March 16, 2020 — John F. McGrann was completing a weeklong circuit of the state of North Dakota on this day in 1924. Mr. McGrann, as the vice-president and business manager of the newly formed North Dakota Automobile Association, was making his rounds in an attempt to promote his novel idea for increasing tourism to the state.
McGrann claimed that the only thing necessary to increase the state’s tourism was a catchy slogan. He was urging “...the businessman, newspaperman, banker, professional, school teacher, and all he [came] in contact with to practice simple courtesy toward the tourist who visits the state” by saying “Hope you like North Dakota.” He viewed the friendliness of the people of North Dakota as the state’s greatest asset for bringing in tourists.
Although McGrann’s idea for an official slogan never caught on, and “Hope you like North Dakota” has been forgotten over time, a number of slogans have been used in the state in an effort to encourage tourism. In the 1980’s, North Dakota’s Department of Tourism attempted a more humorous approach to advertising the state. Signs along the eastern end of the state proclaimed, “Welcome to North Dakota, Mountain Removal Project Completed,” while on the western end they read boldly, “Stay in North Dakota: Custer Was Healthy When He Left.”
Where Lutefisk Comes From
by Merry Helm
March 17, 2020 — The origins of lutefisk go back ages and ages ago to the Vikings. As they sailed to unknown territories to maraud and plunder, they needed food. What Norway had in abundance was cod, so cod it was. They caught thousands of them and hung them on poles to dry in the wind. For the three weeks it took the fish to dry, it didn’t smell so good.
Dried cod wasn’t very easy to eat out at sea, so the Vikings had to soak it in water to make it edible. (Why they didn’t just catch fresh fish is something of a mystery – but Norwegian minds are special, and maybe they shouldn’t be questioned about such things.)
Anyway, legend has it that some poor sailor accidentally spilled some ashes in a barrel of soaking cod, and it wasn’t discovered until much later. By that time, the ashes had turned to lye – you know, the stuff that burns holes in things. But when the accident was finally discovered, a miracle had taken place. The fish was almost back to its original undried condition... and lutefisk was born.
Now... there’s a different version of that story, one that author Francie Berg discovered while writing her book, “Ethnic Heritage in North Dakota.” After some investigating, Berg learned from the Bismarck Sons of Norway that centuries ago there were a lot of Norwegians living in Ireland during the famine. The only available foods were fish and potatoes (this was probably the period of time when all Norwegian food became white).
Well, the Irish were getting a bit upset, because the Norwegians kept grabbing up the potatoes to make lefse. Then, the Norskes started going after perfectly good fish, drying them up, and then trying to make them wet again in barrels of water. It was crazy. Why couldn’t they just eat them when they caught them, like normal people?
Some Irishmen got together in a pub one night and decided to spoil the smelly barrels of fish by dumping lye into them. But to their chagrin, the Norwegians thought the resulting blubber was delicious and decided to make it their holiday favorite. The Irish didn’t know how to handle people who thought like that, so they decided to call on St. Patrick, who had had some success with some snakes awhile back. St. Patrick was up for it, and he drove the Norskes out of Ireland so the Irish could have their potatoes back, and there was a great celebration throughout the land.
We may never know which of these stories is true, of course. We do know that Norwegians send back to the old country for tons and tons of lutefisk every November and that it arrives in bundles that look a lot like roofing shingles. Then, all over the state, lutefisk suppers break out, and even the Swedes get involved. In towns like Almont, for example, about 800 pounds of reconstituted cod is served every year. But a lot of these supper promoters have wised up and also offer Swedish meatballs for those who are smart enough to avoid the lutefisk.
Both sides of the fence agree on one thing, though – the smell of cooking lutefisk, whether it’s boiled or baked, leaves a lot to be desired. Don Freeburg put it well in his poem, Lutefisk Lament:
From out in the kitchen, an odor came stealing, that fairly set my senses to reeling. The smell of Lutefisk creeped down the hall, that wilted a plant in a pot on the wall... The scent skipped off the ceiling and bounced off the door, and the bird on the Cuckoo Clock fell on the floor.
The Team that Overworked
by Merry Helm
March 18, 2020 — Today’s story is about teamwork – in a manner of speaking.
Christian Maiers was born to the village shoemaker in Berresana, Russia, in 1862. Christian and his wife, Gottleibina, had their first child, Amelia, in 1886 – the first of their eleven children, but the only one born in Russia. Because of overpopulation and land shortage, Christian and his young family, along with his parents and his brother, moved to the Ellendale area in 1886.
Christian had only $20 left when the whole family moved into a 12 by 18 foot sod house he built in Antelope Township. Part of it he spent on lumber for a roof, and the rest he spent on food.
At the time, the plains were strewn with bones left from the disastrous buffalo slaughters of the previous decades, and many settlers made extra money by selling these bones to fertilizer companies. Maiers decided he would do the same.
