Family History

...now browsing by category

 

#963 – Dick Bernard: The First Sunday of Advent, 2014

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

Today, at least for Roman Catholics, is the First Sunday of Advent. It will be noticed today at my Church, Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis.

As with most everything in our diverse society, there are many definitions of the meaning of this liturgical season, the four Sundays between now and Christmas Day, December 25. Here’s “Advent” as found in google entries.

I happen to be Catholic, actually quite active, I’d say. This would make me a subset of a subset of the American population.

In all ways, the U.S. is a diverse country. The Statistical Abstract of the United States, published by the Census Bureau, says about 80% of adult Americans describe themselves as “Christian”; 25% of this same population says they’re “Catholic”. (The data is here.)

Of course, if you’re a “boots on the ground” person, as I am, raw data like the above pretty quickly devolves. As the most appropriate mantra at Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis (my church) is stated every Sunday: “welcome, wherever you are on your faith journey….” The people in the pews know the truth of this phrase, and know that on every given Sunday, two-thirds of them are not even in the pews.

Regardless of specific belief, the vast majority of us, everywhere, are good people*.

I’m drawn to this topic a bit more than usual this weekend since I just returned from a visit to my last surviving Uncle, Vince, winding down his long life in a wonderful nursing home in a small North Dakota town.

Thanksgiving Day I decided to bring to him, for hanging in his room, the below holy family** (which had not yet been hung, and appears sideways, as it appeared in his room, prior to hanging.)

(click to enlarge)

Nov. 27, 2014

Nov. 27, 2014

For many years this image hung in the family farm home, and Vince seemed glad to see it come to visit. I asked him how old it was, and he said it was his mothers (my grandmothers) favorite, and it was probably older than he, in other words pre-dating 1925.

When next I visit, I hope to see it hanging on the wall he faces each day, and as such things go, it will likely bring back memories, and perhaps other emotions as well. Images tend to do this.

Of course, even in the religious milieu, an event like Advent is complicated. It is observed (including not being observed at all) in various ways even by people within the Catholic Church. A constructive observance, in my opinion, is to attempt to use the next 25 days to daily reflect on something or other in my own life. A nominally Catholic but mostly inspirational book of Daily Reflections given to me years ago by my friend Les Corey comes immediately to mind**; and very likely I can “tie in” Uncle Vince through letters this month. (It helps me to make a public declaration of intention on these things – a little more likely that I’ll follow through!)

Of course, there is, always, lots of side-chatter in this country at this season: “Black Friday” rolled out two days ago. We are a financial “bottom line” nation, I guess. Profits trump most anything else.

But, be that as it may, perhaps my essential message is that the next few weeks can be helpful simply for quieting ones-self and reflecting on a more simple way of being, such as greeted that icon when it was first hung in that simple North Dakota farm home perhaps even more than 100 years ago.

Have a good Advent.

* – A few hours ago, we experienced a good positive start to Advent. After a party for three of our grandkids who have November birthdays, we all went to a Minnesota based project called Feed My Starving Children where, along with 115 others adults and children, we filled food packets whose ultimate destination is Liberia. It was our first time participating with this activity, and it was a very positive activity. Hard work, but a great family activity. Check it, or something similar, out. Special thanks to one of the birthday kids, 8-year old Lucy, who apparently suggested the activity.

Nov. 29, 2014, Addy, Lucy, Kelly

Nov. 29, 2014, Addy, Lucy, Kelly

** – Of course, I don’t know the exact origin of the print which so captured Grandma. Almost certainly the real holy family of Bible days was not European white, as I am, and she was; rather, most likely, middle eastern in ethnicity and appearance.

*** – The book I’ve dusted off for the next weeks: All Saints, Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for our Time by Robert Ellsberg.

#958 – Dick Bernard: An unexpected look at a trip through California , 1941.

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

Numerous times this past year I’ve written about the ancestral farm in North Dakota. The business of sifting and sorting through over 100 years of pictures and written records takes place here at home, as I go through documents piece-by-piece.

Often there have been surprises.

Last night two postcards floated to the top of the pile, post-marked San Rafael and Eureka CA on July 22 and 23, 1941.

Here’s the first:

(click to enlarge)
Bernard California 1941001

The text was sparse, as one might expect. The writer was my mother: “Dear Pa and all. We left Long Beach this morning and are staying at a cabin in Greenfield CA. It is 323 miles today but we got a late start. The old man who owns these cabins worked around Lamoure [south central ND, Mom’s home area] in [18]88*. He came here from Montana. Don’t sound as tho we will get much sleep as we are on the main highway. Richard [me, one year old] is fine, sleeping already. Esther, Henry and Rich” Mom was 31 at the time; Dad was 32.

I long knew about this western trip, in fact I wrote about it a year ago here.

But this fragment – two penny post cards – helped to fill out the story from a contemporary perspective, rather than from someones recollections years later.

I looked up Greenfield. I already knew San Rafael, just on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge; and Eureka is up the coast a ways from San Rafael. Mapquest shows todays routes Long Beach-Greenfield-San Rafael-Eureka here, here and here. 1941 was pre-freeways of course. It would appear that most of their route ran more or less along what was then Highway 101 crossing the then-new Golden Gate Bridge and continuing north on Hwy 101 to Eureka.

They continued to Portland OR, where they visited folks who’d moved west from near Mom’s ND home, thence to Bremerton WA, thence east back to North Dakota.

The big surprise from the Postcard was that we apparently spent more time in California than my Dad had remembered. He had us leaving Long Beach on July 5. The San Rafael postcard was postmarked July 22 meaning, likely, that they were in Greenfield on July 20 and probably spent two more weeks in Long Beach than he had recalled.

The second postcard, with the Golden Gate Bridge (opened 1937), postmarked Eureka CA Jul 23, 1941, was to my Uncle Art, then 13 years old. It takes considerable patience to decipher it – long ago pencil on glossy paper with ages of wear doesn’t make for an easy task. Luckily, there aren’t many words. Here’s what I’ve divined so far: “Tuesday [July 22, 1941]. We went over this [the Bridge] yesterday morning but it was so foggy couldn’t see…the Redwoods…We are fine….”. The postcard itself was labeled “No 60 in UNION OIL COMPANY’S Natural Color Scenes of the West. Golden Gate Bridge on Highway 101. This engineering wonder links San Francisco with the great California Redwood Empire. Unique in bridging the mouth of a major harbor, it has the longest single clear span in the world – 4200 feet.”

The front of the postcard written at Greenfield is entertaining, and I’ll let it speak for itself.

Bernard California 1941002

You’ll never know what you’ll find hidden in what you thought was “junk”….

