You don’t expect to see pseudo-history at the grocery store, but that’s exactly what happened when I picked up a carton of Welch’s Mango Twist mango and grape juice only to see that the side panel proclaimed that travelers to Asia brought mangoes back to South America in 300-400 CE. This would certainly be quite the proof of diffusionist claims about an East Asian influence on the pre-Columbian Americas, and I wondered why Welch’s was promoting bizarre diffusionist ideas. It turns out they didn’t know that’s what they’re doing. Welch’s lifted their mango trivia directly from mango.org, the mango industry website, where they misread one of the mango “fun facts”: “Mango seeds traveled with humans from Asia to the Middle East, East Africa and South America beginning around 300 or 400 A.D.” The “fun fact” meant to say that mangos left Asia in 300 CE, eventually reaching the New World in the seventeenth century. Welch’s took the line to mean that they spread everywhere between 300 and 400 CE and accidentally created diffusionist mango juice.
This may seem like a silly thing to bother noting, but it’s exactly that kind of accumulating error that leads to the baroque pseudoscience we encounter today. On Saturday America Unearthed host Scott Wolter and his band of pseudoscience irregulars, including Steve St. Clair, gave speeches at the dedication of a life sized bronze statue of a Knight Templar erected in honor of the Westford Knight, a glacial formation mistakenly believed since 1954 to be a carving of a medieval soldier on the grounds that two Victorian boys chiseled a sword handle into the rock in full view of witnesses, who reported as much. The Knights Templar were disbanded more than 70 years before Westford Knight believers allege the image was carved, making it a curious choice to depict an anachronistic Knight Templar at the site, testimony to the strength of conspiracy culture, which imagines that the Templars lived on in secret. The stone itself was most likely four feet underground during the medieval period.
The Westford Eagle, the local Westford, Mass., newspaper, interviewed me on Friday for an article about the statue ceremony, but as of this writing the article has not appeared online. Not being in Westford, I don’t know if it ran in the print edition or if the editors considered the event too unworthy of notice to give space to.
Scott Wolter described his participation in the dedication ceremony on his blog, where he has added a new innovation: He has adopted my satirical use of the trademark symbol after the name Hooked X™ in backhanded reference to his trademarking the name for use in book titles. His trademark does not cover the use of the term of except in book titles. In his blog post, Wolter conceded that he was unable to determine whether any of the punch marks on the Westford Knight (the markings witnesses saw carved in the 1800s) were actually medieval: “until science can shed more light on the age of the carvings the current pre-Columbian theory is Templar’s (sic) in North America is as good as anything.” It’s not, of course, since it requires a vast architecture of conspiracy to support, whereas the retreating glacier and idle schoolboys theory requires no conspiracy. Despite declaring the Templar theory only “as good as anything,” by the end of his blog post Wolter had upped his rhetoric to make the Knight a “likely” pre-Columbian artifact.
According to the Lowell Sun, the unveiling took the form of a Scottish ceremony, with bagpipes and drums announcing the reveal of the recumbent bronze effigy as Steve St. Clair and Richard Gunn stood by in kilts. There is no evidence that the glacial markings are in any way Scottish. In fact, they were first taken for Native American petroglyphs before fringe believers assigned them a Viking origin. When the “knight” was proclaimed a European noble in 1954, he still had to wait for the myth of Henry Sinclair, Earl of Orkney to catch up to him before he became Scottish in recent decades. Steve St. Clair is identified by his friend Scott Wolter and the American Unearthed TV show as kin to Henry Sinclair and uses the myth of Henry Sinclair to generate interest in his genealogical research, while Richard Gunn alleges that he is related to the knight supposedly depicted on the Westford stone, Sir James Gunn, best known from the Assassin’s Creed video game on account of the fact that his alleged North American exploits are entirely fictional and thus were good fodder for a video game.
There was a real James Gunn, but there is no record of a North American voyage for him. Indeed, there is no knight of that name in the medieval Scottish records. Scottish knights were required to be either of royal blood or to have provided royal service, neither of which Gunn did. Only under the most generous of imaginary reconstructions of the fictitious effigy are the markers of “Clan Gunn” projected onto the stony surface, and from Frederick Pohl’s identification of these at midcentury did Scottish-Americans go searching for a knight of the Gunn clan to press into Henry Sinclair’s speculative service.
The entire myth of the Westford Knight is inextricably tied to the incorrect claim that Henry I Sinclair (or his son Henry II), Earl of Orkney, sailed to America in 1398, a claim I have discussed many times and pulled together in this article. The claim rests on the hoax Zeno Narrative, which believers allege refers to Sinclair as the mysterious Prince Zichmni. However, even if we take the Zeno Narrative literally and assume Zichmni is Sinclair, it proves nothing about America since the narrative states definitively that Zichmni traveled to and explored Greenland, not Massachusetts.
The problem is that visitors to Westford won’t likely know any of this when they visit a roadside attraction featuring a statue of a Knight Templar, an inscribed stone dedicated to James Gunn, and an official-looking endorsement of a modern myth concocted from misinterpretations and spare parts from earlier conspiracy theories.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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