Historicist: An Authentic Viking Hoax

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Historicist: An Authentic Viking Hoax

A zealous archaeologist, a cheeky prospector, and the ensuing debacle about whether the Beardmore Relics really came from Ontario.

Display of Viking weapons, including the Beardmore sword (at bottom) and axe head (at centre right) at the Royal Ontario Museum. Photo by Kevin Plummer / Torontoist.

Tucked in the European galleries on the third floor of the Royal Ontario Museum, there is a display of Viking weapons containing the head of a battle axe, and a sword, broken in two. There’s nothing particularly attention-grabbing about the items compared to some of the grander specimens nearby. And the accompanying captions offer only the barest of facts—their age, 900–1025 and 775–900 respectively, and their Norwegian origin. They look like any number of similar Norse antiquities you’d see in any other museum around the world.

But this particular axe head and sword—as well as a third artifact, a rattle—once occupied a place of pride in the ROM. Unearthed in northern Ontario, near Beardmore, the relics represented perhaps the province’s greatest historical discovery, offering tantalizing proof that at least one Viking, perhaps many more, had travelled into the heart of the continent 400 years before Columbus.

For nearly 20 years, the Beardmore Relics, were displayed prominently, in a glass case in a main gallery, where no visitor could miss them. Then, in late 1956, under a cloud of controversy, suddenly they were gone, removed to storage and rarely spoken of for decades. Were the ROM’s greatest treasures a deliberate hoax?

Everyone could agree the relics were authentic Norse artifacts. But had they really been discovered in Ontario? Or had they been planted? Could Dr. Charles Trick Currelly, the ROM’s founding curator and a man of sterling scholarly reputation, have been duped? Or had he, with a wink and a nod, embraced the dubious relics as a sure-fire way to gin attendance figures?

Royal Ontario Museum, east elevation, August 1935. From the City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 682.

“Any success I have had as an archaeologist has been due to the most amazing blind luck,” Currelly once admitted. “It is simply uncanny the way it followed me throughout my life.” A man of great ambition and energy, as founding director of the Royal Ontario Museum, Currelly had built the institution’s world-class collections through adventure and happenstance. A chance encounter with Sir Flinders Petrie in England led to Currelly, a one-time theology student and missionary, to join the famous archaeologist on one of his excursions to Egypt, a step towards establishing the nascent museum’s extensive Egyptian collection. Later, a coincidental meeting in a Toronto hotel with businessman George Crofts, returning to China via Toronto, led to the museum acquiring train-car loads of Chinese antiquities.

Luck seemed to shine again when, in 1936, a letter by O.C. Elliott, a Kingston high school teacher, landed on his desk. The letter described Viking artifacts that the amateur archaeologist had recently been allowed to closely examine in Port Arthur (Thunder Bay) by their owner, James Edward Dodd, a local part-time prospector who swore he’d pulled them from the ground roughly seven miles from Lake Nipigon.

The Beardmore Relics  From Hjalmar R  Holand's Westward From Vinland: An Account of Norse Discoveries and Explorations in America 982 1362 (Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1940)

The Beardmore Relics. From Hjalmar R. Holand’s Westward From Vinland: An Account of Norse Discoveries and Explorations in America 982-1362 (Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1940).

A few years earlier, Currelly had heard rumours of supposed Norse artifacts being shown around Port Arthur from Dr. E.M. Burwash, a provincial government geologist. But when Currelly’s letter received no reply from at the time, the curator put the thought out of mind. It seemed too farfetched that he’d find authentic Viking weapons—something he’d long wanted to acquire for the ROM—in northern Ontario.

Now, however, the sketch of the objects Elliott included with his letter erased any doubt in Currelly’s mind that the relics might be fakes. He immediately wrote Dodd asking him to come to Toronto: “If you can give or obtain proof that these were not planted there by some Norwegian or Swede in recent years, we will be willing to give you a very good price for them.”

On Dodd’s arrival, Currelly inspected the objects. There was a sword—broken into two 15-inch fragments—as well as an axe head and small bar of uncertain use. The latter, Currelly believed, was the handle of a shield, though analysis by subsequent scholars suggests that it was part of a rangel or rattle, which Vikings hung on sleighs or buried in graves as a means of warding off evil spirits.