The travelers, at right in the photo: Richard, Henry and Esther Bernard, with Henry’s parents and brother, Frank, at Long Beach, July, 1941. (Click to enlarge)

The travelers in the story are at right: Richard, Henry and Esther Bernard.  From left, Henry, Josephine, Josie Whitaker, and Frank Bernard, Henry's parents and siblings, in Long Beach.

The travelers in the story are at right: Richard, Henry and Esther Bernard. From left, Henry, Josephine, Josie Whitaker, and Frank Bernard, Henry’s parents and siblings, in Long Beach.

* Lamoure was founded in 1882; North Dakota became a state in 1889.

COMMENT
from Shirley:
Dick – thanks for the views of old post cards – 1941 – oh my. When I was growing up California seemed to me to be a “magical” place. I would hear conversations about
visits there – the long drive to get there – the Pacific Ocean – the orange groves – etc. Surely this was a place of excitement and mystery. My first trip there was in the late 50’s. I drove my VW to Long Beach – to be shipped to Hawaii where I was moving. A friend accompanied me – we drove across Montana into Washington and then down the road to Long Beach. My bubble burst – and California became a crowded place without color as it was so dry with very little greenery. LA was a vast “pleasure-land” and we did have fun there after shipping the car off on its journey. The Hollywood Bowl, tours of the homes of stars, Disneyland… yes – a lot of fun – but not the picture book in my mind. Thanks for sharing.

#953 – Wayne: A bit of nostalgia remembering the early 1940s.

Monday, November 10th, 2014

This summer my friend, Kathy Garvey, gave me a photo and fascinating accompanying story, both of which speak for themselves and follow, below. I have purposely not edited Wayne’s words, as they are written spontaneously, and more interesting. “Dad” is Kathy’s Grandpa, and the other players are his wife and kids. Wayne writes extemporaneously the recollections about the family in the early 1940s. Shakopee is a southwest suburb of Minneapolis MN, on the Minnesota River. The other places mentioned are south suburban Minneapolis and St. Paul.

(click to enlarge)

1942, Shakopee MN

1942, Shakopee MN

“Thank you for the picture of Dad at our filling station at 139 Dakota Street in Shakopee in 1942 at the age of 68. I had never seen this picture. The pumps were not electrified. The customer stated how many gallons wanted and you used the hand pump to reach that level in the glass bowl, then gravity hosed it to the car. Plastic had not been invented and no metal quart cans of oil as aluminum was needed for building planes and tanks. You filled quart bottles from a drum as needed. At age 11 I waited on customers as well. Station was closed about a year later as it was a poor location and gas being rationed the average the average person only had stamps for three gallons per week. Margaret was at the Cargill shipyard and received extra stamps due to her vital work [nursing]. Cars of the day were difficult to start in cold weather so she had an extra battery installed under the hood of her 1939 Pontiac coupe.

In 1939 Dad’s legs were bothering after years of following a team of horses and a plow thru the fields so it was decided that Elmer and Irene would take over the farm at the time of their marriage and we would move to Shakopee to a house acquired thru a tax sale. Rita and I thought we were in heaven being only two blocks from St. Mary’s school, one block from the bakery and two blocks from downtown. There was no central plumbing or heat so Dad partitioned off part of the very large kitchen for a bathroom including a tub. After years of an outdoor toilet and Saturday night baths in a washtub behind the kitchen stove this was a real luxury. A furnace was ordered from Montgomery Ward in St. Paul and an installer came by train to put in and stayed with us for two days as he did not have a car. I should add that we were only two blocks from the first indoor movie that we had ever seen.

Farmers could not join the social security program in those days so we had no real source of income. We fixed up and painted a house acquired thru tax sale and rent from this helped. A few summers Dad worked for the State of Minnesota planting trees but he could not stand the hot weather. During the winter he liked to attend court trials and was always hopeful they would need a juror for the five dollars per day pay which could probably equate to eighty dollars today.

In 1941 he acquired a large stucco home in rundown condition which needed to be razed thru tax sale for twenty-five dollars. Rita and I spent many hours there stripping plaster and nails from the wall laths so they could be used in the new house on 139 Dakota Street. With the help of a retired carpenter for framing Dad did most of the building by himself. On the afternoon of December 7, 1941, he and I were working there when Rita hurried to tell us of the attack on Pearl Harbor. We moved to that house in 1942. Later he would build two other houses on speculation, one on East first street and another near the women’s reformatory.

During the war mother and other ladies would gather at the reformatory to cut sterile bed sheet into thin strips and roll them to be used treating the wounded soldiers in Europe. Also since we lived near the railroad tracks hoboes riding the trains would often come to the door asking to work for food. She gave them sandwiches and sent them on their way.

In the early days the Milwaukee railroad had a daily freight train with a passenger car on the end between Farmington, Lakeview, Prior Lake, Shakopee and Chaska, returning that afternoon. There was a siding in Credit River about one mile from our church. This would not happen today but at the time trucks to carry goods to the Twin Cities were not very reliable so farmers could use this siding to ship crops to market. Every fall Dad would contract to sell a load of grain, and each winter a load of cordwood. On the appointed day Mary, Margaret and Helen would go to the siding and flag the train down and instruct the trainmen as to placing an empty boxcar. Elmer would stand on the hill behind our house and listen for the whistle of the steam engine approaching the grade crossing. Then if he heard the engine starting up several minutes later he and Dad would hitch teams of horses to the already loaded wagons. The girls would wait at the siding and help load the boxcars which are huge in size and required many wagon loads to fill. Two days later they would again flag down the train to transport the car. Dad, Elmer and at times a hired hand would spend much of the winter cutting wood as there was no fieldwork at that time of the year.

Helen related that every second day mother would bake 13 loaves of bread and two tins of muffins. When a hog was butchered she would cook and can the meat in mason jars. The pork was put in huge crocks with a layer of salt between each.

I once asked Margaret to write some family history. She replied in part “we were so lucky to have such good, hardworking parents who did not smoke, drink, curse or gamble”. How true.”

Wayne, July 9, 2014

#948 – Dick Bernard: North Dakota’s 125th Birthday; remembering a farm as part of that history

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

Today, November 2, 2014, is the 125th anniversary of the admission of the State of North Dakota to the United States of America.

I previously wrote about the history of this event, and the relation of my Grandparents Busch farm to that history on October 1. You can read that here, with numerous links.

