A.D. Tushingham's The Beardmore Relics: Hoax or History , ROM 1966 is reprinted by permission of the ROM August 2011.
For many years the weapons held a place of honour in the Museum galleries. The official position was cautious, for there was no absolute proof in either direction. This did not prevent the weapons' being mentioned repeatedly in publications of all kinds (including textbooks) as evidence that the Norsemen had indeed penetrated the Upper Great Lakes region almost 1,000 years ago.
Many people felt the Museum was laying itself open to serious charges of dereliction of duty by continuing to display the objects, unless it could prove beyond doubts that they constituted valid evidence for the theories based upon them. As a result the ROM re-opened the case officially in November 1956. To obsolve itself from any suggestion of bias, and to make the new enquiry known publicly, it asked the Toronto Globe & Mail to assign an experienced reporter who would assess all the known data and seek new evidence. To this reporter, Robert L. Gowe, the Museum opened its files. The first of five articles by him appeared in the newspaper on November 23, 1956. Subsequently the controversy was reported by Maclean's Magazine in the issue of April 13, 1957.
By this time most of the people connected with the case were dead. Surprisingly, Gowe's enquiry still produced new facts - among them the most sensational statement since the discovery itself. On the day that his first article was printed, the Museum received a telephone call from a man who said he had something he wished to tell about the Beardmore relics. The man turned out to be Walter Dodd, foster-son of James Edward Dodd, who had sworn in 1939 to the full correctness of his father's story. Walter Dodd came to the Museum and after long conversations which were tape-recorded, he made a new sworn statement dated November 28, 1956:
I, Walter Dodd, adopted son of the late James Edward Dodd, formerly of Port Arthur, Ontario, make oath and say:
That I was 12 or 13 years of age in 1930 or 1931 (the time of the reputed find). That my stepfather found in the basement of the house we then lived in, at 33 Machar Street, Port Arthur, some rusty metal pieces of metal. I remember that there was a short bar that could be held in the hand, cigar-like in shape, a sword broken in two pieces, and an axe head much like a hatchet. I don't remember that there was anything else.
That one weekend I went with my stepfather from Port Arthur to Beardmore. We arrived in the middle of the night and spent the night in his cabin, and in the morning I went with him out to his claim. My stepfather has the iron pieces with him. He laid them on the ground at a spot where he had been blasting some time before, don't remember much about the spot, but should say that it was more like a hill than flat land or a hollow. I do not remember anything else that happened that day.
That we returned to Port Arthur without the weapons, and that later on - I do not remember how long after, but it may have been months, certainly not years later - my stepfather made a trip to the claim by himself and brought back the weapons, and upon his return told the story that he had found the weapons when blasting. I do not know whom he told it to, but the story was spread about in the papers. He kept the weapons wrapped in brown paper in his bedroom, and brought them out to show people when they came to visit. He did not know what they were, just said they were old swords he found while blasting. Hansen made a statement that got into the papers that the weapons belonged to him. I believe his story was that Bloch had given the weapons to Hansen and Hansen had left them in the basement at 33 Machar Street. It was some time after that I was forced to sign an affidavit saying that I had been present when my stepfather discovered the weapons at his claim near Beardmore. I signed the affidavit, and have since then seen it in a printed book. As to Eli Ragotte, I remember only that he boarded in my stepfather's house, that there was a dispute of some kind, and he moved away.
I have never been easy in my mind about having signed an affidavit intended to prove what I knew was not the truth, and I hereby declare that I have now come to the Royal Ontario Museum of my own free will to revoke the statements contained in the affidavit made earlier by me under pressure, and that the above statement is a true statement of the facts as I know them concerning the weapons known as the Beardmore find.
Does this settle the question once and for all?
Not necessarily. James Dodd's widow held the opinion that her foster son's second affidavit had been made - not from any love for the truth or a guilty conscience - but simply out of spite. He had disliked his adopted father, and had taken this method of revenge.
