Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Small Town Heavener, Oklahoma, Plans 'Viking Fair'

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Small Town Heavener, Oklahoma, Plans 'Viking Fair'

Article excerpt

The curious have come to Heavener for years to see an ancient rune-stone and wonder about the small Oklahoma town's mysterious connection to Vikings.

And just weeks ago, Marvel Comics released a new comic book series with much fanfare in which Thor, the mythic Norse god of thunder, planted his base of operations right outside of town for reasons related to the runes.

So it was about time to make the Vikings pay off, city officials said.

"It makes sense for us to try to capitalize on that," Heavener City Manager Michael Kennerson said of plans to create an annual town event as a Viking counterpart to popular medieval and Renaissance fairs. "Tourism would be very welcome. We're in the process of updating our comprehensive plan and that could play an important part."

Heavener, in Leflore County in far eastern Oklahoma, has a population of about 3,500 and a city budget of $1.3 million, not counting an $800,000 bond issue recently passed for infrastructure improvements. The community's largest employers are the Kansas City Southern Railway repair depot and OK Foods poultry processing plant.

But immediately outside the city limits is a 12-by-10-foot slab of stone with angular figures carved into the surface that attracts more than 120,000 visitors a year. The Heavener Runestone State Park, all 50 acres of it, was established around the stone itself, a park staff member said. The gift shop does pretty good business selling miniature copies of the stone and similar runic artifacts found in the area.

The original stone remains where it was found in the early 1800s, reportedly by local Choctaw Indians. The slab's eight engraved letters were first identified as Norse runes by historians at the Smithsonian Institute in 1923, although since then there has been no majority consensus on their translation. Only six of the eight characters appear to be true runes used by old Germanic tribes before the eighth century, historians say.

Theories of the stone's origin usually involve colonizers from Greenland or Norway who had wandered into pre-Oklahoma territory via the Mississippi River and its tributaries, a park spokeswoman said. …

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