Where’s Ward? 1881.

June 24th, 2014

Click on this map to see a bigger version.   In 1881, eight years before statehood, this is how the county lines were drawn in north-central North Dakota:

Your first question if you’re familiar with this area is probably  ”Where’s Ward?”    Ward, home to the city of Minot, is one of the most populous counties in the state but just a few years before statehood Minot didn’t show up on maps and the county didn’t exist.

Ward County was created in 1885 and named after the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Counties (how convenient).   Portions of Stevens, Renville and “Mountraille” were merged to create what is today known as “Imperial Ward” County. Imperial Ward was the largest county in the state until 1910 when it was broken up, reforming Mountrail and Renville and adding Burke County to the north, and leaving a much-smaller Ward County to the south.  From the 7/15/1881 Bismarck Tribune.

Fargo Tornado, 1957.

June 20th, 2014

If you’re even somewhat familiar with the Fargo tornado of 1957, you recognize this photo – it’s been in newspapers, it’s part of the Fujita report on the tornado, and it even appears on the NOAA website:

30-year-old Chet Gebert was one of the Fargo Forum’s staff photographers.  Just after 7:30pm on June 20th, 1957, heavy storms rolled into the Valley, and while out on his beat Chet pulled in just north of the Star-Lite Drive-In and pointed his camera to the southwest.    There wasn’t any Fargodome at that time, no RedHawks stadium, it was fields and empty land as far as you could see…until Golden Ridge, that is.

Golden Ridge had a bad reputation: even when my daughter was in gradeschool, so we’re talking 21st century here, Golden Ridge was seen as a crime-ridden, low-rent, wrong-side-of-the-tracks part of town.  It was sandwiched between the Great Northern railroad yards and the old industrial part of downtown Fargo, so back in the early life of Golden Ridge the reputation might have been true, but by the time I was a kid it was a regular North Fargo neighborhood.  If you drive west on 7th Avenue north, you reach the intersection of 7th avenue and 25th street — the corner with the abandoned gas station marks the southeast corner of Golden Ridge.  I guess the abandoned gas station doesn’t really improve the area’s image much.  But, you can easily drive a large square around Golden Ridge: the division between industrial buildings and residential homes is a stark line delineating Golden Ridge.

The 1957 tornado was nearly the end of Golden Ridge:

From the Sunday 6/22/57 Fargo Forum

The ‘point’ at the bottom is where the vacant gas station sits today.  The Fargo  tornado — the third of four spawned by this storm — first touched down further west, about the spot in Gebert’s photos, around where the Fargo Landfill is today. Golden Ridge was its first contact with civilization and it strolled right down 8th Avenue North.   Most deaths were along here: first it hit the Tigen house at 718 29th street, just south of the Golden Ridge School, killing Don Tigen and injuring his wife.  The tornado killed the  entire Udahl family at 802 27th St., and a block east it killed six children at the Munson home, 818 25th Street (marked on the photo above).

Chet Gebert took several photos of the tornado – here’s about as high a resolution as you’ll ever see of them:

The second photo above is the iconic image that gets used whenever the Fargo tornado is discussed;  all three appear in the 6/22/57 Fargo Forum that I’ve got a copy of.  The printed-reproduced-dithered-halftoned-and-photocopied-again image doesn’t do justice to the photos themselves.   The clouds aren’t a single mass of black: the thunderhead is a writhing mass of wind and rain.

Incidentally, the photo at the top is called “23 E GEBERT” because, in the Weather Bureau report on the tornado, it happens to be the 5th photo from Chet Gebert, and taken at location #23 on the list.  The report says over 200 photos were taken of the tornado, and amusingly notes that they got a number of pre-tornado photos of the stormcloud because people, upon hearing the tornado warning, went outside and began taking pictures of the quickly-rotating wall cloud, thinking it was the tornado itself.

