Kensington Rune Stone Park is steeped in controversy. Believers have namesaked their businesses after the rock that bears an inscription depicting the travels of Norse explorers from the 1300s. Skeptics have dismissed the runic relic as a hoax. Others are still searching for the true meaning of the story literally etched in stone.
Perhaps ironically, modern-day local researchers have discovered what they believe to be fact behind the fiction with a scientifically unproven method - witching.
Farmers in the area have used water witching, also called water dowsing, to locate ground water for centuries. Seniors at the Kensington Community Center recalled their parents and grandparents using the practice on their land years ago.
Kensington resident Ralph Gunderson has been studying the story at Rune Stone Park most of his life and has added witching sticks to his arsenal.
Gunderson picked up the technique about 10 years ago from Leland Pederson who had documented finds at the site. Gunderson said Gil Moe was also instrumental in discoveries.
The men believe they've mapped out the camp where early Norwegian and Swedish explorers lived down to their sleeping quarters and where they used to clean fish. One interesting find, Gunderson said, is that the fish were cod - salt water fish.
Gunderson said the triangular holes in the large rocks at the park, believed to be mooring stones, are more likely territorial markings or locator holes because one faces where the water line would have been and another is atop where an island would have been located. Had a boat mooring been affixed facing the water, a strong wind could have freed it, Gunderson said.
So, how did Gunderson and his comrades come to find this "evidence?" By asking the right questions.
Witching is done by holding the end of a divination stick and letting it point you in the right direction. Questions can be asked aloud, with a visual aid or in your mind.
Sticks, also called rods, are either Y or L-shaped and can be made of any material. Gunderson's are welding rods he bought at FleetFarm and bent over a broom handle in a vice.
Commonly, branches from trees are used. In Europe hazel is favored; in the U.S., witch-hazel. Willow and peach wood are also often chosen. One of the Kensington seniors said she saw water found with a wire clothes hanger.
Gunderson rubs the end of the stick on a sensor board, a sheet of paper with printed words, for some queries. Others he uses what is around him. For instance, at the Kensington cemetery, he approached the grave of a married couple. He touched her name and the stick pointed to her plot. After touching the man's name, the stick pointed toward Brainerd where he now resides.
Another test revealed the site of a well 27 feet from the marker at the top of the hill at Kensington Rune Stone Park. "Why would the men need a well if they were surrounded by fresh water?" Gunderson asked.
Historically, witching has been used to not only find ground water but to locate metals and ores, oil, gravesites, gem stones and even ley lines. In 1518, Martin Luther dubbed the practice a commandment breaker and in 1662 Jesuit Gaspar Schott called it "rather satanic."
The practice was used as recently as 1986 in an Norway in attempt to locate soldiers buried in an avalanche. In the 1960s, U.S. Marines reportedly used dowsing to locate weapons and tunnels during the Vietnam War.
Scientific tests have been conducted concluding that the effectiveness of witching is none more than chance. Were that true, wouldn't there be more dry wells drilled? Possibly. Gunderson said he is a true believer.
"I'm not going to prove I'm right, but you've got to prove me wrong," Gunderson said. "Go out and see for yourself."
Crystal Dey Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota's Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter at @CrystalDey_Echo.