have been the headstone for the grave of none other than Thorvald Ericsson, brother of the famous Viking explorer Leif Ericsson and son of Eric the Red.

Proof of this contention is, at best, sketchy, but enough seeming substantiation exists to keep the legend -- and the stories -- alive.

According to a 1974 article in "New Hampshire Profiles," Leif Ericsson is credited with landing in the New World more than 450 years before Columbus arrived in the late 1400s. Thorvald also traveled to North America, and despite common misconceptions that the Norsemen only explored some of the southern Canadian provinces, enough artifacts have been found in the United States to suggest they occasionally ventured further south.

Verifying any of this is extremely difficult, since the Vikings made their historic trips around the turn of the first millennium. Even bones and other human remains that may have been buried here are hard to find, let alone trace back to European origins.

Still, the large stone here in Hampton is referred to as Thorvald's Rock or the Viking Stone, and legends persist.

According to the article, what is known about Thorvald's death is that it occurred in 1003 after a battle with local natives, one of whom mortally wounded Thorvald with an arrow.

No one, however, is completely sure where this battle took place. Ancient Norse sagas describe scenes that, locals say, are uncannily similar in topography to areas in Hampton, such as Great Boar's Head, according to an account by William D. Cram in the Hampton Tercentenary Program in 1938 .

As for the stone itself, the Hampton town history written by Peter Randall indicated it resided on the Lamprey family's property as far back as 1875, when it was first noticed, according to Charles M. Lamprey's writings in Hampton Union in 1902. The ownership of the property, Lamprey said, goes back to before 1672.

The rock remained on the property for years, at the corner of, not surprisingly, Ash and Thorwald streets, according to former Winnacunnet High School history teacher Harold Fernald.

There is no writing on the stone like there are in today's cemeteries, but there are several scratches that are clearly not natural. According to the history, local historians regard the scratches as runic, or made by the Norsemen. Many different translations have been offered up, ranging from epitaphs to a simple scratching of Thorvald's name and date of death.

Still other experts claim that the markings are not runic at all. According to the 1974 article, an organization calling itself "No Discoveries Before Columbus," actually went as far as to threaten to steal the stone.

Fernald has been studying the stone for years, and said it may not be the great Viking's head stone, but one cannot rule out the runic origins of the markings, either.

Fernald said it's possible the markings were, in fact, a kind of Viking graffiti. perhaps a "Kilroy Was Here" kind of territorial marking.

Fernald said many experts over the years have sought to find proof of the claim that the Tuck rock is the explorer's gravestone. All, he said, have failed.

Well, "failed" is perhaps too strong a word.

They can't say it is and they can't say it isn't," he said.

The persisting indecision doesn't stop Viking lore fanatics from making their own pilgrimages to Hampton, however. According to the article and Tuck Museum Coordinator Betty Moore, many history and Viking buffs have come to see the stone, and even chip off pieces of it as souvenirs. Because of this, the stone was moved to the museum's property and placed In a protective display.

Scholars and buffs are not the only Viking-related "visitors" either. According to the "Profles" article, some have reported seeing a "bearded and helmeted figure" wandering in the area where the stone was first discovered.

The idea that ghosts haunt an area is based on the theory that this phenomenon occurs due to a wrong that has not been righted. Since Thorvald was not set afire in a flaming long-boat, as is common for Viking funerals, some have reported seeing two ghostly long-boats offshore, one towing the other, smaller boat. The story of the reappearing ships is, passed around by word of mouth, despite the historical account that the dying Thorvald demanded to be buried on land, and that his followers obeyed his wishes.

Whether one believes in ghosts, or that the stone is really what many say it is, doesn't appear to matter. One thing is for sure: This legend is never going to die, even if it has been almost 1,000 years since the legendary Viking died.

Return to Thorvald's Table of Contents