The Skeleton In Armor

: 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

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.