The curator was confident in his ability to identify forgeries, as shown by several anecdotes in his autobiography about spotting fakes that had fooled even other museum professionals. So, by end of his examination, Currelly was certain Dodd’s artifacts were authentic, of Nordic origin, and dated to about 1000 A.D.

James E  Dodd's claim, site of the discovery of the Beardmore Relics  From Hjalmar R  Holand's Westward From Vinland: An Account of Norse Discoveries and Explorations in America 982 1362 (Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1940)

James E. Dodd’s claim, and discovery site of the Beardmore Relics. From Hjalmar R. Holand’s Westward From Vinland: An Account of Norse Discoveries and Explorations in America 982-1362 (Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1940).

Dodd then recounted how he’d discovered the weapons. Though a freight conductor by profession, Dodd spent much of his spare time prospecting for gold on a claim about three miles southwest of Beardmore, and about a quarter mile south of the Blackwater River. On May 24, 1931—Dodd was certain about the date—he used dynamite to get through a knot of tree roots, he explained, in order to explore a vein of quartz on his claim. When the dust settled, the blast had cleared more than three feet of surface material, exposing some rusted iron objects lying on a rock in the bottom of the trench. In trying to pry them out of the ground, he broke one of them, the sword, in two. Another, the small metal bar, was found under a group of fragments forming the shape of a bowl, which disintegrated when disturbed by Dodd.

Seeing no value in the rusted objects in his quest for precious metals, Dodd reported, he tossed them aside, where they lay on to the ground for some weeks or months (or longer) before he finally took them home to Port Arthur. Assuming them to be merely First Nations artifacts or corroded mining implements left by some previous prospector, Dodd showed the antiques off to friends. He repeatedly tried to sell them, asking only a modest sum, but found no takers. He made no efforts to contact scientific or archaeological authorities.

The first to suggest they might be of Norse origin was John Drew Jacob, a fisheries and game warden who poked around the local library upon seeing Dodd’s objects. After travelling to Dodd’s camp—where he swore he’d seen a sword-shaped rust impression on the rock—Jacob tried to contact the ROM. But the message never arrived, and Currelly didn’t hear about the relics until first Burwash and then Elliott contacted him a few years later.

(Left: Globe and Mail [November 23, 1956].)

Currelly was impressed by the railroader and his story, which dispelled the curator’s suspicions that the weapons had arrived from Europe in much more recent times. Currelly was unfazed that Dodd’s carelessness had broken the sword and destroyed the bowl-shaped object. In fact, in Currelly’s estimation, this added to the veracity of the guileless railroader’s account. How could Dodd, untrained in Norse antiquities, have so perfectly described a bowl-shaped shield boss, Currelly thought, unless events had indeed occurred as he’d described. After all, he wouldn’t be the first archaeologist to rely on the observations of untrained amateurs to interpret artifacts.

Currelly was excited by the prospect of securing authentic Viking artifacts for the museum. In 30 years of searching for Viking relics, Currelly had seen only a handful of swords offered for sale in London and New York, but never a full set of weapons one man would’ve possessed—as he believed lay before him. (If Dodd’s artifacts had reached Beardmore by way of First Nations traders, his reasoning went, then the items in the set would certainly have been separated. That the items had remained together suggested they’d been buried with their owner.)

Moreover, Currelly was eager to believe Dodd. The curator was a strong believer of the Kensington Stone, a rock etched with Norse runes found in Minnesota in 1898, but which, by 1936, had been widely characterized as a fake by the archaeological establishment. Dodd’s relics therefore represented, Currelly believed, concrete evidence that Viking explorations described in the Vinland Sagas were not limited to brief visits on the east coast, but included significant expeditions inland centuries before Columbus. History might be rewritten on the basis of an Ontario discovery, he must’ve thought to himself, and so the artifacts belonged in the provincial museum. That their presence would surely boost the museum’s attendance figures was a positive side effect.

(Right: Charles Trick Curelly [1876-1957]. Photo from the Smithsonian Institution Archives [90-105].)