The genesis for todays post came early Friday morning, in the hall between the North Dakota Nursing Home where my Uncle lives; and the Assisted Living facility where he lived until a year ago. I was walking down this hall and saw this photograph on the wall. I had seen it before, but this time it spoke to me in a new and deeper way. It was my Uncles farm, and he is the last of nine members of the family who called it home. I “borrowed” the photo and brought it home so I could scan it for posterity. The photo was taken, I learned, in the winter of 1992, hung in the hallway by someone I don’t know. Below is a marked version of it.

(click to enlarge)

The Busch farm, Henrietta Township ND, winter of 1992.

The Busch farm, Henrietta Township ND, winter of 1992.

Every one of us have our own stories about places familiar to us. Recently I had occasion to revisit Eric Sevaried’s 1956 classic story in Colliers magazine: “You can go home again”, about the always real and imaginary relationship between place, our past and the present.

For Eric Sevaried, the place of his childhood was Velva ND. We lived in Karlsruhe, not far from Velva, in 1951-53, just three years before he came home again.

Memories.

Then there’s the Busch farm, above pictured:

Grandma and Grandpa Busch, Rosa Berning and Ferdinand Busch, ages 21 and 25, came to the little knoll, the farmstead for their little piece of heaven, as winter ended in 1905. North Dakota was bustling, not yet a teenager, 15 years old. Like a teen, it was growing fast, full of dreams and dilemmas, perhaps like todays western ND oil patch. The future was not yet known, the good times or the very bad, like the death of a child on the farm; or the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Theirs was virgin land, and the new house they soon built overlooked their surrounding acres. There was nary a tree in sight, in any direction.

To the northeast (upper right on the photo), about four miles distance down the hill in the James River Valley lay the older town of Grand Rapids. Within eyeshot, less than five miles to the southwest, was what would soon officially be the town of Berlin.

Grandpa’s Dad, my great-grandfather Wilhelm Busch, had purchased the farm for his son from the owner of the property, the father of later U.S. Senator Milton R. Young. Most likely they were steered to this land by Grandpa’s uncle, B. H. Busch of Dubuque, a budding successful land entrepreneur. They would be followed by other Buschs and Bernings, as Leonard, Lena, Christina, August. August and Christina Berning took up the neighboring farm to the SE about a year later, and farmed there for many years. Leonard and his wife came to Adrian for a few years; Lena married Art Parker, and before they returned to Dubuque, they were early caretakers at the Grand Rapids Park, the first residents of what we all know as the caretakers house.

The Busch house (marked “A” on the photo), initially was simply the standard two story prairie box. The kitchen was initially detached from the house on the west side; later added to the east side of the house; later an addition was built on the west side. In this house were born nine children; all but one lived to adulthood there. Rural telephone service came to this house in 1912, about the time Verena, the third child, was born in 1912. Ferdinand was right in the thick of things with Lakeview rural telephone from the beginning; Vincent did lots of work on rural telephone issues. Verena died of illness at 15, in 1927.

The Buschs, along with many others in the area, founded St. Johns Catholic Church in Berlin in 1915.

Vincent and Edith, brother and sister, never married, born 1925 and 1920 respectively, both lived on the farm until health issues led to a move to town in 2006.

Grandpa died in the old farm house, in 1967. Grandma was said to be the first person to die in what is now St. Rose Care Center in August, 1972. The torch was passed.

Another original building, which still survives at the farmstead, barely, is the granary labeled as “C” on the photo. The first barn was approximately at the letter “D”; another building, which I knew as the chicken coop, was later replaced by the metal shed labeled “G”. A new barn was built at “E” in 1916 for some unrecounted reason. In 1949, the roof blew off this barn and was replaced by the new hand-made roof, which the local Catholic Priest, Fr. Duda, himself an expert carpenter, declared wouldn’t last. That roof is what presently keeps the barn below it from collapsing. Early on, my Dad participated in the reconstruction; Uncle Vince did a huge amount of the work, including the shingling.

In 1957, Grandpa bought the old depot in Berlin and moved the freight house and the depot agents portion of the depot to the farm. They are F1 and F2 on the photo. F2 collapsed about 2006. F1 is at the end of its life.

In 1992, Vincent bought a new house, “B”, which they planted on what all of us descendants knew as the front lawn, a few feet from the old house, which remained there until we took it down in 2000. Most every gathering at the farm ended with a group picture on the same portion of lawn which is now occupied by the new house, presently being renovated.

There has been, now, 109 years of life on this farmstead, though at the moment no one lives on the property (soon to change). The farm is no more or less typical than any farm or town neighborhood anywhere. It is a place full of tradition and memory, especially for this grandson of the place.

There are endless memories in these few acres, as there are in every farmstead; in every block, in every town and city, everywhere.

There was Grandpa’s hired man, way back, who likely slept in the granary. One year, he didn’t come back, killed in WWI. George Busch was a naval officer in WWII; youngest brother Art, went in the Army at the end of the War; Vince stayed home to do the necessary farming. Music was a constant in the house, and probably elsewhere, all “homemade” music, sung and played by the inhabitants….

Busch farm harvest time 1907,.  Rosa Busch holds her daughter Lucina, Others in photo include Ferd, behind the grain shock; Rosa's sister, Lena, and Ferds father Wilhelm, and young brother William Busch.  It is unknown who was unloading the grain in background.  Possibly, it was Ferds brother, Leonard, who also farmed for a time in ND.

Busch farm harvest time 1907,. Rosa Busch holds her daughter Lucina, Others in photo include Ferd, behind the grain shock; Rosa’s sister, Lena, and Ferds father Wilhelm, and young brother William Busch. It is unknown who was unloading the grain in background. Possibly, it was Ferds brother, Leonard, who also farmed for a time in ND.

What are your memories, about your places?

Happy Birthday, North Dakota.

More about the Busch farm here.

#944 – Dick Bernard: Rightsizing.

Saturday, October 18th, 2014

This past week was a phenomenal early fall day in our area, easily matching the postcard vistas featured for Maine on the evening news. A couple of days ago, I took this snapshot along my walking route: just some brush along the shore of a storm drainage pond. Whatever the source, it’s a nice pic, and I invite you to click on it to enlarge.

(click to enlarge all photos)

October 16, 2014, Woodbury MN

October 16, 2014, Woodbury MN

The photo doesn’t match at all the title of this post, nor the content to follow, except that this kind of scene would have been seen by my parents and grandparents and all generations before in their times in this part of the world. The only difference is that we can now take photographs of them, and even amateurs like myself can do an okay job with our equipment (mine a Samsung).

