(An Unknown Boston Newspaper)
While the Hampton, N H, tercentenary celebration committee has been making every effort to gain possession of the site of "Thorvald's Tombstone," far away in Prosser, Washington, an expert translator of Norse Runic writing has deciphered the inscription on the rock.
The inscription says nothing of Thorvald, a brother of Leif Ericsson, who was believed to have been buried at the spot. Instead, a new name, 'Bui," appears in the history of the Norse exploration of America.
Almost as curious as the markings on the rock is the singular chain of events which made possible their deciphering. William B. Goodwin, of Hartford, Conn., whose work in restoring the stone village at Salem, N. H., has been publicized recently, became acquainted with Olaf Strandwold, superintendent of schools in Prosser, Washington, on a western trip. In the course of their discussions, Goodwin described the services of Malcolm D. Pearson of Upton and Harry Cheney of Hopkinton, who had been invaluable to him in his restoration of the stone village at Salem.
In 1936, when Strandwold became interested in the Hampton rock through his reading of it in the annals of the Smithsonian Institute, he commissioned Pearson and Cheney to attempt to rediscover it. They uncovered the rock after a careful search, and, thinking the marks on it man-made, took photographs of it with the grooves chalked.
These photographs by Pearson, and others which he later took, were so expertly done that Strandwold had little difficulty in translating the inscription. The delay in translating was caused by the miscarriage of the photographs.
Not A Gravestone
According to Strandwold, whose forthcoming book will contain a detailed analysis of the rock writing at Hampton as well as many others on the Atlantic seaboard, the crosses found on the stone do not indicate that it was a gravestone. He suspects that the crosses may set the date, since they were used by the Norse after the year 1000.
Other markings closely connected with these crosses seem to set the date at 1043.
The Runic system employed on the Hampton rock is one of the most familiar used by the Norsemen. It is a composite of regular runes and "secret" runes.
The complete sentence engraved upon Hampton rock says, simply, "BUI REIS STEIN," or, "Bui inscribes stone." "Bui," as used on the stone, is the nominative case of a prominent Norse name.
Other, more eroded portions of the rock, seem to be chiseled out in some sort of picture, probably that of a cave.
The popular belief that the Hampton stone is Thorvald's headstone arose originally from the linking of a somewhat tenuous knowledge of the Icelandic sagas with the crosses on the rock. In the year 1000, Leif Ericsson left Iceland with a few companions, sailed south and landed upon what is calculated to be New England.
In one of the sagas there is told of a skirmish with the Indians in which Thorvald was killed. He told the rest of the company before he died to place one cross at his head and another at his feet.
These crosses we now know are not those on the Hampton Rock, which may lend validity to the theory that Thorwald was killed at Yarmouth, Mass., and which may cause the Hampton tercentenary committee to regret its eagerness in casting a tablet for erection at the Norseman's grave.
Coveted By The Town
Recent attention to the stone has been caused by the efforts of Peason and Cheney, and such interest has been taken that the owner of the land on which it is located, Mrs. Frances Keheley of Exeter, fears that the town may exercise the power of eminent domain if she decides not to sell.
The town authorities may charge that in permitting rubbish to be dumped on the rock, Mrs. Keheley has desecrated a spot of great historic significance and therefore does not deserve to own it.
Mrs. Keheley holds, however, that the dumping of rubbish on the rock has been largely the activity of neighbors. She has erected a "No Trespassing" sign in an ineffectual attempt to discourage the general impression that her lot is a public dump.
Strangely enough, the periodic revival of interest in the rock has always been accompanied by widespread blind belief that its markings are of Norse origin. No proof has ever before been submitted.
The efforts of Strandwold, Pearson and Cheney have established as fact the Norse exploration of the Atlantic seaboard around the year 1000. They have added a new name to the history of Norse exploration in America.
And they have made it possible for the Hampton tercentenary committee to negotiate for the purchase of the stone with some idea of the nature of the object which it has previously been eager to buy in the dark.