On December 3, 1936, Currelly paid Dodd $500 for the relics—a sum he said he’d have been willing to pay for Viking relics at auction. The two agreed to keep the transaction quiet. Currelly, cautiously, wanted time for ROM officials to do the homework to prove (or disprove) Dodd’s story; and Dodd, who had debts, didn’t want word spreading of his newfound wealth.

While museum staff treated the artifacts for their preservation, within a few days Currelly began interviewing Dodd’s cronies and his own trusted informants in the north, including one he quotes in his autobiography as telling him, “There is one thing you may be positive about, those weapons came out of that hole.” Meanwhile, photos of the relics were sent to experts in northern Europe and elsewhere, who confirmed their authenticity (but refined details about their age).

(Left: Map of the Lake Nipigon district from C.T. Currelly, “Viking Weapons Found Near Beardmore, Ontario,” in Canadian Historical Review 20.1 [March 1939].)

In September 1937, Professor T.F. McIlwraith, Currelly’s assistant and later the head of archaeology at the University of Toronto, was sent to Beardmore to inspect Dodd’s claim. Although subsequent mining had altered the landscape, during McIlwraith’s visit, Dodd uncovered another iron fragment. McIlwraith started off as a skeptic, but was soon charmed by “Eddie”—as he came to affectionately call Dodd. Like Currelly, McIlwraith found it inconceivable that Dodd had the gumption to invent and maintain such an elaborate fiction. If he’d done that, they ruled, certainly he’d have tried to find a buyer offering a much higher price. Submitting his report, McIlwraith concluded: “I believe the facts to be substantially as reported by him.”

Despite Currelly’s attempts to keep the existence of the relics quiet until after the ROM concluded its investigation, Philip H. Godsell, arctic traveller and fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, leaked news of the find in a speech in Winnipeg on January 24, 1938. Splashed on front pages, news of the sensational discovery in northern Ontario—and its historical implications—spread fast.

Almost immediately, controversy arose when a Winnipeg newspaper published statements from Eli Ragotte, a CNR brakeman who’d formerly roomed in Dodd’s Port Arthur home, claiming that the relics had not been found at Dodd’s claim, but rather in the basement of Dodd’s rented house at 33 Machar Avenue. “And I ought to know,” Ragotte laughed, “for I was the man who actually discovered the rusty sword and dragged it from its resting place in a pile of clinkers.”

(Right: Globe and Mail [January 27, 1938].)

A few days later, J.M. Hansen (sometimes spelled Hanson), a contractor of Norwegian descent who’d been Dodd’s landlord in Port Arthur, came forward with his own version of events. Hansen told the Port Arthur News-Chronicle that he’d accepted a similar collection of antique Norse arms from a Norwegian, Jens Bloch, as collateral on a debt some years earlier. Drawn from Bloch’s father’s collection of antique weapons, the relics had been brought to Canada when Bloch immigrated in 1923. Hansen had left them in the basement of 33 Machar Avenue, he said, and alleged Dodd took them as his own when he moved to that address. Bloch had died a few years prior, so there was no one to corroborate Hansen’s story. A few of Bloch’s closest friends, however, asserted that the Norwegian had never spoken of owning antique weapons, let alone shown them to anyone.

Before the relics had even gone on public display, the ROM was already embroiled in a highly publicized controversy, with accusations flying that the relics had been planted by Dodd. Each witness, including Dodd, swore to their version in a notarized affidavit. Each, however, was unreliable in some way, mixing up dates and the address of the house, and sometimes contradicting their own earlier statements.

The Beardmore sword  From Paul Herrmann's Conquest By Man (Harper & Brothers, 1954)

The Beardmore sword. From Paul Herrmann’s Conquest By Man (Harper & Brothers, 1954).

Refusing to answer further questions from the press, Dodd tried to push the burden of defending the Beardmore Relics to Currelly. “I’m not telling anything. You’ll have to get in touch with the Ontario Museum,” he insisted. “I didn’t want to have anything in the papers at all.” Responding to the press, Currelly dismissed the controversy as “a case of one man’s word against another.” The curator emphasized that the authenticity of the artifacts wasn’t in doubt, only their place of discovery.

