Memorial Weekend

Memorial Day weekend burger grill.

Memorial Day weekend burger grill.

It’s Friday evening and Molly and I are sitting on the living room futon which now faces west. It points us in the direction of a screen porch, and beyond this we can see the youthful spring green of deciduous trees and leaves set against a background of grayish-blue sky. A storm is brewing out west for sure. You can smell it. Something to do with the ozone.

We live in pre-WWI construction, so we are also treated to a kind of pre-WWII sense of place. I haven’t been able to put words to the smell, but the smell I’m smelling reminds me of my late Grandma Christy’s house on the 700 block of North 4th Street in Bismarck, North Dakota. That house, too, was built prior to the First World War. Anything built before the Second World War has this sense of smell and place to it. The homes and apartments all have hard wood floors, radiator heating, and super tall ceilings. They were built before the invention and ascent of conditioned air.

My latest archaeological find of Minnesota Twins propaganda.

My latest archaeological find of Minnesota Twins propaganda.

So now that it is Memorial Day Weekend, I thought I would post the epitome of Americana. I love this stuff. Baseball and cowboy charcoal grilled burgers. Memorial Day weekend is a grand extension of Decoration Day, a Civil War day of remembrance.

This evening also got me thinking a bit about all the German-Americans that poured into the United States when, in the words of Lt. Aldo Raine, people were getting out of Europe while the getting was good. Massive religious and political upheavals in the 19th century (this is the most focused brush stroke I’m going to use right now) induced hundreds of thousands of Europeans to simply leave Europe. They crossed the Atlantic and poured in the United States. A large swath of these immigrants came from Germany, or German-speaking countries (I have often hypothesized that the reason Germany started two big ones in the same century had to do with this intellectual emigrant drain from the previous century). And the Germans, when they arrived in the United States, took up numerous causes. In some cases they played baseball. And in other cases they agitated for emancipation. I like to imagine that they also grilled burgers, too. Baseball and burgers. Happy Memorial Day.


Happy Mother’s Day

Vivian in the late-1910s on the Swedish-American farmstead just northeast of Bremen, Wells County, North Dakota.

Vivian in the late-1910s on the Swedish-American farmstead just northeast of Bremen, Wells County, North Dakota. That is Vivian’s handwriting at the top of the photo too.

It’s Mother’s Day (of course, every day is mother’s day). It is a holiday with origins in the post-Civil War (American) generation, championed by Anna Jarvis just after the turn of the 19th century. The idea was to get together all the moms who had sons die in the Civil War. Today we use it to recognized the heroine feats of motherhood.

Molly and I drove over to Bismarck, North Dakota, to spend Mother’s Day weekend with Julie and Paul (my parents). I also got flowers for Molly’s late mother a couple days ago, because mothers are all around us. Always. Last night, before bed, Molly and I (or Molly and Me, which has a nice ring to it) stumbled into a family archive in Julie and Paul’s basement. Numerous photos from my late grandmother, Vivian Marie (Larson) Barth, who passed away a year ago this month.

There are a lot of photos within the archive, and a personal project goal will be to digitize them, get family members digital copies, and then consider conversations with archivists at the State Historical Society of North Dakota or NDSU’s North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies or UND’s Special Collections for eventual curation. This is why we have state historical societies and regional archives: it captures what us global locals have been on about from one generation to the next. And it is better to digitize and then curate them with a sound archives than to keep them in a box in your basement (which can flood, or something like that).

But back to Grandma Barth, and a couple photos I digitized for uploading purpose here. To celebrate Mother’s Day. The photo at top is of Vivian, taken likely in 1918 or 1919, just northeast of Bremen, northeastern Wells County, North Dakota. The second photo is of Vivian in the mid- to late-1930s, likely when she moved off the farm to Bismarck, North Dakota. And the third photo was taken likely during or around the time Vivian was attending one of those late-1930s college programs to train as a secretary. She later held positions at the Bank and state capitol of North Dakota. She did this while tending to her three boys and husband (a total of four boys). She was loving (and still is), hard-working (I remember she gardened up until she was 91), and she babysat us grandkids countless times.

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Vivian in the late 1930s.

 

When I was real little, I remember being bummed out when my parents left for a couple weeks of vacation (I am blessed with great parents, so I tended to get bummed out in their absence). To set me at ease, before bed that night my grandma recounted a story of how her dad at the age of 13 boarded a boat in Sweden with his uncle, and set out for Ellis Island and America. She reminded me, “He was only 13.” Grandma had a way with bringing gravity and reason to any situation that was or seemed stressed. She also made extra ordinary chocolate chip cookies, Swedish meatballs, and, well, you name it. Here’s to you, Vivian. And Grandma Christy (for another blog, perhaps next Mother’s Day). And here’s to the memory of all mothers, and to making memories with our mothers today.

Vivian Marie (Larson) Barth, I'm thinking taken after she relocated from Bremen to Bismarck, North Dakota.

Vivian Marie (Larson) Barth, I’m thinking taken after she relocated from Bremen to Bismarck, North Dakota.