With my three copies of the tornado photos, I devoted a lazy Sunday morning to piecing them together into a cinemagraph that, while not a true film of the tornado, gives a sense of scale -


There IS actual film of the Fargo tornado, as seen in this newsreel:

The Weather Service report credits both movie segments to a 16mm film made by a “Jennings” — that would be WDAY’s Harry Jennings from the “top of the WDAY Building” at 205 N 5th street, now the offices of Prairie Public.

All of these pictures and films, particularly the unintentional pre-tornado photos,  are the reason the Fargo tornado has had a lasting impact on storm analysis.  Tetsuya “Ted ” Fujita wrote “Research Paper No. 42″ for the Weather Service, a photo-filled analysis on the Fargo tornado that helped spawn the Fujita Tornado Damage Scale and codified many of the terms used in describing tornadoes today.

Click for zoomable Google Map of the tornado path

The 1957 Fargo tornado was at its most powerful when it struck Golden Ridge, but it still continued on through North Fargo.  It hopped the Great Northern tracks just southwest of the soccer fields and NDSU’s “T Lot”.   NDSU was saved due to a slow right turn, which mangled several blocks of residential housing and hit the old Shanley High School building.  Then, it marched through the residential area along 13th Avenue North, south of El Zagal, before crossing the Red River and into the, at that time, mostly uninhabited areas around the Moorhead Country Club.  It had also lost much of its power by the time it reached the Red, and petered out after crossing Highway 75 twice, before fading near Probstfield Farm.

The Fargo Forum won the Pulitzer Prize in 1958 for their quick and thorough coverage of the carnage that followed, and photographer Chet Gebert won several awards for his photos of the tornado and the aftermath.  Gebert passed away in December, 2013.

Rushmore In Progress, 1930s.

June 8th, 2014

We’ve got a lot of old photos – almost more than we know what to do with.   This one is so over-saturated, so light, that I had to really darken it in Photoshop just to see anything, and I didn’t realize what it was at first:

You might be thinking, “Wow — it kinda looks like there’s a face in those rocks!  Weird, huh?”

Well, that’s because Gutzon Borglum put a face there: that is several years away from becoming the Mount Rushmore we know and love today — President Washington is only partially done:

Carving started in 1927, and the finished Washington face was unveiled to the public on July 4th, 1934, so that puts this photo somewhere in between, probably 1932 or 1933.  Based on this 1932 photo, progress seemed at about the same point, so 1932 is probably right.  They didn’t carve all the faces at once — Washington was completed in 1934, Jefferson in 1936, Lincoln in 1937, and then Roosevelt in 1939.   About 4 years after the photo above, here’s how much progress they made:

Jefferson’s nearly done and they got Lincoln’s nose, which puts this postcard at about 1936 or 1937.

Vienna General Hospital, 1900s

April 7th, 2014

Alongside the glass plate of Sanssouci Palace is this ambulatory image:

The plate is marked “Hospital Yard, Vienna”.   I’m sure there have been many different hospitals in Vienna over the years, but the architecture clearly identifies this building: the Vienna General Hospital, otherwise known as “Allgemeines Krankenhaus der Stadt Wien”.  The image above would appear to be taken along that central promenade, facing towards the west; the central building on the right is clearly visible in the background of my magic lantern slide:

The Vienna General Hospital was built in 1694 as a home for the poor and invalid by Emperor Leopold I, and by 1696 it held over a thousand indigent patients.   Emperor Joseph II saw the poorhouse as capable of so much more than just housing the sick and poor, and turned the campus into a General Hospital, inspired by Hotel Dieu in Paris.   The grounds continued to be expanded unto the 19th century, but as the medical care of the 20th century improved, the old Hospital became less functional.

I tried to find a modern photo with the same perspective, but came up empty — not due to a lack of pictures of the grounds, but just the lack of coincidence in pointing a camera that direction.  You can look around the grounds in this photoset.