On February 3, 1939, Dodd swore to an affidavit that revised his earlier account—most notably by dating the discovery to May 24, 1930—and neatly undercut Ragotte and Hansen’s criticisms. Moreover, he produced at least three new witnesses to swear affidavits that they’d either been present at the time of the discovery—as his adopted son Walter attested—or that they’d seen the artifacts in Dodd’s possession well before he moved into 33 Machar Avenue. (Independently, Jacob had also revised the date of his activities to 1930 after consulting entries in his diary.)

Choosing to believe either Dodd or Hansen was “almost a matter of random preference rather than logic,” as a magazine writer later put it. If the discrepancies in Dodd’s account gave Currelly any misgivings, he didn’t betray them, holding fast to Dodd’s character against “the statements of a drunken brakeman and a cellar-owner of more than doubtful honesty.”

(Right: Globe and Mail [October 12, 1938].)

Ragotte and Hansen would both—eventually and separately—recant. Ragotte did so within months of coming forward, describing his statements as a practical joke. Hansen eventually examined the ROM’s artifacts in person and didn’t think they looked like “his”—although his description of his weapons matched what the ROM’s had looked like before undergoing preservation. (It’s been suggested that the Norwegian community in Port Arthur—who’d been such fanatical supporters of the inland Viking theory that they’d once wanted to erect a statue of Dodd’s Viking—were furious that Ragotte and Hansen had cast doubt on the authenticity. This might’ve had a cooling effect on Ragotte and Hansen’s willingness to press their cases.)

Meanwhile, up north, James Watson Curran, the 73-year-old owner of the Sault Ste. Marie Star, was leading an investigation of the Beardmore Relics along with Thunder Bay district judge Alexander J. McComber, and Dr. George E. Eakins, president of the local historical society. Over a period of weeks in September and October 1938, the three gathered sworn affidavits from all the key actors, including a few who hadn’t previously come forward. And, they visited Dodd’s claim where, by fortuitous chance, they witnessed recovery of another iron fragment. (Other than on Curran’s visit, and McIlwraith’s visit, Dodd had never found another artifact in the intervening years.)

At the exhaustive probe’s end, Curran concluded: “I accept Mr. Dodd as a truthful man, and so accept his story as true and exact. There is no question in my mind but that he found the Norse relics where he says he did.”

That was good enough for Currelly, who, in early October, issued a statement expressing unequivocal confidence in Dodd. “Any suggestion that these weapons—an axe, a sword and a shield grip—were buried by the finder, James Dodd, is ridiculous,” the director asserted.

(Left: Star (October 18, 1938).)

In early October 1938, the Beardmore Relics were put on public exhibition at the ROM, in a prominent display case, amongst other Norse artifacts of comparable vintage. The unveiling was met with great public fanfare, with the news being reported as far afield as Australia. Currelly penned a scholarly article for the Canadian Historical Review 20.1 (1939), staking his professional reputation to the authenticity of the discovery. The ROM director’s willingness to throw his institution’s reputation behind the Beardmore Relics gave the find far greater respectability than a part-time prospector ever could have achieved with his word alone.

Audiences were eager for lectures about the Viking warrior and his set of arms from Currelly, McIlwraith, and Curran. Soon descriptions of Vikings descending from Greenland through Hudson’s Bay some 400 years before Columbus filled numerous textbooks and popular volumes like Curran’s Here Was Vinland (1939), Paul Herrmann’s Conquest by Man (Harper, 1954) and Hjalmar Holand’s Westward from Vinland (Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1940).

(Right: The Beardmore axe head. From Paul Herrmann’s Conquest By Man [Harper & Brothers, 1954].)

Curran hoped that further archaeological explorations would reveal more Norse artifacts in the vicinity, and that the district around Beardmore could be opened up as “a historical shrine that may rival the Dionne quintuplets as a lure for the scientist and the general public.” Municipal officials in Fort William even planned a Viking-themed tourism campaign to lure visitors of Scandinavian descent.