Historic Movie Theaters: Restoring the Walla Walla

The Roxy Movie Theater in Langdon, North Dakota. Photo from February 2014.

The Roxy Movie Theater in Langdon, North Dakota. Photo from February 2014.

Today in the Forum News Service, Ryan Bakken reported on the rehabilitated movie theater in Mayville, North Dakota. It got me thinking a bit about how we are witnessing numerous historic movie theaters get an updated restart in communities across the northern Great Plains (and elsewhere).

The movie theater is an important place, allowing a community of movie goers to engage, as we say, in a collective experience. This gives us points of reference in conversation — “Hey, you remember that line from ‘Walter Mitty’?” — and it also allows us to explore and ponder our own humanity. It is different, of course, from live theater, where there is always a direct interaction between actresses/actors and the audience. But the theater idea is the same: bringing together a group of people to take in a performance, or a spectacle. Life is a stage, after all.

Beyond Mayville, here are a couple more theaters in smaller North Dakota communities, to add to Bakken’s great write-up of Mayville. The Roxy theater is located in Langdon, North Dakota, just north-northwest of the long-since abandoned Nekoma ICBM missile defense concrete pyramid (it would be good to watch “Dr. Strangelove” at the Roxy some day). I snapped a photo of this Roxy in February 2014. It is up and running, having been brought back to life by the community in and around Langdon.

The historic 1949 Walla Walla Theater in Walhalla, North Dakota. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010, and the regional arts community is crowd-sourcing funds for its 21st century rehabilitation.

The historic 1949 Walla Walla Theater in Walhalla, North Dakota. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010, and the regional arts community is crowd-sourcing funds for its 21st century rehabilitation.

And here is the Walla Walla theater in Walhalla, North Dakota. Built shortly after the end of WWII in 1949, this theater was justly placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. The Gorge Arts & Heritage Council (Facebook page here) is in the midst of crowd-sourcing funds to bring this theater back to life. This is a good idea. If you want to take pocket-book action, click on this link here for more information.

I was thinking today how much I enjoy these old time movie houses, and how the smaller the town, the more I enjoy them. I like the way that old time movie marquee stretches way out over the pedestrian sidewalk, acting as both a visual lure and a way to bring passersby under its influence. It is a much different feeling than when driving by more modern suburban theaters in our hermetically sealed automobiles. In addition to this, the old time theater is added value to any town, at least so the evening outing option isn’t always a default to the local tavern (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but you know what I mean). Yes, theater regularly plays out in local taverns. But it’s good to have the option to spend an evening in a defined theater proper.

Downtown Walhalla, North Dakota, with the Walla Walla Theater to the left.

Downtown Walhalla, North Dakota, with the Walla Walla Theater to the left.


Following ET in New Mexico from North Dakota

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One of the only known Pizza Hut ET commemorative glasses in North Dakota’s Sheyenne River Valley.

Throughout last week I’ve been following the media trail of four friends — Andrew Reinhard, Richard Rothaus, Bill Caraher, and Bret Weber — who were mustered into a modern archaeological dig in New Mexico. The goal was to dig up a pile of ET Atari games that were buried after the craptacular game hit the shelves in 1983. When this game hit the shelves, it signaled the beginning of the end for Atari, as Atari lost (according to the Wikipedia page) over a half-billion dollars after buying the rights from Spielberg; over-producing a terrible game; and banking on the idea that customers would rip them from the shelves. They did, to a degree. But the video gamers returned them for a refund as well.

So I kept up with the social media and stories, noting to myself that the archaeology of ET Atari games was more popular than the actual 1983 game. I was also happy to read that Caraher made Rolling Stone. Check it out in the link here. CNN covered the story too. Daniel Politi of Slate.com also covered the story, as did Dominic Rushe of The Guardian, and NPR’s Morning Edition ran a story here. Eric Mack of Forbes covered Andrew Reinhard here (well, the picture is of Andrew). And The Onion covered it here.

The more local Fargo Forum ran a story on it here, too. And you can get direct, unadulterated coverage of the ET dig from Bill Caraher’s blog here. So while holding down the bunker in North Dakota, and while reading these stories, I would often take sips from the ET glass pictured here. The glass comes from my fiancée’s sister’s Valley City home. I think it was a thrift store find some time ago. I still have to set down and get an official oral history.


Remembering Joel Jonientz

Joel's art, the February 2013 Punk Archaeology un-conference poster, hangs in our front entryway.

Joel’s art, the February 2013 Punk Archaeology un-conference poster, hangs in the front entryway of our apartment.

Yesterday I learned that Joel Jonientz passed away. His great friend, Bill Caraher, has an excellent write up linked to here. Joel and I didn’t know each other beyond the 5 or 6 times we hung out, usually over some conversation and excellent beer. When we did hang out, Joel always asked the first person who tried departing to stay. I think this is one of the infinite reasons it was so terrible to hear of Joel’s passing.

