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The Skeleton In Armor


Source: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

The skeleton of a man wearing a breastplate of brass, a belt made of
tubes of the same metal, and lying near some copper arrow-heads, was
exhumed at Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1834. The body had been
artificially embalmed or else preserved by salts in the soil. His arms
and armor suggest Phoenician origin, but the skeleton is thought to be
that of a Dane or Norwegian who spent the last winter of his life at
Newport. He may have helped to carve the rock at West Newbury, or the
better-known Dighton rock at Taunton River that is covered with
inscriptions which the tides and frosts are fast effacing, and which have
been construed into a record of Norse exploration and discovery, though
some will have it that the inevitable Captain Kidd cut the figures there
to tell of buried treasure. The Indians have a legend of the arrival of
white men in a bird, undoubtedly a ship, from which issued thunder and
lightning. A battle ensued when the visitors landed, and the white men
wrote the story of it on the rock. Certain scholars of the eighteenth
century declared that the rock bore an account of the arrival of
Phoenician sailors, blown across the Atlantic and unable or unwilling to
return. A representation of the pillars of Hercules was thought to be
included among the sculptures, showing that the castaways were familiar
with the Mediterranean. Only this is known about Dighton Rock, however:
that it stood where it does, and as it does, when the English settled in
this neighborhood. The Indians said there were other rocks near it which
bore similar markings until effaced by tides and drifting ice.

Longfellow makes the wraith of the long-buried exile of the armor appear
and tell his story: He was a viking who loved the daughter of King
Hildebrand, and as royal consent to their union was withheld he made off
with the girl, hotly followed by the king and seventy horsemen. The
viking reached his vessel first, and hoisting sail continued his flight
over the sea, but the chase was soon upon him, and, having no alternative
but to fight or be taken, he swung around before the wind and rammed the
side of Hildebrand's galley, crushing in its timbers. The vessel tipped
and sank, and every soul on board went with her, while the viking's boat
kept on her course, and after a voyage of three weeks put in at
Narragansett Bay. The round tower at Newport this impetuous lover built
as a bower for his lady, and there he guarded her from the dangers that
beset those who are first in savage countries. When the princess died she
was buried in the tower, and the lonely viking, arraying himself in his
armor, fell on his spear, like Brutus, and expired.

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