Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Ohman Stone Musical: Art Imitates Life

Yesterday, Janet and I attended the Minneapolis Fringe Festival play, “The Ohman Stone” written by Sheridan (Tom) O’Keefe.  Darwin Ohman, his wife Ginny, and his son Brian, saw the play and afterward we all met for a beer with the cast to congratulate them on a moving and thoroughly entertaining performance.  Darwin and I will both admit the play struck nerves particularly close and along with much laughter also brought a tear to our eyes more than once.  Many months ago, Tom Contacted Darwin and I after reading my book, The Kensington Rune Stone: Compelling New Evidence, to discuss certain aspects of the book and how it could be made into a play.  It was clear Tom was very passionate about getting two important aspects to the KRS saga across in his play; first was the obvious authenticity of the artifact, and second, the devastating toll the often maniacal detractors had on the lives of the Ohman family.  Tom and his cast succeeded on both accounts.

The play includes real-life deceased characters who were on both sides of the authenticity debate that appear as ghosts.  On the pro-authenticity side were Sven Folgelbald, the scholar-preacher who taught the local schoolchildren, including the Ohman children at one point, who died a year before the KRS was discovered and was played by Jim Christensen; Hjalmar Holand, who championed the authenticity of over fifty years and was played by Mark Olson, Newton Winchell, the First Minnesota State geologist whose 1909-10 investigation concluded the KRS was genuine was played by Daniel Wolfe, and of course, the discoverer of the artifact, Olof Ohman, played with a convincing Scandinavian accent by Tom O’Keefe.  The three skeptics were Erik Walgren, the Professor of Scandinavian Languages at USC , Theodore Blegen, former director of the Minnesota Historical Society and author of the 1968 book, Kensington Rune Stone: New Light on an Old Riddle, played by Ron Giroux, and the real-life villain obsessed with proving the stone a fake, Johan Holvik.  The Wahlgren and Holvik characters were played by women, Holly O’Keefe, and the Hitler-like persona many who knew Holvik said he reminded them of was humorously played by Jenni Charrier.  The entire cast did a great job of distilling a lot of KRS evidence and finformation into a concise and entertaining presentation.

The other main ghost character was Amanda Ohman, played by Emily Stephenson, who brought the torment and tragedy of Amanda’s finals days to heart with her beautiful singing.  The only living character was a scientist named Brian Storm, played by Andy Rakerd, and was based loosely on, well, me.  It was really strange to watch the play unveil much of my own research in such a different venue.  We all laughed, sang along, and fought back tears as the debate, and romance, unfolded.  Anyone who sees the play will be struck by the clear and obvious conclusion reached on the authenticity of the artifact.  Attendees will also be moved and disturbed by the passionate portrayal of the abuse suffered by the Ohman family as a whole and by Amanda Ohman from a maniacally obsessed Johan Holvik.  

The play prompted me to go back and read the chapters in ‘Compelling New Evidence’ (pages 133-186) I’d written about the scandals perpetrated by not just Holvik, but of the conspiracy of lies, deception, and incompetence in the so-called scholarship of the likes of Wahlgren, Erik Moltke, Einar Haugen, Birgitta Wallace, and sadly, my former co-author Richard Nielsen.   The play told the story of the human tragedy that results when, scholars in this case, are more concerned with being “right” than getting the “right answer.”  The cast did a beautiful job of demonstrating how facts trump the beliefs of so many scholars who abused (and continue to abuse) their positions of perceived authority and credibility.  In an age where science and technology rules, I’m often dumbfounded how so many intelligent people still don’t understand the basic principles of evidence and logic.  It just goes to show how far we as humans have not progressed.

As I sipped my beer at the Bulldog Bar, I watched as Darwin laughed with the cast after their stirring performance.  It was nice to see his generation enjoy the positive attention his father and grandfather rarely saw.  Darwin knows the truth as does his son Brian and daughter Kari.  They, and other Ohman descendants will pass on the great family legacy that will be enhanced as more and more of the public, and eventually academia, come to realize the truth behind this amazing discovery.   One hopes that Olof, Amanda, and the rest of the Olof and Karin Ohman Family have found peace in “Valhalla” already knowing what the world is only now beginning to truly understand.

Amanda & Ida Ohman Circa 1915

Amanda 1920

Darwin Ohman, Sheridan O'Keefe (Olof Ohman) and Scott

Hjalmar Holand Circa 1900

Ida & Amanda Circa 1912

Johan Holvik Circa 1950

Newton H. Winchell 1901

Scott and Emily Stephenson (Amanda OHman)

Theodore Blegen