Dodd hoped to sell his land to the federal government so a monument could be built, or officials could otherwise help make a “tourist mecca” out of his claim. “Lots of people would like to see the place where a Norseman died hundreds of years ago,” the prospector mused. “I know I’d pay a dollar to see a place like that anytime.”

When Dodd came to Toronto to see his relics on display at the museum shortly after their unveiling, he was greeted at Union Station by a crowd of reporters, photographers, and well-wishers. Gregarious and quick to make friends, the railroader soon won over the press, enlarging his already too-good-to-be-true tale with colourful, newspaper-ready quips. “My wife thought they were a lot of junk,” he laughed, “and she threw them out in the yard after they had been around the house for a while.” He added that, if someone had offered him “a couple packages of cigarettes” for the relics, he “would have handed them over like shot.”

On display for the next 18 years, the Beardmore Relics were among the ROM’s leading attractions. Many of Nordic descent made the pilgrimage to see the proof validating theories that their ancestors predated Columbus in the New World. More skeptical scholars, however, when visiting the display, were sometimes heard to scoff under their breaths: “Fake.”

Globe and Mail (January 28, 1938)

Globe and Mail (January 28, 1938).

For many in the scholarly establishment, the questions surrounding the validity of the Beardmore Relics had less to do with parsing the statements of Dodd or Hansen than with the physical evidence. A metallurgical specialist with the federal government argued that, given the rapid corrosion of iron seen at other nearby mining sites, the soil conditions around Beardmore would have entirely eroded an iron implement buried there for nine centuries. A European scholar identified the weapons as being the style found only in eastern Norway—not an area from which Viking explorers would have been drawn.

In an exhaustive rendering of all scientific and testimonial evidence, published in the Canadian Historical Review 22.3 (1941), Elliott pointed out all the discrepancies and implausibilities that Currelly had relied upon. The high school teacher accepted Hansen’s explanation because, he said, it had “fewer bewildering and contradictory circumstances than the Dodd story and is easier to believe as a logical explanation of the presence of Viking weapons in America.” Elliott even objected to the ROM’s exhibit caption card, which stated that a Viking had been buried on a portage route, because the nearest waterway to Dodd’s claim was an unnavigable stream. And he urged that the museum reword the caption “[t]o prevent any misunderstanding on the part of the public.”

In a rebuttal, printed in the same issue, Currelly brushed aside Elliott’s arguments and doubled-down on his endorsement of Dodd. There were numerous signed affidavits confirming Dodd’s possession of the weapons, he stressed, yet no one had testified to ever seeing the weapons in Hansen’s hands.

Personally and professionally invested in the Beardmore Relics, Currelly seemed diffident about discussing, let alone accepting, any new evidence or perspective that might cast the artifacts in a different light. He remained steadfast in his acceptance of Dodd’s find even when, not long after his retirement in 1946, ROM officials softened the wording of the caption to reflect a degree of uncertainty about their origin.

Globe and Mail (November 26, 1956)

Globe and Mail (November 26, 1956).

It was mostly just diehards like Holand, who still clung to the discredited Kensington Stone and Newport Tower as evidence of inland Vikings, that continued to invoke the Beardmore find. Few reputable scholars did and, even in the absence of irrefutable evidence to prove Dodd had not unearthed the artifacts, most thought caution to be the best course of action. “We lack justification,” a report for the American-Scandinavian Foundation read, “for employing the Beardmore find as a reliable archaeological document for the present.”

The first to call the Beardmore Relics an outright fraud was Edmund Carpenter, an anthropologist in the early stages of a brilliant career. It wore on him that each day, walking to and from his office at the museum, he passed artifacts of such dubious merit, which had been accepted and widely repeated as fact in school books. So, on April 9, 1955, he took the opportunity, in penning a book review about another archaeological forgery for the Toronto Telegram, to declare the relics to be “Ontario’s most famous archaeological frauds.” In a subsequent statement to a reporter, Carpenter questioned the judgment, even the integrity of museum officials in regards to the “colossal hoax” of the Beardmore Relics, insisting that no “competent archaeologist can support any claims that have been made to the finding of Norse relics in the inner continental region.”

Globe and Mail (November 23, 1956)

Globe and Mail (November 23, 1956).