Earlier this month I chatted a bit with Joel, and someone at our table (perhaps it was me) asked, “How do you go about starting a digital press at a university?” Joel responded with two words: “Will power.” And this is true with just about anything. You have to get up every morning knowing that this is what you want to and are going to do, and you will strategize in every way possible — directly or through chess maneuvers — to make it work. The goal is to keep pushing forward. At the table Joel explained this while smiling.

Thank you friend. You will be missed, but never forgotten.


Coffee Update

One of the only 2 known photos by Aaron Barth that have ever been taken before he consumed morning coffee.

The only known photo Aaron Barth has ever been taken before consuming morning coffee.

It’s Friday evening, and the pre-industrial (organic) chicken — prepared modified Greek-style with oregano-lemon-melted-butter-paprika-salt-pepper with slight dashes of crushed rosemary and thyme — is about an hour into roasting in the oven. I have three books to my left, including Michael Mann’s The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing (Cambridge, 2005); Ben Kiernan, Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur (Yale, 2007); and Greg Smithers, Science, Sexuality, and Race in the United States and Australia, 1780s-1890s (Routledge, 2009). And I’m close to getting into those. But I’ve been meaning first to talk about coffee for almost a month now.

This last month of March, Molly gifted me a Sowden Softbrew coffee pot. It is outstanding. I first came across it in an Atlantic Monthly article linked here. Before Sowden (or BS, as we call it around the apartment), Molly and I had fixed our morning coffee with a ceramic funnel and paper filter. It worked well for two, but we discovered that when we had small gatherings at our place, we spent more time making individual coffees instead of hanging out and conversing with our guests. So it was fantastic to find the Sowden. In The Atlantic article, Corby Kummer notes that it has “the comforting sturdiness of an English teapot.”

A second photo was discovered.

A second photo was discovered.

Out here west of the Mississippi (or what we call the Great Plains and the American West), however, we notice different things. For example, I noticed that the Sowden produces a cup of coffee you’d expect from a fusion of the French press with the methods of making cowboy coffee. By this I mean the coffee grounds (after you grind them) are allowed to sit in a metal steeping cylinder laser-blasted through with a billion 21st-century microscopic holes. So the grounds just sit in this cylinder and steep, contained, so you don’t need a French coffee plunger. And you don’t need to be as careful pouring from the Sowden as you would pouring a cup of cowboy coffee: again, the grounds are contained. The coffee by the way is extra ordinary.

I’m going to go back to checking up on the Greek-style chicken, now, and I’ll get back to these books in the morning with a cup of coffee prepped in a Sowden that Molly gifted me. Huzzah.


Pre-gaming for FX’s “Fargo” Premiere at The Fargo Theater in Downtown Fargo

Photo by Holly Anderson Battocchi.

Photo by Holly Anderson Battocchi by Tricia Fossum.

As the title of this blog entry suggests, since Molly and I live in historic downtown Fargo, we (like many Fargoans) decided to host a pre-game get-together before the 9:00PM (CST) sharp showing of FX’s “Fargo” television series at The Fargo Theater in downtown Fargo, North Dakota. Yes, a kind of Fargo-Fargo-Fargo post-modernity, or something along those lines. My mind is still reeling about the implications, since every North Dakotan knows that the glorious Coen brothers film Fargo was almost entirely filmed in Minnesota. You betcha. But that is less and less transparent the further one is from Fargo. So I am convinced and know that some kind of global Fargo diaspora has developed, and is only reshaped and pushed in different directions with this television series. It’s kind of like when someone who is born in Chicago with Irish genealogy listens to modern Irish music and says, “I’m Irish.” Actually, it’s not anything like that. Nevermind. On to the Fargo evening, though.

Hot dish and jello salad photo by Molly McLain. Hot dish and jello salads provided by Fargoans.

Hot dish and jello salad photo by Molly McLain. Hot dish and jello salads provided by Fargoans.

Yesterday evening Molly picked me up after work and we made it back to our apartment in just enough time for two things to happen before company arrived: we decided that I would make this fancy hot dish recipe while Molly would straighten up the dining and living room. It worked dontchaknow. Guests started pouring in our door just after 7:00PM, and there was much back-slapping and guffawing. Since we were celebrating Fargo and midwestern and northern Great Plains culture, there was also large amounts of passive-aggressive acknowledgement, and commands phrased as questions punctuated with a “then” at the end; as in, “Do you want to pass the hot dish then?”

The conversation flowed, as did the hot dish and jello salads last night. So much that I didn’t get a chance to snap any photos of the event. But several friends did. I pulled a few of the photos from the social media this evening. That is why you get a picture of the hot-dish spread, taken by Molly. The other photos are from our highly trained professional photographer friend, Holly Anderson Battocchi (yes, her Italian-American husband Dante lives in Fargo too). At the end of our get-together, one large group left the pre game Fargo-Fargo-Fargo get-together to take in the FX “Fargo” premiere. A smaller group (that’s us) decided to stay behind at our apartment. We rationalized us not attending “Fargo” by saying we don’t need to see “Fargo” because we are and live and create Fargo, everyday. Aw, geez.


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