This post was, rather, spurred on by a headline I saw in the Business section of the Wednesday Minneapolis Star Tribune: “Earlier Black Friday spreading” (Oct 15, 2014). Shortly, the “Christmas” music will become a constant at my coffee shop, and the “shop till you drop” drumbeat will begin, to buy more than you need, with money you may not have, to give to someone who may not want the gift given. I suspect there are plenty who will be just as happy when this “joyous” season passes, as will be the merchants…and churches…for whom this two months or so is a major generator of money in the till.

There is no “Christ in Christmas” here in our country, at least not publicly, or it has to wrestle in to get any genuine attention.

This summer I’ve had much more than a normal opportunity to reflect on how material goods diminish in value (and interest) as the twilight of life comes.

We’ve spent the summer dealing with the treasures of a 109 year old farm in North Dakota, where everything had a use, or future use. My Uncle and Aunt kept everything.

Leaving aside assorted large goods, like an old farmers dining room table, the first cut of the treasures in the house and farmyard occupies a small portion of storage. There are really valuable things to me, an historian, like photos and books, but the essence of the residue shows in this picture from inside my garage, taken this week.

October 16, 2014

October 16, 2014

I do not worry about these boxes being stolen. A self-respecting thief might ask “why did they keep THAT?” But I certainly won’t fault my Aunt and Uncle. They were being prudent stewards of what they were given, even if most of it had no earthly use for them, or anyone who follows.

I retired fourteen years ago, and in the same year moved from one suburb to another.

When I left my last work career of 27 years, I took home two boxes. The one I use quite often is pictured below. The second I’ve never opened and thus should be sent for recycling.

The ten years of living in a condo yields this box of “knick knacks” (also pictured). It hasn’t been opened since I moved, and likely won’t be until someone goes through my stuff and asks “why in the world did he keep THAT?

I could show my Dad’s two boxes, same story.

You get the point, I think.

Why not give more attention to downsizing, than getting more and more? Profits are okay, but there can be other priorities as well.

Oct 10, 2014

Oct 10, 2014

October 10, 2014, in a suburban garage.

October 10, 2014, in a suburban garage.

October 10, 2014, Woodbury MN

October 10, 2014, Woodbury MN

#940 – Dick Bernard: The 125th Birthday of North Dakota

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

NOTE TO SUBSCRIBERS: An earlier version of this post has been updated below,including more content, links and photographs. This post was picked up by Twin Cities on-line newspaper MinnPost on Oct. 1, and can be read here.

After publishing this blog, I received a note from the coordinator for North Dakota Studies at the State Historical Society of ND. Neil Howe noted “We provide print and online resources to teach North Dakota history, geography, and citizenship in the schools of ND. You may know that teaching North Dakota Studies in ND is required at grades 4, 8, and high school. We are one of only a few states with this requirement — and we take pride in that.

You may want to visit the North Dakota Studies website here. I think you may find lots of interesting information about ND.”

*

November 2, 2014, is the 125th birthday of North Dakota – the 32nd state of the U.S. Today, October 1, 2014, is the 125th anniversary of the day North Dakotans ratified their new Constitution in 1889.

Happy Birthday!

(click to enlarge all photos)

North Dakota State Capitol as pictured in 1911 North Dakota Blue Book.

North Dakota State Capitol as pictured in 1911 North Dakota Blue Book.


North Dakota is my home state. Many North Dakota towns and cities have earlier celebrated their 125th. Sykeston, where I graduated from high school in 1958, celebrated its 125th in 2008.

Some serendipity happenings cause me to give focus, this day, to the original Constitution of the State of North Dakota. (History of the North Dakota State Capitol buildings can be read here. The original building was built in 1883-84, burned down in 1930, and was replaced by the present skyscraper of the prairie in 1934.)

Most of the text and illustrations which follow come from the 1911 Blue Book of North Dakota, which I found this summer amongst the belongings at the LaMoure County farm where my mother grew up. In the books illustrations (below) you see evidence of pencil scrigglings. Most likely, they were made by my then-two year old mother, Esther: she was born in 1909, and by the time this book was at the farm home, she was probably at the age where a pencil and paper had some relationship together. (The final picture, at the end of this post, is of the first page of the book. Likely an Esther Busch original!)

(click to enlarge)

The cover of the "red, white and blue" Blue Book of North Dakota, 1911

The cover of the “red, white and blue” Blue Book of North Dakota, 1911

The official story of the history of North Dakota, as told in 77 pages of the text of the 1911 ND Blue Book is accessible as follows:
1. The 1889 Federal Enabling Act leading the Constitution is here: ND Enabling Act 1889001 (13 pages)
2. The text of the 1889 Constitution of North Dakota is here: ND Constitution 1889002. (57 pages) At page xxviii is the vote by county for and against the Constitution.
(North Dakota’s Constitution, when completed, was over 200 handwritten pages, a fact I didn’t know till I was trying to locate a copy of it.)
3. The summary history of the state and Dakota Territory, its predecessor: ND TerrHist writ 1911 002 (7 pages) [See note at end of this blog].

North Dakota’s history, like all places, then to now, is complex.

For anyone interested there are a great many sources and observations interpreting North Dakota’s early history and the torturous course of its Constitution pre and post 1911. Between statehood in 1889 and 1911, when this book was published, there had been great changes in ND, with extremely rapid growth. It was doubtless an exciting time on the prairie; a time of transition.

Elwyn Robinson, author of the definitive history of North Dakota, gives this description of the beginnings of the ND Constitution Convention in 1889: ND Constit – Robinson001.

Complex as it was, it seems that the ND process was very civilized compared with the earlier Constitution deliberations leading to Minnesota statehood in 1858. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, in the 2009 Minnesota Blue Book, has this account of the Minnesota Constitution Convention: MN Constitution Hist001

Of course Constitution history does not end with enactment. Re North Dakota, Dr. Jerome Tweton much later wrote an interesting commentary on a later effort to redo the oft amended original Constitution of North Dakota.

The rest of us.

Of course, such recountings as shared above, tend to overlook the ordinary human element – people like ourselves. The recounting is of power transactions, in the old days, virtually all made by educated white men, setting the ground rules for the society in which they lived.

In 1910, North Dakota had 577,000 or so population (today, approximately 700,000). That would mean 577,000 individual stories.

Here, very briefly, are snippets of four human stories, those of my grandparents.

The person who acquired and then saved the 1911 Blue Book was my grandfather Ferdinand W. Busch.

He and his wife, Grandma Rosa (Berning), came to the pioneer farm between Berlin and Grand Rapids from extreme southwest Wisconsin (a few miles from Dubuque IA). They married Feb. 28, 1905, and the next month came west to virgin prairie.

