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Echo Press Editorial: In defense of Big Ole

Last week, a letter writer from Bloomington blasted the Big Ole Viking statue and anyone that has a connection to it for “damaging” the community and the historical record.

The writer said that Big Ole should not be used to promote the museum or the Kensington Runestone because if the stone was, in fact, carved in 1362, the carvers wouldn’t have been Vikings since the Viking Age ended hundreds of years before then, in about 1050 A.D.

The writer said conjoining the statue and the stone was a “big mistake” and suggested moving the stone far away from Big Ole.

Here’s what we say: Lighten up.

We’re talking about a 28-foot-high Fiberglas statue of a man with a yellow beard wearing some sort of tunic and a winged helmet, holding a sword and a shield proclaiming Alexandria as the birthplace of America. The statue, which was originally built for the World’s Fair in New York in 1965, is a proud piece of the local area’s history, not a historically correct Smithsonian exhibit.

Big Ole is fun, whimsical and offers an immediate connection for those with Scandinavian roots. (And around these parts, that’s a lot of people.) They see a Viking, think Norway and smile. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll even stop in at the Runestone Museum and look a little closer into this Alexandria-Norway connection and the tantalizing possibility, backed by more and more evidence, that Scandinavian explorers, Goths, Templars or some other group left a record of their journey to America more than 100 years before Columbus set sail.

The statue has helped put the area on the map. Big Ole is listed as a top roadside attraction in books and websites. The popular vacation guide, tripadvisor.com, describes Big Ole as a “symbol of Minnesota’s Nordic pride.”

Yes, the statue may seem kitschy, a bit quirky, but people like him. You don’t have to hang around Big Ole Central Park too long before you see someone stop and take a picture of the lovable landmark.

So instead of shunning Big Ole as the Bloomington letter writer suggests, we should be glad we have him and glad that he’s piquing some interest in the local museum and its historical artifacts.

Big Ole, as landmark symbol of the community, doesn’t stand alone. Bemidji has its Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, and those two are making headlines everywhere these days for helping promote Minnesota’s new online health insurance marketplace. Bemidji is also soaking up plenty of fun publicity in the process. As Mayor Rita Albrecht noted in a letter to the Star Tribune last Friday, the Bemidji community treasures its local icons that stand proudly in the heart of their city; the town’s identity is bound up tightly with them.

It’s the same thing here with Big Ole. He should stand tall for many generations to come, as a proud reminder of the area’s Scandinavian roots and its fascinating history.

(Echo Press editorials are written by the Echo Press Editorial Board, which includes Publisher Jody Hanson, Editor Al Edenloff and Reporter Crystal Dey.) 

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