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.
One of the things my Wifey likes about me is that I geek out over weird things. A few summers ago, while we were cruising rummage sales around Fargo, I started to geek out over a small building in an alley in the older section of town. Yes, I’m a garage nerd, but for one particular one: The Rusk Auto-House was a solution to the fact that houses built before automobiles were common weren’t built with garages, or even planning on a garage on the property. Fargo Cornice had the machinery and the know-how to build almost anything out of pressed steel. In the early 1900s they saw this new market made up of new car owners, and the Rusk Auto-House filled their need for automobile storage. Amazingly, many still survive, still in the back yards of hundred-year-old houses. One was once on the Register of Historic Places, and I’ve got photos of a couple more I’ve run across since I first posted the Auto-House page here; and, I didn’t even know there was a restored one over in North Fargo! The advertisement above was a 1/2 page ad that appeared in the Fargo Forum in 1915, while an auto show was going on in town. $139 in 1914 dollars is about $3,200 in 2013 dollars — and that’s about what it’ll cost you to get a steel garage today.
Do you know Katy High? Here she is, in 1963, with a big sash around her shoulders so she doesn’t forget her name. Sorry for the large image; that’s the nature of Miss Katy High:
Katy High is not actually her real name. This woman is 19-year-old Carol R Dettmann, Miss Tall USA 1963, from Milwaukee Wisconsin, topping out at a head-bumping 6 feet 1 inch tall. Carol was brought on to promote a world-record-setting construction project in North Dakota, and her name is a pun. Here’s a clue as to what Miss Dettmann was promoting:
Get it? Katy High was promoting KTHI, a new set of TV call letters that were issued in 1963. The station had gone by KXGO and KEND, but when they came upon their plan to build the tallest freestanding manmade structure in the world, it only seemed appropriate to call themselves “HI”gh. In most promotional materials, the call letters were written as ktHI, further emphasizing the accomplishment of broadcast engineering. The previous record was held by WRBL and WTVM, at 1,749 feet tall in Columbus, GA, but when the FCC issued the permit to KEND-TV in May 8, 1963, they set a new record, the new tower measuring up at 2,063 feet. If you’ll remember your high school measurements, a mile is 5,280 feet — so the KTHI tower is four tenths of a mile tall. It might not seem like much, but it’s twice as tall as the Eiffel Tower, almost twice as tall as the Empire State Building, and was only recently surpassed in height by the Burj in Dubai. The KTHI tower held the record until the 1970s, when a tower was built in Poland that stuck up a little higher into the sky, but that mast collapsed in the nineties, returning the title to North Dakota. According to the marketing material sent out regarding the tower’s construction, the KTHI-TV tower is 339 Katy Highs tall (provided she’s in stocking feet).
The KTHI tower is still in service, standing tall on the prairie, broadcasting to the entirety of the Red River Valley — which, in 1995, brought about another call letter change. To reflect their service to the Valley, rather than a record-setting mast, the station changed their letters to KVLY.
Miss Carol Dettmann experienced a name change of her own: she married not long after her she visited Fargo to be the mascot of the tallest antenna in the world.
Happy Halloween from Black’s Department Store! This wasn’t the store located in the Black Building: the photo was taken in 1932, so this ragtag bunch of costumed employees worked for the Store Without A Name, Black’s followup to his original department store. Sure, the photo was taken in November, but you can’t always plan your costume balls around a holiday like Halloween. As seen in last Sunday’s Dakota Death Trip, but you can click the photo for a much larger view: see if you can find the one person marked with an arrow!
Mrs. Colin Campbell would not be ousted from her home: she is standing on the roof of her back porch, after climbing out a second story window. The water is about 4 feet away from covering her feet, but she was non-plussed; in the accompanying article, she defied police attempts to evacuate her, declaring it was a good time to catch up on her embroidery. On April 16, 1952, the Red River crested at around 35 feet; a USGS paper declared it the highest crest since 1897. Her address, 106 1st Avenue South, no longer exists; Urban Renewal wisely razed the neighborhood south of Main and east of 4th street, which was regularly subject to inundation even in light flood years.
In April, 1969, the Red River of the North overflowed its banks, reaching 37.3 feet on the 15th, and expected to crest at 38 feet a few days later. This aerial photo appeared on the front page of the Fargo Forum on the 15th, showing the dike’s position in relation to saving city hall, the Civic Center, and the year-old library. Today, the dike runs down 2nd street, atop the river bank, but in 1969, they let the swollen river cover the big parking lot, and ran the dike along 3rd street, just outside City Hall’s front doors; the Town House hotel, at the far right in the big picture, looks on the verge of flooding, but safe enough.
About a month ago, I drove past that ugly modern office building on the corner of Main and University, and struggled to remember what was there before. Then, I found this postcard, and memories rushed back in. No, I don’t think I was ever in Bronk’s (we were a Polar Package Place family; it was closer to our home), but its central location in Fargo and garish exterior would make it hard to forget. I’m going to look through my archives and see if I can dig up any more on Bronk’s, but I don’t remember seeing anything about it recently. Today, garish exteriors are reserved for children’s restaurants and theme buffets — the interior of a liquor store isn’t inherently anything, let alone to be ‘themed’ to attract customers. Modern stores aim for neutral efficiency, and ‘vice’ stores want to project professionalism lest they be called uncouth…but back in the day, when someone said to stop at the liquor store with the cowboy on top, you darn well knew where to go. Bronk’s disappeared in the late 80s by my recollection, and was replaced by a law office building. No cowboys on the top of the law offices, sadly.
This funny little tin house is a throwback to an earlier time — one before houses were automatically assigned a wide-open, roofed, cement-floored siamese twin known as a ‘garage’. When people started buying cars they needed someplace to put them, and one of the competitors in the ‘automobile storage kit’ was the Rusk Auto-House, an overtly-fancy steel shed that owes its beauty to its Fargo-based manufacturer: a producer of embossed tin ceilings and copper cornices. Sadly, the metal shortages of the World Wars put an end to tin ceilings, copper cornices, and, as you might guess, stylish little steel car-homes.