Grandpa Fred Busch seems always to have had an active interest in politics, and it is probably thanks to him that I now have this precious old book. (Rosa would have little of this political stuff: there were mouths to feed, after all. When Grandpa ran unsucessfully for County Auditor in 1927, my Aunt Mary once said, Grandma, now with the franchise, campaigned against him!)

Their farm was purchased from the father of Milton R. Young, long time ND U.S. Senator. Fred knew Milton well, personally. They are buried, literally, across the road from each other just outside of Berlin. My mother worked at one point for Milton and his wife at their farm on the edge of Berlin.

Fred became a Non-Partisan League advocate, and later in life especially liked Sen. Bill Langer.

Dad’s side of my family preceded ND statehood.

My grandmother Bernard, then Josephine Collette, was born eight years before statehood at St. Andrews, where the Park and Red Rivers come together in Walsh County ND. Her parents came to ND in 1878; several uncles and Aunts came west about the same time, just before the great land rush.

Her uncle, Samuel Collette, who migrated to the St. Paul MN area from Quebec in 1857, was the first family member to see North Dakota. He was part of the Minnesota Mounted Rangers in 1862-63, a soldier in the so-called Indian War, and likely was with that unit in 1863 when it reached what later became Bismarck. This was a few years before Interstate 94.

I don’t recall much talk of politics by Grandma or Grandpa, though I think Grandma had a Collette Cousin who was a ND State Senator for a long while.

In the reverential description of the ND flag in the book (see below), I found most interesting the many references to the Spanish-American War in the Philippines 1898-99.

Grandpa Busch, Mom’s Dad, would not, in 1911, have had any idea that his future brother-in-law, my Grandpa Bernard, Dad’s Dad, who came to Grafton from Quebec about 1894, was in at the beginning of that long war, spending an entire year in the Philippines, part of Co C, Grafton.

Where that ND flag was, there was Grandpa Bernard.

I have visited Manila, Pagsanjan and Paete, all mentioned in that description.

North Dakota was one of the earliest enrollees to support that war in the spring of 1898. Of course, the “Roughrider”, Teddy Roosevelt, had spent two important years in ND in the mid 1880s, living in the Badlands not far from todays Medora. In a way, by 1898, Theodore Roosevelt had become a North Dakotan.

Without knowing it, the two ND families were already “tied” together.

(Another book found at the Busch farm is one about the Spanish-American War written at the time of the war in the grandiose style of the time.)

Every family has their own stories. These are only five small snips.

And every state has its symbols.

Here are the 1911 descriptors of the Wild Prairie Rose, North Dakotas State Flower, and the North Dakota Flag: ND Flower Flag 1911 002. These are the only state symbols within the book.

There is no descriptor of the North Dakota Seal in the 1911 book. Here is a more current interpretation of that Seal.

(click to enlarge)

ND Flag, as presented in the 1911 North Dakota Blue Book.  Scribbles likely compliments of then 2-year old Esther Busch.

ND Flag, as presented in the 1911 North Dakota Blue Book. Scribbles likely compliments of then 2-year old Esther Busch.

ND State Flower, the prairie Wild Rose, as presented in 1911 ND Blue Book

ND State Flower, the prairie Wild Rose, as presented in 1911 ND Blue Book

Great Seal of North Dakota in 1911 ND Blue Book.  Scribbles likely contributed by then 2-year old Esther Busch of Henrietta Township, rural Berlin ND.

Great Seal of North Dakota in 1911 ND Blue Book. Scribbles likely contributed by then 2-year old Esther Busch of Henrietta Township, rural Berlin ND.

Likely artiste, Esther Busch, in the 1911 North Dakota Blue Book.

Likely artiste, Esther Busch, in the 1911 North Dakota Blue Book.

Happy Birthday, North Dakota!

POSTNOTE: Esther Busch went on to Henrietta Township School #1 near Berlin ND, thence to St. John’s Academy in Jamestown, thence Valley City State Normal School. She became a North Dakota Public School elementary school teacher in the late 1920s, met her future husband Henry Bernard at Valley City State Normal School, and together they taught a total of 71 years in North Dakota Public Schools.

re ND TerrHist link (#3 above): At page four of the link you’ll find the population of ND by decades until 1910. Succinctly, the population grew by 75% from 1890 to 1900, thence 80% from 1900 to 1910 to a 1910 population of 577,000.

That more or less remained the population of North Dakota until the recent oil boom.

They say ND is now about 700,000; In the 1960 census, when I was a junior at Valley City State Teachers College, ND population was about 630,000. When I did the Busch family history some years ago I looked up the population of Berlin, which was platted in 1903 and incorporated in 1906. Berlins highest population ever was in 1910, 137 people. It was all downhill from there. The current population of Berlin, ND is about 35. Here’s how it looked about 1910: Berlin ND early pre-1910001

A small photo album.
click on all photos to enlarge them

Busch farm harvest time 1907,.  Rosa Busch holds her daughter Lucina, Others in photo include Ferd, behind the grain shock; Rosa's sister, Lena, and Ferds father Wilhelm, and young brother William Busch.  It is unknown who was unloading the grain in background.  Possibly, it was Ferds brother, Leonard, who also farmed for a time in ND.

Busch farm harvest time 1907,. Rosa Busch holds her daughter Lucina, Others in photo include Ferd, behind the grain shock; Rosa’s sister, Lena, and Ferds father Wilhelm, and young brother William Busch. It is unknown who was unloading the grain in background. Possibly, it was Ferds brother, Leonard, who also farmed for a time in ND.

Ferd and Rosa Busch with first child, Lucina, in yard of their farm home likely Fall 1907

Ferd and Rosa Busch with first child, Lucina, in yard of their farm home likely Fall 1907

Josephine, Henry, Henry Jr and Josephine Bernard, Grafton ND 1908

Josephine, Henry, Henry Jr and Josephine Bernard, Grafton ND 1908

Esther and Lucina Busch, rural Berlin/Grand Rapids ND 1910

Esther and Lucina Busch, rural Berlin/Grand Rapids ND 1910

Henry Bernard (top left) and Josephine's cousin Alfred Collette (lower right) ready to embark for Philippines from Presidio San Francisco summer 1898.

Henry Bernard (top left) and Josephine’s cousin Alfred Collette (lower right) ready to embark for Philippines from Presidio San Francisco summer 1898.

(If you enlarge Alfred Collette’s head (lower right) you can see that his hat is emblazoned with 1st North Dakota text.)

North Dakota State Capitol June 1958 photos by Henry Bernard.

North Dakota State Capitol June 1958 photos by Henry Bernard.

#937 – Dick Bernard: A Look Back at the History of the State of North Dakota as it approaches its 125th birthday.