On November 21, 1956, Dr. A.D. Tushingham, head of the art and archaeology branch of the museum, announced the launch of a fresh investigation of the Beardmore find because, as he put it to a newspaper, “the museum feels it has a responsibility to bring to bear on the problem all the new scientific tools which were not available a quarter century ago.” The relics themselves would be subject to spectroscopic tests and x-rays to better determine the type, age, and origin of the metal. Experts would take soil samples from the site of Dodd’s claim, and sift for bone fragments and other evidence. Meanwhile, to ensure public accountability and transparency, longtime Globe and Mail reporter Robert L. Gowe was given full access to museum records to re-examine the documentary evidence related to the find, and tasked with reporting on the inquiry’s progress in a series of newspaper articles.

On November 23, the museum was contacted by Walter Dodd, the prospector’s adopted son, offering a new twist in the tale. When he was a boy of 12 or 13, Walter confessed, he’d witnessed his father deliberately plant the artifacts on his claim. His earlier affidavit, which had confirmed his father’s account, was given under pressure, he said. “I was afraid of my father. So I signed it. But my conscience has been bothering me about it—I have even seen my statement in a history book—and when I read those articles in The Globe and Mail, I decided it was time to tell the true story.” The elder Dodd had died in 1954, but his widow stuck to her husband’s story unrepentantly. She insisted that Walter’s statement was made out of spite towards his adopted father, from whom he’d been estranged.

Globe and Mail (November 30, 1956)

Globe and Mail (November 30, 1956).

On December 4, 1956, the Beardmore Relics quietly disappeared from their display case, substituted by a card noting they’d been “temporarily removed.” A couple weeks later, the display case itself was taken from the gallery. Although the official inquiry proceeded, most observers were happy with the definitive conclusion Walter Dodd’s statement offered. The circumstances of the Beardmore Relics’ discovery, Tushingham summarized in a museum pamphlet published in 1966, “has been so clouded by conflicting evidence and disagreement that it is difficult today to consider them more than a hoax.”

Currelly’s reaction to Walter Dodd’s statement isn’t recorded. But, as he lay dying in a Baltimore hospital, it is unlikely his confidence in the elder Dodd’s story was shaken. No piece of new evidence before had ever seemed to cause him doubt. His defence of the relics in his autobiography was unequivocal. He died in late April 1957. While obituaries paid tribute, of course, to his many accomplishments as the “driving spirit behind the Royal Ontario Museum,” they each also invariably made reference to his most famous but also most questionable acquisition for the institution, the Beardmore Relics.

What Currelly knew or didn’t know about Dodd’s hoax is a matter of pure conjecture. In the 1966 museum pamphlet, Tushingham implied that an archaeologist of Currelly’s credentials and experience surely could not have been duped by Dodd’s scurrilous story. Perhaps Currelly simply wanted to believe, blinded by the enormous historical significance the find represented, and the opportunity for the ROM to be at the forefront of rewriting history.

(Right: Page from Robert Olson’s exposé of the Beardmore Relics from Maclean’s magazine [April 13, 1957].)

Dennis Duffy, in an afterword to a 2008 edition of Currelly’s autobiography, put forward a more pragmatic point of view. “Currelly was a museum director,” he speculated; “the objects were of great interest to the public, and a smart museum leader milked them for all the attendance they were worth.”

Carpenter was far less charitable to Currelly in Norse Penny (The Rock Foundation, 2003). “Initially,” he theorized, “the Director got taken, innocently,” and he earnestly sought to prove the facts of Dodd’s incredible account. But, as the publicity grew and evidence mounted against the version of events Currelly had endorsed, he had to aggressively defend his reputation (and his institution’s). In his efforts to stymie dissent, Carpenter alleged, Currelly went as far as editing McIlwraith’s report in 1938 so it matched his own conclusions, and threatening that Elliott would lose his job if he printed his criticisms in 1941. Not only was Currelly in on Dodd’s fraud, Carpenter charged in Norse Penny, but other ROM officials knew far more of the Relics’ true history than they ever let on—including the collection from which they were drawn and the ship by which they’d arrived in Canada.

