Big Ole – Alexandria, Minnesota - Atlas Obscura

Big Ole

America's largest viking stands in a Minnesota city that believes it was visited by the ancient nords. 


Across the street from Minnesota’s equally enigmatic Runestone Museum, the giant viking statue known as Big Ole stands as a reminder of the locally beloved (and likely erroneous) belief that nordic explorers came to the area in the 1300s.

Big Ole was built in 1965 as an attraction for the New York World’s Fair. The completed titan stood 28 feet tall and bore a shield emblazoned with the words, “Alexandria, Birthplace of America.” After the fair was over the off-model Thor was shipped to Alexandria, Minnesota where he was installed on a little traffic island. In 1898 a rune-covered stone was discovered in a nearby township, causing a bit of an archeological stir in its day. By 1910 the runestone was declared a fake, but by then the locals had embraced the legend of their viking visitors.

As part of this strange regional identity, Big Ole was a hit when he was erected, but he has had anything but an easy life. Since being posted up in Alexandria the viking giant has been shot with flaming arrows, disarmed by vandals, and knocked down by the wind. However each time he is damaged, the city comes to his aid, providing repairs. 

Today Big Ole has been moved to face the Runestone Museum which holds an oddly eclectic collection of exhibits, including the forged rock that inspired him in the first place.

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