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Today, September 17, is Constitution Day in the United States. This year the U.S. is 227 years young.

Happy Birthday!

Some serendipity happenings cause me to give focus, this day, to the original Constitution of the State of North Dakota.

North Dakota is my home state.

This year, November 2, is the 125th birthday of North Dakota – the 32nd state of the U.S. (South Dakota is 33rd). Elwyn Robinson, author of the definitive history of North Dakota, gives this description of the beginnings of the ND Constitution Convention in 1889: ND Constit – Robinson001.

Most of the text and illustrations which follow come from the 1911 Blue Book of North Dakota, which I found this summer amongst the belongings at the LaMoure County farm where my mother grew up. Her parents came to that farm from extreme southwest Wisconsin (near Dubuque IA) in March of 1905. Her Dad, my Grandpa Fred Busch, seems always to have been interested in politics, and it is probably thanks to him that I now have this old book. In the books illustrations (below) you see evidence of pencil scrigglings. Most likely, they were made by my then-two year old mother, Esther: she was born in 1909, and by the time this book was at the farm home, she was probably at the age where a pencil and paper had some relationship together. (The final picture, at the end of this post, is of the first page of the book. Likely an Esther Busch original!)

(click to enlarge)

The cover of the "red, white and blue" Blue Book of North Dakota, 1911

The cover of the “red, white and blue” Blue Book of North Dakota, 1911

North Dakota’s history, like all places, then to now,is a very complicated one. For anyone interested there are a great many sources and observations interpreting North Dakota’s early history and the torturous course of its Constitution pre and post 1911. Between statehood in 1889 and 1911, when this book was published, there had been great changes in ND, with extremely rapid growth. It was doubtless an exciting time on the prairie; a time of transition. The history as recorded in the book is as known and accepted as fact in 1911.

Here is the 1889 Constitution of North Dakota as reprinted in the 1911 Blue Book: ND Constitution 1889001

Dr. Jerome Tweton much later wrote an interesting commentary on a later effort to redo the oft amended original Constitution.

Here is the summary history of the state and Dakota Territory, its predecessor, as written in the same book: ND TerrHist writ 1911 002 [See note at end of this blog].

Dad’s side of my family preceded ND statehood.

My grandmother Bernard, then Josephine Collette, was born eight years before statehood at St. Andrews, where the Park and Red Rivers come together in Walsh County ND. Her parents came to ND in 1878; several uncles and Aunts came west about the same time.

Her uncle, Samuel Collette, who migrated to the St. Paul MN area from Quebec in 1857, was the first family member to see North Dakota. He was part of the Minnesota Mounted Rangers in 1862-63, a soldier in the so-called Indian War, and likely was with that unit in 1863 when it reached what later became Bismarck. This was a bit before Interstate 94.

Every state has its symbols.

Here are the 1911 descriptors of the Wild Prairie Rose, the State Flower, and the North Dakota Flag: ND Flower Flag 1911 002. These are the only state symbols within the book.

There is no descriptor of the North Dakota Seal in the 1911 book. Here is a more current interpretation of that Seal.

I found most interesting, in the reverential description of the ND flag, the many references to the Spanish-American War in the Philippines 1898-99. My Grandpa Busch, Mom’s Dad, would not, in 1911, have had any idea that his future brother-in-law, my Grandpa Bernard, Dad’s Dad, who came to Grafton from Quebec about 1894, was in that war, spending that entire year in the Philippines, part of Co C, Grafton. Where that ND flag was, there was Grandpa Bernard. I have visited Manila, Pagsanjan and Paete, all mentioned in that description.

Without knowing it, the two ND families were already “tied” together. (Another book found at the Busch farm is one about the Spanish-American War written at the time of the war in the grandiose style of the time.)

North Dakota was one of the earliest enrollees in Theodore Roosevelt’s Spanish-American War, spring of 1898. Of course, the “Roughrider”, Teddy Roosevelt, had spent two important years in ND in the mid 1880s, living in the Badlands not far from todays Medora. In a way, by 1898, Theodore Roosevelt had become a North Dakotan.

(click to enlarge)

ND Flag, as presented in the 1911 North Dakota Blue Book.  Scribbles likely compliments of then 2-year old Esther Busch.

ND Flag, as presented in the 1911 North Dakota Blue Book. Scribbles likely compliments of then 2-year old Esther Busch.

ND State Flower, the prairie Wild Rose, as presented in 1911 ND Blue Book

ND State Flower, the prairie Wild Rose, as presented in 1911 ND Blue Book

Great Seal of North Dakota in 1911 ND Blue Book.  Scribbles likely contributed by then 2-year old Esther Busch of Henrietta Township, rural Berlin ND.

Great Seal of North Dakota in 1911 ND Blue Book. Scribbles likely contributed by then 2-year old Esther Busch of Henrietta Township, rural Berlin ND.

Likely artiste, Esther Busch, in the 1911 North Dakota Blue Book.

Likely artiste, Esther Busch, in the 1911 North Dakota Blue Book.

Esther Busch went on to Henrietta Township School #1 near Berlin ND, thence to St. John’s Academy in Jamestown, thence Valley City State Normal School. She became a North Dakota Public School elementary school teacher in the late 1920s, met her future husband Henry Bernard at Valley City State Normal School, and together they taught a total of 71 years in North Dakota Public Schools.

Happy Birthday, North Dakota!

re ND TerrHist link above: At page four of the link you’ll find the population of ND by decades until 1910. Succinctly, the population grew by 75% from 1890 to 1900, thence 80% from 1900 to 1910 to a 1910 population of 577,000.

That more or less remained the population of North Dakota until the recent oil boom.

They say ND is now about 700,000; In the 1960 census, when I was a junior in college, ND population was about 630,000. When I did the Busch family history some years ago I looked up the population of Berlin, which was platted in 1903 and incorporated in 1906. Berlins highest population ever was in 1910, 137 people. It was all downhill from there. The current population of Berlin, ND is about 35. Here’s how it looked about 1910: Berlin ND early pre-1910001

The present ND population boomlet is in the Bakken oil west (Williston, Minot, Bismarck, Dickinson areas) and in the cities, particularly Fargo and Grand Forks.

#929 – Dick Bernard: Aiming at the Moon (and hitting ourselves); a thought on redefining how we see relationships with our world, and about the matter of changing attitudes..

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Early Wednesday morning, August 21, I was heading out for coffee from my motel in LaMoure ND, and a sight begging to be photographed appeared a few steps to my left, and I couldn’t pass on it. Here’s the snapshot. The waning moon appeared to be in the “bullseye”.