Christian used a wagon and a team of two oxen that his father had bought. One of the oxen was slow and lazy, though, and made the days seem longer than they were. Their cow, on the other hand, was very energetic, so when it was time to haul his load of bones to town, Maiers decided to hitch the better of his two oxen together with his cow.
In his memoirs, Maiers wrote, “Along with the other settlers, I started for Ellendale. This team of one ox and one cow was just like crazy. They would run nearly all the time, and I had a hard time guiding them in the right direction. Ellendale was 35 miles cross-country from my home. I had gathered some of the bones 35 miles west and north of home, because those close at hand soon disappeared.” Maiers went on to explain that the group didn’t expect to reach Ellendale until the next day, and they would camp out overnight that evening.
But his animals seemed to have other plans. “I could not hold my odd team in check,” he wrote, “and I steadily drew away from the rest of the party. When I got into the hilly country about 15 miles from my farm, my odd team... ran the wagon, filled with bones, into a trap of big rocks (and) part of the load spilled... Then the team became stubborn and wouldn’t move... Getting down on the front end of the wagon tongue, I scared the beasts enough so they bounded out over the rocks.”
Once more, the team was on the run, with Maiers now stuck out on the wagon’s tongue. Before he knew it, they ran the wagon into a swollen creek, where they all took a much-needed breather. But when Maiers was ready to move on, he found they were stuck.
An Englishman named Schimmelmore was working in a nearby field and came over to help Maiers unhitch his overachieving team. Then the Englishman used three of his horses to pull out the wagon, which was now considerably lighter than when they had started out that morning.
“With the animals running once again,” Maiers wrote, “I reached Ellendale that same evening. I sold the bones for $4 a ton – and a ton was about all I had left.” The next morning, he bought supplies and headed back to Ellendale, again at a good clip. When they’d gone about 10 miles, they met up with the friends they’d started out with the previous morning. Maiers wrote, “They couldn’t believe that I had already been to town until I showed them the supplies I purchased.”
by Merry Helm
March 19, 2020 — Today marks the anniversary of one of the most memorable basketball games in North Dakota history – it’s often referred to as David vs. Goliath. It took place in the Bismarck Civic Center as the Hillsboro Burros took on the Epping Eagles for the 1977 State Class B Tournament. The Burros had been to State eight times, had won back-to-back championships in ‘73 and ‘74, and had an enrollment of 210 students. On the other side of the state, tiny Epping High School had a total enrollment of only 23 students, and during the late ‘60s, they suffered 96 straight losses.
The Burros were led by legendary coach, Ed Beyer, whose teams had come to expect winning seasons. In fact, during the Region 2 tournament, the Burros had overcome five of the state’s top-10 class B teams, and now they were looking forward to playing teams who didn’t know them.
In Epping, Bob and Don Allard, Clyde and Mike Vinger and Jay Bingeman had practiced all summer and knew this could be their year. Their coach, Larry Overbo, thought so, too. During the season, they lost only once – against Beulah – and the season highlight was beating Watford City for the first time in the school’s history; they beat them again in the district tournament and once more in the Region 7 tournament. Now they were going to State to represent a town so small, the streets weren’t even paved.
Overbo planned to use his team’s athletic ability for aggressive defense and fast breaking. He said, “The one thing about that team was we passed the ball so well.” The Eagles’ three front linemen were all over six feet and had averaged 70 points a game during the season.
In the Prairie Public documentary, One Shining Moment, Jay Bingeman laughed as he told filmmaker Matt Olien, “We wanted to win that first game so we could stay on TV. It was just wild. The teachers – we’d go to class, and all we talked about was going to Bismarck.”
Epping didn’t even have a bus; everybody had to get there in cars. By championship night, the team had taken on Cinderella status, and Hillsboro’s starting five were booed before the game even started. Coach Beyer said, “I think we had better talent, but boy, they were scary... I didn’t think it was going to be quite that bad... we were going to be the Lone Rangers on that one.”
The Eagles had the jitters and couldn’t make their shots, and by the end of the first quarter, the Burros led 16 to 5. Then, during second quarter, the Eagles settled down and started chipping away at Hillsboro’s lead.
With Epping having to fight so aggressively, Clyde Vinger fouled out by third quarter. He usually averaged 20 points a game – now he was out after only two. Then Mike Vinger fouled out, too. Led by Bob Allard, Epping fought back, and by the end of the third quarter, Hillsboro led by only five points.
During a jump ball in 4th quarter, Bob Allard gave Don Allard a look, and Don knew what to do. Heading toward the basket, Don caught the ball on the run and made a basket. In a call that’s controversial to this day, referee Henry Milkey called Don for dribbling, and the shot didn’t count. It was a blow the Eagles couldn’t overcome; they lost 52 to 56.
Despite their loss, the Epping players were treated like heroes. In fact, many people still mistakenly say they remember that game... the one where Epping won State.