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Zip to Zap

Written by Merry Helm

May 10, 2021 - Today is the anniversary of the only official riot in state history that called on the National Guard to disperse the crowd.

It started innocently. In April ‘69, NDSU student body president, Chuck Stroup, couldn’t afford to go to Florida with his sister for spring break. So he came up with a cheap alternative and took it to NDSU’s school paper, the Spectrum. He was planning a gathering, near his hometown of Hazen, to be held the following month. He called it “Zip to Zap” and took out a classified ad.

A responsive front-page article about the event set things in motion. It praised the beauty of the Knife River and stated that the people of Zap were welcoming the idea. The article also predicted that people from all over the Midwest would come to the “Lauderdale of the North.” UND picked up on the idea, and within weeks, Zip to Zap was being promoted nationwide as a “Grand Festival of Light and Love.”

Unprepared for such a huge response, the student organizers quickly got permission from Zap landowners to allow camping in their vacant fields. They also hired some regional bands to keep the audience entertained.

Meanwhile, Zap’s citizens were guardedly optimistic. The café started working on “Zapburgers,” and the town’s two bars stocked up on beer. Since there was no way to predict how many would attend, Governor Guy talked with Highway Patrol officials about traffic control, and the National Guard boned up on nationally mandated procedures for crowd control.

By Friday evening, May 9, 2,000 people descended on Zap. The bars were overwhelmed and raised their prices, upsetting the students. Pretty soon, it didn’t matter – the beer was all gone, and the café had to close. Students vomited and urinated in the open – others passed out in the street. Temperatures fell below freezing, and wood from a demolished building was used to start a bonfire on Main Street. Pretty soon, the townspeople asked the crowd to break up and go home. Some complied, but others didn’t. The party atmosphere disappeared and gradually escalated into a riot. Security was overwhelmed, and the café and one bar were broken into and trashed.

By dawn, 500 National Guardsman surrounded the town. Two hundred of them moved in and faced about 200 students who were still going. Approximately 1,000 others were sleeping wherever they had landed during the night. Their wake-up call was at the point of a fixed bayonet. Cold, hungry and hung-over, there was little resistance, and the crowd was dispersed in front of salivating reporters. That evening, the Zip to Zap fiasco was the lead story on the CBS Evening News – giving the state publicity it neither wanted or needed.

Damage from the riot was assessed at more than $25,000. A lot of fingers were pointed, but the student governments of UND and NDSU were handed the bills. Which they paid.

Levingston or Rockefeller

Written by Merry Helm

May 11, 2021 - It was on this date in 1906 that William Levingston died at the age of 96. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Illinois, where he had lived out his life with Margaret, his wife of 50 years.

William, a descendent of German immigrants, grew up in New York State. At 24, he was tall, handsome and rugged, and he did whatever he pleased, no matter the consequence.

When he was 27, he met a deeply religious woman, 24 year-old Eliza Davison. It was a case of “opposites attract,” and over her father’s objections, Eliza married William soon after. A year later, they had a daughter, Lucy, and a year after that, they had a son, John, followed by four more children.

William was frequently out of town on mysterious business trips. He paid his bills and was present for the births of his children, but there was much speculation about how he made his money. His son John would later say, “He made a practice for many years of never carrying less than $1,000, and he kept that in his pocket. He was able to take care of himself ...”

William was indicted for an alleged rape of Eliza’s hired girl. He wasn’t arrested or tried, but he started moving his family around the country, finally settling in Ohio. It was now known how William made his money; he put out flyers claiming to be a “Celebrated Cancer Specialist, Here for One Day Only. All Cases of Cancer Cured Unless Too Far Gone ...” He was also lending money to farmers who couldn’t afford his 12% interest rate, so he could foreclose on their land.

When he was 43, William met 19-year-old Margaret Allen. Three years later, they got married. They settled down in Illinois, but William was the same with his unlawful wife as he was with his real wife. He’d be gone for months, then suddenly show up with loads of cash.

From 1881 to 1889 William owned a farm near Park River, North Dakota. People there said that William’s ranch was really owned by John D. Rockefeller and the Standard Oil Company and was, in fact, nicknamed the Standard Oil Ranch. In many ways, it was true. In a complicated series of purchases and sales, a great deal of land ended up in the hands of William, who was in reality... not William Levingston, but William Avery Rockefeller – John D. Rockefeller’s father.

Much later, in 1937, one of William’s business partners, C.D. Johnston, said that John D. suggested North Dakota to his father in hopes of “weaning him away” from Margaret Allen. But every fall, William went back to Margaret. By spring, he was back in North Dakota.