It’s not difficult to visit the area because in the late 20th century the Vienna General Hospital became the campus of the University of Vienna.  Although the buildings still stand today, there’s a lot more inside the walls of the old General Hospital than when the picture was taken.  About all that remains of its medical heritage is the “Fool’s Tower”, once home to the mentally ill, and now home of the Vienna Pathological-Anatomical Museum.

A Flat World, 1922

March 18th, 2014

The caption from the 1922 newspaper reads:

Wilbur Glenn Voliva, leader of the religious sect with headquarters at Zion City, Ill, says the earth is flat and that shortly he will prove it by taking a ship and sailing around the outer crust of the earth.  Voliva proposes to captain a ship called the “Zion” and will start on a point at the sixty-fifth meridian and keep going to the starting point.  He says the earth is flat as a pancake and the point we call the North Pole is the center of the earth and there is no South Pole, and that the sixty-fifth meridian is near the rim of the earth.  The photograph shows Voliva (seated) explaining the map to his personal attendant in his office at Zion City.

Zion City was founded by John Dowie after spending a time faith-healing at the Chicago World’s Fair.   Established as a true theocracy, Zion City was meant to attract the sorts of people that would help move their body of faith into a new utopia.

Guys like Wilbur Voliva, who came to Zion City at its inception and became a powerful leader in town, turning the utopian company-town into an economic powerhouse by adding fig bars to its manufacturing business.

The Flat Earth isn’t a new concept, but even in Columbus’ time few actually thought the Earth was flat – it has largely been the domain of crackpots and religious truthers, people more willing to accept the ideas in their head than the truth that was so obviously around them.  Voliva was just one of many, most notably the Square Earth Theory out of Hot Springs, SD,  with the North Pole in the center and an enormous ice wall around the circumference.

In 1931, Voliva was still pushing his flat-earth concept, even though people in airplanes had circumnavigated it in such a way as to eliminate any doubt.  His attempt to sail around the…platter?…doesn’t seem to still be on his docket, though.  Wilbur lived until 1942, unable to prove that the earth was flat.

The Grip, 1903

March 9th, 2014

In Guys and Dolls, the song “Adelaide’s Lament” rattles off any number of diseases that Adelaide might be suffering from — one is le grippe.   By the fifties, the name was pretty much obsolete: today, we call legrippe “the flu”.   Catarrh is another one of those obsolete disease names, too.  It mostly just means excessive mucous — today, that’s allergies or a cold.

Today, we advertise cures for these diseases with blobby green goblins, but back in 1903 the Peruna Medicine Company advertised their cures for lagrippe and catarrh with this strange vaporous banshee, spreading disease across the United States.  Well, the northern United States, completely missing the guy in the sombrero in the southwest, but they’ve known for a long time that Arizona is good for people with breathing problems.

Peruna was invented by Dr. Hartman — who, in the full ad, says he’ll give you personal advice if his tonic doesn’t work — as a cure for catarrh…which he believed to be  the cause of every other disease known to man.  Got mouth cancer?  That’s catarrh of the mouth — Peruna will fix it!  So, he advertised his Peruna as the cure for catarrh, which would then cure everything else, and sold millions of little bottles of his tonic.

Of course, Peruna didn’t cure the flu, or catarrh for that matter, but those self-medicating with Peruna likely didn’t care — analysis of the contents of Peruna at the time of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 found that the bottle contained “…1/2 pint of 90% proof spirits, 1.5 pints of water, a flavor cube and a little burned sugar for color.”    So, just about 50-proof alcohol, some flavoring and coloring, or like drinking cheap spiced rum straight from the two-pint bottle.  Needless to say, Peruna didn’t survive the Pure Food and Drug Act’s effects, aside from resurgence during prohibition for obvious reasons,  and now lives on as the mascot of Southern Methodist University Mustangs.