(click to enlarge)

August 21, 2014, 6:15 a.m., LaMoure ND

August 21, 2014, 6:15 a.m., LaMoure ND

I’m very familiar with the sight: I stay often at this motel. August 10, on a previous trip, I’d taken a photo of the permanently on display Minuteman Missile you see in the photo. But this one, with the moon as the bullseye, was unique. I just looked up the Phase of the Moon I photographed that day: here.

More about this missile at the end of this post.

My trips to LaMoure, these past months especially, have always been work, both physical and emotional. I go into a “news blackout”, basically, too busy to read a newspaper; too tired to even watch TV news. So it wasn’t until I arrived home late on the 21st that I learned of the decapitation of the American journalist in Syria by an ISIS person with a distinctly British accent; and I saw the image of some ISIS hotshots showing off with some American tank, either purchased or captured in Iraq and now part of the ISIS arsenal.

Suddenly our omnipotence does not seem so potent. The radicals in ISIS seem far more dangerous and ominous than al Qaeda a few years ago, essentially thumbing their collective noses at us, using our own weapons and tactics, and we can’t do a thing about it. So we debate around the edges of the true reality, which is we can no longer control the world, and our past actions have consequences. We now debate on whether or not we should pay ransom to rescue captured journalists or others, and we face the prospect of dealing with shadowy enemies who look and talk just exactly like us. (“American” are very diverse, should anyone not have noticed. The traditional order has irreversibly changed.)

This is a very complex situation in which we find ourselves, even worse than our no-win Iraq adventure which began in 2003 with bragging that we had won that war less than two months into that awful and deadly and endless conflict (which still continues).

We now have to live within the world which we have made.

When I got home this week, I decided to review the history of the Minuteman Missile, which was a creature of my time in North Dakota.

August 10, 2014, LaMoure ND

August 10, 2014, LaMoure ND

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

We Americans love our weaponry: the Biblical “Ploughshares” doesn’t seem to have a chance against “Swords”. We’re so strong, armed so well, peace runs a far distant second to the advantage of overwhelming military superiority – or so goes the conversation. Look for Monuments to Peace in your circuits. And to War. And see who wins. (One organization I support whose sole mission is a Peace Memorial is here. Check it out.)

Googling “Minuteman North Dakota” just now brought forth a North Dakota Historical Society site which for some odd reason is dedicated to President Ronald Reagan.

The Minutemen were children of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson during the Cold War, and were planted between 1961-67 in the heat of the Cold War (Reagan was in office much later, 1981-89).

When you’re talking man-up, whose name is attached to manning-up matters, I guess.

I see lowly ploughshares memorialized from time to time, but they’re seldom named for a person, compared with war memorials, they are minuscule in number.

FDR was President when the Nuclear Age was born; and Truman was President when the Atomic Bombs were first used, and Eisenhower was at the helm when other weapons of mutually assured destruction were developed and tested.

Actually, all the military toys ought to be dedicated to “we, the people” who fund, and indeed have insisted on their development through our Congress, which by action (or inaction) authorizes endless war and military investment.

(Changing this reality is not simple: for instance, my Grandmother on the ND farm* 10 miles from that Missile in the photos, was joyful when the A-Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945(Atomic Bomb 1945001). Her bias was her son, an officer on a Destroyer in the Pacific. She wanted him home safe. The U.S. War Department, then, rhapsodized in public relations releases that this deadly bomb might be the key to ending war forever.

And Saturday night I was at a Minnesota Twins baseball game with a family group which included my granddaughters father-in-law. He’s a great guy. Much of his career as an Air Force enlisted man was making sure those ND Minuteman sites were secure….)

As a country we have supported these symbols of our supposed omnipotence, without regard to partisan designation. It is dangerous for a politician to speak against War.

Now a few countries, especially the U.S. and Russia, are awash in nuclear weapons which, if ever used, even one, by some lawless renegade leader or thief, will take a long step towards mutually assured destruction of everyone downwind.

The conventional wisdom back then, that our strength was in military superiority, was not only wrong, but stupid.

We’re in a hole of our own making, and best that we figure out it’s worth our while to not only stop digging, but try other means of co-existing.

We’re part of, not apart from, a much bigger world than just within our borders.

Change can happen, but it always happens slowly. Be the one person who is, as Gandhi said, “the change you wish to see.”

* POSTNOTE: On that same farm, in the yard in November, 1957, I and others watched Sputnik as it blinked on and off in the black night ski. In those days, newspapers carried maps of where you could see Sputnik. In my memory (I was 17 then, and a senior in high school), the trajectory was from SSE to NNW, but I could be wrong. Sputnik was a big, big deal. Earlier, in early teen years, Grandpa would rail on about the Communists, who were sort of abstract to me, then, but it fits, now, with my knowledge of the great Red Scare, Sen. Joe McCarthy, HUAC, etc. And earlier still, would be the Flash Gordon novel which somebody had bought sometime, and was pretty ragged, but featured the Ray Gun (early Laser fantasy?), and Flash Gordon’s conflict with the evil ones. I have recently been going through all of the belongings of that old house, and I keep looking for that ragged old Flash Gordon book, but my guess is I won’t find it….

UPDATE AND COMMENT:
long-time good friend Bruce F responded to my post as follows:

I wonder,Dick, how these rag-tag radical groups in SW Asia can out gun and defeat government armies that we train and supply.

My guess is that in one form or another we supply and train them. In order to be the world’s largest arms dealer, the military industrial machine needs to work both sides to continue to expand profits.

Comment:
The key word in Bruce’s comment (to me, at least) is the word “we”. Who is “we”? And when?

Otherwise I’d agree with what seems to be the general thrust of Bruce’s comment: the unwieldy entity called the “United States” (primarily we citizens, collectively), have allowed this to evolve.

I doubt ISIS (or ISIL) or the “Caliphate” will have a long life. It will not become a new North Korea.

The regional situation is extraordinarily messy. It is difficult to identify who is “friend” or “enemy” at any particular time. The latest ISIS casualty publicized in this area was a graduate of a local Minneapolis suburban high school in 1990 who embraced a radical philosophy about 10 years ago.

The President of the United States is stuck in a quandary, which delights his enemies. There is nothing he can do which will not be legitimately criticized by someone. The U.S. Congress, which should be making the key decisions per its Constitutional obligation to make policy on War, generally, will continue to escape and evade its responsibility.

But it remains we Americans who through our own lack of engagement have helped create the monster which we now can scarcely understand, and hardly know how to turn around.

