Business, Cemetery

9th century Viking sword discovered in Scottish grave. . and a discussion on heritage families

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Big Ole has stood at the north end of Broadway in Alexandria, Minnesota since the 1960’s

Not every article that appears in Funeral Director Daily has a direct bearing on the business world of funerals, cremations, and burials.  However, if you stick with me with this article, dealing with this discovery, we will discuss the power of heritage funerals among other things.

A sword found buried in a Scottish grave in 2015 has recently been revealed as very rare.  According to this article in Smithsonian Magazine, this find reveals only the 2nd “Type D” Viking sword known to scholars.  In other words, it is a rare find.

When I saw this article I thought that it could both be an opportunity for me to tell you more about me. . . . and also the power of heritage funerals among families.  Heritage, or repeated use of a funeral home by a family, is sometimes so strong to one funeral establishment brand that those using that funeral establishment may not even remember what drew their family to the firm in the first place.

So, I grew up and continue to live in Alexandria, Minnesota.  As the shield on the photo indicates we bill ourselves as “The Birthplace of America”.  You see, back in 1898 a stone was found in Kensington, Minnesota, about 15 miles from my hometown of Alexandria.  The stone had runic inscriptions on it that when translated said this:

We are 8 Goths [Swedes] and 22 Norwegians on an exploration journey from Vinland through the West. We had camp by a lake with 2 skerries [small rocky islands] one day’s journey north from this stone. We were out and fished one day. After we came home we found 10 of our men red with blood and dead. AVM [Ave Virgo Maria, or Hail, Virgin Mary] save us from evil. We have 10 of our party by the sea to look after our ships, 14 days’ journey from this island. Year 1362.”

For the last 130 years the authenticity of the stone has been debated.  There are pros and cons to both sides, but if it stone is authentic, it predates the voyage of Christopher Columbus by 130 years and would be the first evidence of Europeans (Vikings) on North American soil.

For you football fans, you know that Minnesotans have embraced this Viking heritage legacy. . .think of the Minnesota Vikings.  And, we honor Leif Erikson Day on October 9th, eerily close to the Columbus Day holiday.  Leif Erikson Day is, according to Wikipedia, “an annual observance that occurs on October 9. It honors Leif Erikson, the Norse explorer who led the first Europeans thought to have set foot in continental North America.” 

The Kensington Runestone, as the stone is now called, was found on a farm near the very small community of Kensington, about 15 miles from my community of Alexandria.  In 1928, thirty years after the founding of the stone, a group of ten Alexandrians offered to buy the stone and develop a museum for it in Alexandria.  Here is a story, that talks a little about that.  My grandfather, the 2nd generation of our furniture store/ funeral business was one of those ten.  Here’s what the linked article says about him and, to a certain extent about my father and his brother.:

“Carl V. Anderson: Owner of Anderson Furniture Company and Anderson Funeral Home in 1905 after the death of his father. He served on the Alexandria City Council for one year and in 1930 was elected mayor of Alexandria. He served as mayor for five consecutive terms. He was a Knight Templar Mason, a member of the Osman Temple of the Mystic Shrine, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the Kiwanis Club, Chamber of Commerce and the Alexandria Golf Club. His wife, Esther, was a member of Lyra Chapter, Order of Eastern Star at Constellation Lodge No. 81. The Park Region Echo printed a story about Mrs. Anderson on December 17, 1963, which stated, “She, her husband and sons were vitally interested in the Kensington Runestone and helped finance its many projects.”

The article author and a Runestone replica at Runestone County Park

Today, the Kensington Runestone is still debated.  There are many that believe it is truly genuine and there are many that believe it to be “the hoax of the century”.  In any regard, our community has built  a brand off of it with tourism and the like.  One of our craft beer halls is built with reclaimed lumber in the style of a Viking village and named “22 Northmen” (see it here). . . .our shopping center is called Viking Plaza. . .the discovery location is now Runestone County Park with an interpretive center, an event hall, with hiking and cross-country ski trails for all to use.

And, on to heritage funerals.  As our funeral home was growing market share during my time in the 1980’s, 1990’s, and early 2000’s, we were never able to add market share out of the community of Kensington.  The small community had no local funeral home and its residents would look to Alexandria for shopping and services.

Now, I seldom talked with my mother about the funeral home strategies, but remember telling her that we just cannot crack the Kensington market.   She looked at me matter of factly and stated, “You never will.  Your father tried to also.  But, many of those people switched funeral home allegiances when your grandfather purchased the Runestone and moved it to Alexandria.  At that time that whole community started using the competition funeral home and the business has never came back.”

I had never thought of that and some of those Kensington families are into their 4th generation of funeral services since that time — the runestone purchase was almost 100 years ago.  My hunch is that they, like me, didn’t even know the story of why allegiances were changed.  But once used to using one funeral home, they continue to use that funeral home.  That is family funeral home heritage selection at its core. . . . and why it is so important to acquire new client families that come to your community. . . they may not only be customers today. . . but your service and retention of them could hold them for a century or more.

If you want to know more about the Kensington Runestone, here are some links.  By the way, I’m a believer in it!!!

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One Comment

  1. Your story reminds me of a funeral director friend who lost a call to a funeral home 20 miles from the families location. I called him and ask, “How did you lose that call”? His response was, ” Well, my Grandfather was on the County Road Commission about 50 years ago and the commission didn’t brine the gravel road in front of the family farm to their satisfaction. So they always held it against our family”. Another penalty of leadership.

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