One final statement remains. It was volunteered by Carey Marshman Brooks, a retired prospector, in Fort William on November 30, 1956. It too calls the Beardmore relics a deliberate hoax; but here again we meet the familiar confusion about the house address, for Brooks swore to events happening at Wilson Street which could have occurred only on Machar Avenue. His sworn statement reads in part:
I have been living in the District of Thunder Bay for over 30 years, during most of which time I was a resident of Beardmore, Ont.. I was well acquainted with the late James Edward Dodd, and prior to the year 1931, I one day visited him at his home on Wilson Street in the City of Port Arthur. At the time he mentioned to me that he had discovered some Norse Relics lying among some ashes in the basement of his house and that he believed they had been left in his house by a Norwegian who had rented a room in the house when it was in the possession of a previous tenant. I did not ask to examine these Relics...Several months later, when it did come to my attention that Mr. Dodd was making statements to the effect that he had found Norse Relics on his "Middle Claim" at Beardmore, I mentioned to him that he had told me that he had found the said Relics in the basement of his house on Wilson Street, he replied "Oh well, they have been found at Beardmore now., and refused to discuss the matter further. The" Middle Claim" in which Mr. Dodd alleged he had found the Relics, was actually trenched and dynamited by myself and it was I who dug the trench in which Mr. Dodd claimed to have discovered the Relics. This work was done by me during the start of the depression period in 1930 and 1931, when I was hired for some time by Mr. Dodd. My own claim was adjacent to the said "Middle Claim" of Mr. Dodd. In my opinion, it would have been impossible for Mr. Dodd to discover any Relics on the said Claim without my knowledge. I did at no time see any evidence of the discovery, nor did I see the rust marks of a piece of buried iron on a rock at the Claim, as later described by Dodd.
And that, at the time of writing,(1966?) is where the matter still stands.
The weapons unquestionably are genuine Norse relics of about A.D. 1000.
But did James Dodd really discover them, as he repeatedly said, under a tangled clump of birch roots on his isolated mining claim?
Dr. Currelly retired in 1946, still convinced that the story was true. In his autobiography, written before the later disclosures, he dismissed criticism with the comment that "all the fuss in the newspapers came from the statements of a drunken brakeman and cellar owner of more than doubtful honesty."
In light of the affidavits sworn by Ragotte, Hansen, Walter Dodd and Brooks, few scholars today are prepared to accept James Dodd's version of the facts without further supporting evidence. Yet even those statements which brand the discovery as a hoax are themselves stained with discrepancy. Ragotte discredited his own testimony. In that of the others we meet confusion about houses and dates. if it was a hoax, then apparently it could not have occurred before Dodd moved into 33 Machar Avenue in September 1931. But by that time both Jacob and Bohun had seen the weapons on his claim, according to their sworn statements allegedly supported by diary or staff records. Jacob's statement in particular about seeing the rust stains on the rock in 1930 demands special explanation. Nor are we any closer to understanding why Dodd should have carried out such a hoax. He made no direct moves to gain publicity or profit thereby, and it was only through the intervention of a Kingston school teacher, O.C. Elliott, that the Museum learned of the find at all.
The Last Analysis
In the last analysis, it is impossible to explain all the discrepancies satisfactorily. The statements containing them were, in most cases, made at least five years after the event. Moreover, the prolific writing of Hjalmar Holand had persuaded many people in the Canadian and U.S. mid-west that their area had indeed been visited by the Vikings long before Columbus sailed the Atlantic. Holand's theories aroused such strong feeling, particularly among persons of Norwegian descent, that Hansen was attacked form all sides for daring to undermine the evidence which appeared to support it. In this atmosphere of belief, and desire to believe, the tangled web of evidence surrounding Dodd's alleged discovery is very easy to understand.
At present the Beardmore relics lie in storage at the Royal Ontario Museum, in that particular limbo reserved for objects of uncertain history. The evidence for or against the story of their discovery is far too circumstantial to permit of dogmatism, but opinion leans strongly towards the view that it was a hoax. This does not deny the possibility that Norsemen did reach the central area of North America. Perhaps some day unequivocal evidence will be uncovered to support that theory. At present , there is none.
This concludes the reprinting of A.D. Tushingham's "The Beardmore Relics: Hoax or History, 1966, ROM
|The Replicas of the Beardmore relics can be seen in the Nipigon Historical Museum.|
40 Front Street, Nipigon, Ontario