#927 – Dick Bernard: Guns and Relationships

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Shortly I leave on yet another trip to the North Dakota farm, continuing the long summer of preparing the place for new occupants. It has been a lot of work, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe this trip, to deal with the last of the scrap metal, and some other miscellany, might take care of at least the physical side of the effort. There remains the emotional: I’ve had far more of an investment in that place than I ever realized, and I knew that farm was important to me, though I never actually lived there. Just occasional visits from childhood on; then a week or so each year helping my Uncle with harvest. It was my hub: the house, the barn, the surrounding fields, the wheat golden when last I left about a week ago, the apple trees (this year very heavy with apples)….

And back home, each box of “junk” from that farm yields some treasure. This Oliver Writer Nr. 3 for instance, one of the first typewriters produced in quantity circa 1902.

(click to enlarge photos)

Oliver Typewriter Model Nr. 3 circa 1902, as it appears August, 2014

Oliver Typewriter Model Nr. 3 circa 1902, as it appears August, 2014

But as I leave this computer screen shortly for the now very familiar trip 310 miles west, my thoughts will be on other things. Past will be prelude: I do not “keep up” with the news on-the-road. What I know now, is what I will know when I resume life back home in a couple of days.

Ferguson MO, and what that all means, will likely be much on my mind. Here’s the last post I received about that terrible situation, 1:43 a.m.

How do I fit in with all that is Ferguson MO right now?

Two weeks ago I stood for near three hours at Somerset School on Dodd Road in nearby Mendota Heights watching hundreds of police cars pass in honor of their fallen comrade, Scott Patrick, who was gunned down by a career criminal, a white guy, who, he said himself, hated cops. That day seems so long ago now.

There are so many thoughts. Here, one guy with a gun, by all appearances an ordinary motorist who’d done something dumb, killed another guy, the policeman, who had no reason to feel he’d have to use his own gun.

The policeman is dead, no worries for him; the killer may have felt some temporary euphoria, but not for long.

What benefit did the gun give the one who used it?

None at all.

Still, we are absolutely awash in weapons in this country. It is our right to be armed and dangerous.

At the farm I’ll visit in a few hours, one of my first acts, when it was clear my uncle wouldn’t be coming back there, was to remove six weapons from the house for safekeeping. These were all routine kinds of hunting weapons, granted, but weapons nonetheless. Attractive targets for thieves.

Nov. 2013, at the farm.  Two other guns, "heritage" types, were elsewhere in the house.  Later I found another gun in the metal shed, and a pistol as well.  All now in safekeeping.

Nov. 2013, at the farm. Two other guns, “heritage” types, were elsewhere in the house. Later I found another gun in the metal shed, and a pistol as well. All now in safekeeping.

Best I can tell, just from the news, guns don’t even benefit those who own and use them for protection, whether “bad” or “good”. The one having the temporary advantage with the gun, isn’t at all advantaged in the longer term.

And then there’s the matter of race in this country of ours. That’s the larger message in Ferguson, just beginning to be discussed, again.

We are, every single one of us, captives of an ancient narrative about race in this country.

At this bucolic farm I’ll visit in a few hours, they once had a favorite horse, a black horse, “Nigger”. This was long before I was born. But long after I was born a favorite Christmas nut was “nigger toes”, brazil nuts.

There was no drama in the use of this term, nigger. But the greater message was the very fact that it was used at all.

And it isn’t about “them”, it’s about every single one of us.

Aunt Edith's flower at the farm, August 10, 2014.  Edith died February 12, 2014, some of her flowers live on.

Aunt Edith’s flower at the farm, August 10, 2014. Edith died February 12, 2014, some of her flowers live on.

#926 – Dick Bernard: The Sea Wing Disaster of July 13, 1890

Monday, August 18th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 11.37.07 AM

For a number of months, occasional coffee-time conversation with friends David Thofern and Frederick Johnson usually got around to talk about progress on Mr. Johnson’s latest book, “The Sea Wing Disaster. Tragedy on Lake Pepin” (available through Goodhue County Historical Society here with event schedule about the book here). When the book came out, I bought a couple of copies (well worth the cost), and when I learned that the author would be talking about the volume at the Le Duc House in Hastings MN, I put it on the calendar, and last night my spouse and I went for a most fascinating hour presentation.

(click on photos to enlarge; to further enlarge poster beside Johnson, put cursor over the poster and click again.)

Frederick Johnson speaks on the Sea Wing disaster at Le Duc House, Hastings MN, Aug. 17, 2014

Frederick Johnson speaks on the Sea Wing disaster at Le Duc House, Hastings MN, Aug. 17, 2014

Frederick, David, myself, and others of we “regulars” are into bantering, about this and that, and this project was no different.

But the Sea Wing Disaster was no laughing matter. It happened July 13, 1890, in Lake Pepin, the shallow and large wide spot in the Mississippi River below Red Wing MN.

In the early evening of that day, the overloaded small steamer capsized in very strong winds, and 98 of the 215 passengers died. Most were from Red Wing.

It was and remains one of the largest domestic maritime disasters in U.S. History, and one of the very few in which weather was the major causative factor. (Many of the Sea Wing passengers were aboard a barge, lashed to the Sea Wing. All but one of the passengers on the barge survived. The Sea Wing, only 14′ wide and about 100 feet long, was overloaded and no match for the wind induced massive waves. The passengers had hardly a chance.)

The Sea Wing and Barge in tow before the catastrophe...

The Sea Wing and Barge in tow before the catastrophe…

...and after.  Photos courtesy of Goodhue Co. Hist. Soc.

…and after. Photos courtesy of Goodhue Co. Hist. Soc.

In these days of AccuWeather and instantaneous forecasting it is perhaps hard to imagine being surprised by bad weather. People back then, and until very recently, relied on the usual visual signs of bad weather, and they knew what bad weather meant, in general. But this storm was different. Not long before the Sea Wing was struck down, a huge tornado from the same system had hit the Lake Gervais area just north of St. Paul. But this was 1890, and there was no easy way to spread the word about what was lurking not far away. The boat, the captain (who survived) and the passengers had hardly a chance.

Johnson first wrote about the Sea Wing in 1986. At the time he started planning to do an article, but there was so much material that he expanded his work into a book. Fast forward to 2014, and major additions provided by newly discovered material, including from the descendants of the casualties and survivors, gave rise to a much expanded new work. Indeed, even at the August 17 program, members of the audience showed photos of their ancestors who were with that boat the ill-fated day.

In this new edition, Mr. Johnson painstakingly researched both those who died and who survived. Judging from the audience on Sunday night, the new volume will bring forward still more new information retained in family collections for near 125 years.

Take in the presentation if you can (schedule above), and/or buy the book. It is a very interesting look at history.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES