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Musical puts spotlight on Runestone controversy

Pictured is Olof Ohman, a Swedish farmer living near Alexandria who found the Kensington Runestone while removing an aspen tree in 1898. This photo was taken circa 1927. Submitted photo

ALEXANDRIA, Minn. – The Kensington Runestone has been the center of a heated debate that’s been brewing for more than a century.

Now it’s taking center stage in a whole new way – as a musical.

“The Ohman Stone” will be performed as part of the Minnesota Fringe Festival in the Twin Cities.

It’s based on Swedish farmer Olof Ohman’s discovery of the famous stone on his farm near Kensington in 1898 and whether it’s an authentic artifact left by Scandinavian explorers in the 14th century or an elaborate hoax.

The one-hour play includes a variety of musical numbers, including a Russian-style opera, a love ballad and even a hip-hop piece at the end.

Five performances, which began Saturday, are scheduled at the Intermedia Arts Center in Minneapolis.

It’s being billed as “12 Angry Men meets Hamlet – the musical,” and organizers say it’s perhaps the most controversial play ever performed in the Minnesota Fringe.

All the characters, except one, a documentarian, are ghosts who have come back from The Netherworld to help settle the question: Is the Kensington Runestone an authentic 14th-century artifact?

The musical’s director and writer, Sheridan O’Keefe, grew up in Minnesota and knew about the Runestone, even as a child.

He said the idea to turn the stone’s story into a musical began after he went to a presentation by geologist and author Scott Wolter, who is convinced the stone is authentic.

Intrigued, O’Keefe started reading books about the stone from multiple authors and a year or two ago decided the story needed to be told.

“It’s so Shakespearian in a lot of ways,” he said in a video interview posted on “The Ohman Stone – A Fringe Musical” Facebook page. “I thought it was the perfect story to put to music and to acting.”

O’Keefe said Ohman, who had a third-grade education, was known to be a stand-up, honest man, yet scholars from around the world “ganged up” on him by wrongly concluding that the stone was fake. His play, he said, depicts the Ohman family as real people who were unfairly slandered for many years.

“I wanted to show the audience that often, the scholars are not correct and that they don’t have all the information they need to make a decision on the particular thing they are studying,” O’Keefe said.


WHAT: Performances of “The Ohman Stone” will take place in Minneapolis as part of the Minnesota Fringe Festival

WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday; 8:30 p.m. Wednesday; 4 p.m. Sunday

TICKETS: $12, or $4 with a festival button. The play is written and directed by Sheridan O’Keefe of Apple Valley, Minn., who researched the stone for about eight years. Music is by Nicholas Mroczek and lyrics by O’Keefe.

WHERE: Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave. S,, Minneapolis

INFO: For more information, visit The annual festival includes 169 productions on 19 stages throughout the Twin Cities over 11 days.