A Hungarian Countship, 1878

March 5th, 2014

Oh, Sergeant de Badal, I hope you have a way to pay your friend back for what you borrowed — from the Bismarck Tri-Weekly Tribune, 3/26/1878:

“The reported fortune of 2,000,000 florins that, according to Dame Rumer, has been bequeathed to Sergt. Louis de Badal, U.S.A., caused considerable comment around town yesterday. It was received with doubtful comment by many, while some were firm in their belief in the authenticity of the claims of de Badal to a Hungarian countship and the 2,000,000 florins aforesaid. So far as we can understand, he has as yet received none of his fortune, but a well-to do friend is advancing him sufficient money to pay current expenses until he receives the first installment of the same.–Omaha Republican.”

Now that I know what to look for, these stories jump out at me these days — the clues are an enormous fortune, left by a distant relative to someone with a foreign name living in the United States, in a Dutch currency: that’s the Amsterdam Fortune Scam right there.   This is the earliest one I’ve found thus far, hailing from 1878.   de Badal was still receiving a pension from the military in 1901 and passed away in 1905 or 1906 according to the Washington Post.

Sans-Souci Palace, 1900s

February 23rd, 2014

A few years ago I bought a small box containing ‘magic lantern‘ slides, small glass plates with photographs on them, at an antique store in Minnesota.  They’re essentially for use in the slide-projector of the late 19th century and early 20th century, a way to share photos with an audience.   Five plates are in the box, and in the interest of procrastinating other work, I decided to finally scan them today.

Here’s one of the most impressive: the Chateau de Sans-Souci:

You’ll need to zoom in to see the full detail.  Unfortunately the low contrast makes some of the distant objects hard to see — thankfully, the  Sanssouci Palance is still there.

The internet is an amazing place, where I can, from my comfy office find a photo taken a hundred years later, from almost the same vantage point:

One photo, taken on a glass plate smeared with a photosensitive chemical, mounted in a rudimentary camera made mostly of wood; the other created by photons striking a tiny sliver of silicon, housed in plastic and metal box made by a country that was still buried in feudalism when the first photo was taken.   Here’s a map; the earlier photo was taken further south, you can see the pathway entrance on the right.   The recent photo appears to have been taken from just south of the intersection.  Don’t get me started on the fact that I can pull up an aerial photo from my computer and map out locations…

After two world wars and a century of rain and snow and vandals, Victorians and Millenials looking at the same things as though it barely changed (the urn’s gone, unfortunately).  Here’s a closeup of that distinct statue on the right, the Sphinx by Georg Ebengech, carved in 1755:

Lightning Jugglers, 1882

February 9th, 2014

After the juvenile amusement at the flowery term “jerking lightning’ that appeared in Dakota Death Trip a few months ago,  here’s an equally Zeus-like term from 1882:

The Lightning Jugglers

Cincinnati, March 16.– The telegraphers’ convention to-day resolved itself into a committee of the whole on the best method of forming a national organization.  After hearing the views of a majority of the delegates, the committee rose and the convention appointed a committee of five to draft a constitution in accordance with the views presented.   The committee has already begun its labors.  A night session was held, which was principally devoted to an interchange of views on disreputable telegraph schools.  The convention adjourned at 11 o’clock, to meet again to-morrow.

The awe regarding the nascent understanding of electricity — noting that electric lights were a pretty new idea, making telegraphy most people’s only personal interaction with loose electrons  – is clearly evident in the nicknames given to telegraph operators: they were the IT departments of the 19th century.

The Amsterdam Fortune, 1920s

December 8th, 2013

Norwegian immigrants in the 1920s saw their chance at financial independence: an Amsterdam bank ran ads in newspapers looking for descendants of Elizabeth Sabo, a Manx woman who ended up in Norway after a ill-fated cow milking expedition.

The Amsterdam Fortune was her brother’s, bequeathed to the 6th generation of her offspring, to be paid on New Year’s Day 1927 who whatever heirs can be found.   Hundreds of hopeful immigrants paid $10 each to retain a lawyer to collect their $3,000,000 each, but nothing ever came of it.   If the internet had been around back then, they would already know that the rule was — as it is now — if a stranger asks for money to claim an inheritance, it’s probably a scam.