Six months after Eliza died, 76-year-old William sold out and went back to Margaret for good. One of the nurses who attended him at his death 20 years later reported that he told Margaret, “You’re not my wife. Where’s Eliza?” Also, his burial record listed his birth date as November 13, 1810 – identical to Rockefeller’s.

When Margaret was presented with evidence that her husband was really William Rockefeller, she told reporters, “Go to the other side if you wish to learn the facts.” They asked what she meant, and she said, “John D. Rockefeller. Let him tell if he will. Go to him and leave me alone with my dead.”

Margaret died four years later and was buried beside her mysterious husband; it was at this point that his grave was finally marked – with the name of Levingston. But scholars agree that he was in fact the father of one of the richest men in American history.

Abercrombie bank heist

Written by Jayme Job

May 12, 2021 - Three bank bandits pulled off a sensational heist at the State Bank of Abercrombie on this date in 1924, escaping with a total of $18,000 in cash and Liberty bonds. Fargo Sheriff Fred Fraemer said that he did not know exactly how or when the men arrived, but he thought they came in from the south at around 11 p.m. When they got there, the men cut all of the telephone and telegraph wires going into the town. They also took a hostage – Marius Strand, the phone company’s night operator.

They gagged and bound Mr. Strand, and held him prisoner in the lumberyard until 1 a.m. At this time, the lights in the town were put out and the café closed down for the night. The bandits hurried to the rear of the bank, dragging their prisoner behind. They employed a crowbar and other tools they had stolen from a nearby tool house to break into one of the bank’s rear windows. They climbed inside the building and again engaged the stolen crowbar to pry bricks from the side of the vault. According to Strand, the bandits succeeded in making a small hole in the wall of the vault, just large enough for the smallest bandit to crawl through to reach the bank’s safe, inside of the vault.

This man crawled into the vault and placed five charges of nitroglycerine explosives around the safe. It was apparently the bandits’ intention to only blow open the door of the small safe, but the ensuing explosion was so violent that it not only destroyed the safe, but the massive door from the vault was torn from its hinges. The vault’s lock combination was thrown across the room. The bandits quickly collected the booty and fled from the scene, leaving their bound hostage behind. Luckily, Mr. Strand’s feet were not tightly bound, and he was eventually able to arouse some of the town’s citizens.

Authorities traced the getaway car to Ortonville, but lost the track. They arrested five men two weeks later in Minot, and charged them with the crime. The men were already being held on drunkenness charges and were in possession of a stolen car. Their former hostage, Mr. Strand, identified the thieves.

Oldest Herbst customer

Written by Jayme Job

May 13, 2021 - It was reported in the Fargo Forum on this day in 1936 that the oldest customer of the Herbst Department Store in Fargo had been located. Mrs. J.A. Hill remembered the watch and red cashmere fabric that she had purchased in her first visit to the store.

The store had been searching for the oldest customer to feature her in their 44th anniversary ceremonies that included the installation of the largest neon sign in the northwest. The customer, Mrs. Hill, was given the honor of flipping the switch to light it.

The 38-foot red and black sign, weighing 3,500 pounds, became a landmark in Fargo until the store closed in 1982. It was featured in several Fargo postcards and publications.

The Herbst store, located on Broadway, was opened by Isaac Herbst in 1892, and run by his wife, sons, and grandsons until it closed. It had opened branches in Jamestown, Devils Lake, and Bismarck, also, and had been destroyed by fire three times in its 90 years of business.

 

Mother’s Day

Written by Jayme Job

May 14, 2021 - Ragnvald Nestos, North Dakota’s 13th governor recognized the importance of mothers in North Dakota in a ceremony on the State Capitol grounds in Bismarck, this week in 1924. During the ceremony, the governor planted a white birch tree in their honor. The ceremony came soon after the First World War, and several members of the American War Mothers were in attendance.

Nestos had this to say: “… If there is any commemoration in the year that should call forth the best traits of men and women, it is certainly the celebration of Mother’s Day. We have met today … to plant a white birch, the tree selected as the most suggestive of mothers’ pure and unselfish love. Naturally, our thought and appreciation today will go first of all to the loyal and devoted mothers who, while their sons were engaged in the World War, suffered each day in their love and anxiety for the life and welfare of a son … But I want also to pay my respects and homage today to the pioneer mothers of our state … There is no more inspiring story of conquest and of unselfish service than the story of the wives and mothers who followed their determined husbands, seeking a home and economic freedom upon the broad North Dakota prairies.”

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