Once the Viking relics were in storage and Walter Dodd’s admission was accepted, seemingly embarrassed ROM officials were reticent about discussing the objects for decades, and didn’t allow them to be seen or photographed. When L.M. “Buzz” Lein, founder of the Nipigon Historical Museum, inquired repeatedly between 1974 and 1977 about his institution borrowing the Beardmore Relics for an exhibition in the mid-1970s, he received a sternly worded reply from Heri Hickl-Szabo, curator of the European Department:

Your persistence, I confess, fills me with admiration, because I realize that it is born of your dedication to your museum. I might even guess that the flourishing of your museum is judged, falsely, by attendance. But I am in no position to pass judgement … My attitude is a negative one, but you must realize that it is based on the principles of my profession, to be spelled out here as the prevention of the perpetuation of a hoax.
[…]
Just as I suggest that we should regard each other as colleagues, I now suggest that you should drop the whole matter once and for all, and leave me in peace to deal with controversial subjects which are under my jurisdiction. With all good wishes for the season…H. Hickl-Szabo

Lein had to satisfy himself with procuring reproductions of the relics, which are still on display in Nipigon Historical Museum.

Eventually, the artifacts allegedly unearthed at Beardmore were quietly returned to public display at the ROM in the 1990s. This time there was no fanfare. The sword and axe head are presented today as authentic pieces of Viking history but, with the caption cards scrubbed of any reference to the decades-long controversy, the weapons don’t quiet seem as interesting as they could be.

Royal Ontario Museum, looking south from Bloor Street West and Avenue Road, 1957  From the Toronto Public Library Digital Collection

Royal Ontario Museum, looking south from Bloor Street West and Avenue Road, 1957. From the Toronto Public Library Digital Collection.

Walter Dodd’s statement in late 1956 answers how his father perpetuated the hoax, but it doesn’t answer why. James E. Dodd never tried particularly to profit or earn publicity for himself in the years after unearthing them. A born raconteur with a well-honed ability to weave a colourful anecdote, Dodd seemed satisfied with dragging the artifacts to the tavern at the Mariaggi Hotel—the sort of place where men gathered to swap tall tales of the northern wilderness—to regale his friends with the story of their discovery. It was Currelly, himself a captivating storyteller, who created publicity through the museum’s purchase and ensuing controversy.

Throughout the hype surrounding the Beardmore Relics, Dodd collected press clippings, his adopted son noted in late 1956, not because he was at all interested in Viking exploration, but because he was fascinated with his own part in the saga. At the height of the controversy, it was suggested by one magazine writer that Dodd’s friends at the Mariaggi—who knew him as “Liar Dodd”—were more impressed by Dodd’s “taking in the experts of Toronto than for any purely accidental” unearthing of Viking artifacts.

Sources consulted include: Edmund Carpenter, “Further Evidence on the Beardmore Relics,” American Anthropologist 59.5 (October 1957); Edmund Carpenter, Norse Penny (The Rock Foundation, 2003); Charles Trick Currelly, I Brought the Ages Home (Oxford University Press, 2008 [1956]); Lovat Dickson, The Museum Makers: The Story of the Royal Ontario Museum (Royal Ontario Museum, 1986); Paul Herrmann, Conquest By Man: The Marvellous Story of the Men Who Discovered and Explored the Lands and Seas of our World (Harper & Brothers, 1954); Hjalmar R. Holand, Westward From Vinland: An Account of Norse Discoveries and Explorations in America 982-1362 (Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1940); Robert Olson, “Was Our Biggest Historical Find Our Biggest Hoax?” Maclean’s (April 13, 1957); A.D. Tushingham, The Beardmore Relics: Hoax or History (Royal Ontario Museum/ University of Toronto Press, 1966); and articles from the Globe and Mail (November 8, 1918; January 25 & 28, and October 6, 12 & 18, 1938; November 23, 24, 26 & 30, and December 21, 1956; and April 12 & 13, 1957); the National Post (March 19, 2013); the (Port Arthur) News-Chronicle (September 17, 1938); and the (Toronto) Star (October 18, 1938; March 5, 1955; and April 12, 1957).

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