Stroll west along the Commonwealth Avenue Mall and a monumental curiosity awaits at the far end of Back Bay’s green spine. Standing atop a red sandstone pedestal inscribed with cryptic rune letters is a statue of the Viking explorer Leif Erikson. The youthful bronze figure makes quite the fashion statement with his cascading locks and hip-hugging chain mail coat as he shields his eyes with his left hand to survey modern-day adventurers navigating Boston traffic.
The Hub might seem to be a strange place to honor a medieval Icelandic-born adventurer, but for centuries New Englanders have theorized that Erikson led a thriving Viking settlement here around 1000 AD, more than six centuries before the Mayflower set sail. The Back Bay statue is a tangible reminder that perhaps the Pilgrims weren’t the first Europeans to call New England home. So as Thanksgiving approached, I set out to discover the region’s Viking connections, and Erikson’s westward gaze pointed me in the direction of the first stop.