Lloyd Omdahl, Published January 24 2011
Omdahl: Updating ’38 guide to historyMost folks who can remember the Works Progress Administration think of it as a program for blue-collar workers who became unemployed in the Great Depression. Actually, it provided employment for a wide range of skills.
For one project, writers were employed to write and edit books about the various states. The books were called “The American Guide Series” and consisted of historical facts and designated state tours. My copy of the North Dakota edition was a gift from the late Lt. Gov. Frank Wenstrom of Williston.
With large numbers of folks drawing unemployment benefits, it seems that they should be doing something worthwhile for their checks while they wait for the labor market to open up. Especially hard hit have been writers due to the consolidation of media and decline of newspapers. Maybe they could update “The American Guide Series,” North Dakota’s edition being 72 years old at the present time.
In this era of entertainment, however, it would be wise to pair unemployed writers with unemployed humorists to produce something that would be enjoyable to read. To give you a better idea of this suggestion, here are some possible revisions for the 1938 edition:
- North Dakota is drained in the west by the Missouri River and in the east by Minneapolis-St. Paul.
- In the 1700s, the La Verendrye boys were the first white people to appear in North Dakota. They said they were looking for a westward route to India. They had either a great sense of humor or a poor sense of geography.
- When the Dakota Territory was established in 1861, President Lincoln appointed his family physician, William Jayne, to the governorship. Abe thought he would be safer without a doctor.
- The Panic of 1873 put the Northern Pacific railroad in a financial jam, and it had to sell the land it had been given by the government. Buyers included bonanza farmers G.W. Cass, B.P. Cheney and Oliver Dalrymple. Ollie managed the 12,000-acre empire for the trio with great success. In fact, he ended up owning the whole farm himself. Is this good management genetic? (North Dakota is now looking to the state Capitol for the answer.)
- North Dakota was always big on colleges. In addition to the state schools, the Congregationalists had one in Fargo, the Presbyterians in Jamestown and the Baptists in Tower City. The Baptists folded early due to lack of water in the area.
- In 1895, Gov. Roger Allin balanced the budget by cutting state appropriations for everyone on the University of North Dakota payroll except the janitor. The faculty decided to work for nothing, which didn’t require much of an adjustment.
- In October 1932, U.S. Vice President Charles Curtis laid the cornerstone of the new $2 million state Capitol, Lt. Gov. John Carr passing up the honor to attend the Hostfest in Minot.
Now, some may think it sacrilege to modify facts with a little humor, but revisionists all over the country are coming up with their own versions of history. With revisionism now the norm, no one will notice a few embellishments of North Dakota’s colorful past. It may not make the New York Times best-seller list, but it would be something to get us through the long, boring winters.
Omdahl is a former North Dakota lieutenant governor and a retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org