In hindsight, it’s easy to see that the mistake happened because I wanted the story to be true.
It was just too good of a story.
I still remember when the student told me what she’d learned about the Leif Ericsson statue that stands on the shore of Lake Superior here in Duluth.
The statue is historically inaccurate, she sold me: Ericsson’s helmet has horns on it. And that’s wrong.
The Vikings never had horns on their helmets.
The reporter had met a man who said he was the president-elect of the Icelandic American Association of Minnesota. He told her that all the representations of Vikings helmets with horns – including the logo on the helmet of the Minnesota football team – are historically incorrect.
I was giddy. This, I told her, is your story. As the faculty adviser for the student-run online community news publication, I was already envisioning the giant photo of the statue, the headline and the story about an inaccuracy in a statue in our community. We’d beat the local paper and lead the community discussion.
And we did lead the discussion, though, not exactly in the way I envisioned. And that is why now it’s time – well past time, actually – to update the story.
Because, you see, the statue doesn’t have horns on it. It has wings.
The reporter did a fantastic job. The story didn’t just rely on the comments from our local expert. She talked to the director of the Center for Medieval Studies in Minneapolis. She went back into the proceedings of the city council from 1956 when the statue was erected. She found a 1974 article in the Duluth News Tribune talking about the designer of the statue. She even included a slideshow of Leif Ericsson statues from around the world.
But what we didn’t really do well enough was just look at the helmet.
But our readers did. One of them was Peter Spooner, a member of the Duluth Public Arts Commission.
And then, more recently, another comment appeared at the bottom of the story also noting that the statue clearly had wings on it and not horns. This comment was made by someone claiming to be a descendant of John Karl Daniels, the man who designed the sculpture.
After reading this most recent post I decided we had to revisit this story.
I called back Stefan Guttormsson to ask him about the horns that were really feathers. He told me that he had actually never read the finished article and had wondered himself what had been written. I sent him a link and he looked it over and also read the comments pointing out the error.
“They were right,” he agreed. “I guess it did had wings on it.”
Guttormsson, who is a member of the board of directors of the Nordic Center in Duluth, said the reporter had done an excellent job with the story and had really gotten to the key issue he was trying to make — that, overall, people have a misconception about what the helmets of the Vikings really looked like.
Viking helmets never had no horns, and, of course never had wings, either. The perception that Viking warriors had winged helmets and horned helmets likely came from artists and writers in the 19th century who were taking a bit of artistic license in their work.
So, now we’re correcting the story. Or, maybe we’re just continuing the discussion.
Editor's note: John Hatcher is the faculty adviser for Lake Voice and an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth.