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Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, Published February 25 2012

Halgrimson: Fargo scrapped metal for the war effort, including cannon

As I was looking through the online postcard collection at the Institute for Regional Studies, I came across a photo of a cannon in a small park on the east side of the Northern Pacific depot and the west side of Shotwell’s Floral.

The cannon is identified as the “Dewey Trophy,” and was acquired for the city by Mayor J.A. Johnson in 1900. It was brought to Fargo from Seattle by the NP Railroad. The cannon had been captured during the Spanish-American War (1898-1901) by Rear Adm. George Dewey. It was used by the Spanish in the defense of Manila Bay in the Philippines.

The 15-foot long cannon weighed 13,000 pounds and it stayed in the park until the early years of World War II when it was cut up and served as scrap metal for the war effort.

According to the numerous clippings in The Forum library, gathering scrap metal was a primary concern of residents from 1940 to 1945. A feature story in 1942 shows a photo of a sign sponsored by the city of Fargo with the line, “Take a Rap at a Jap, ‘Get in the Scrap.’ ”

In the story, “Scrap Possibilities Listed For Fargoans To Get Busy On,” was a catalog of more than 40 metal objects to consider (such as bedsprings, bathtubs and metal golf clubs), 30 rubber articles (including girdles, nipples and shower curtains), about 20 fabrics to donate and seven items containing hemp.

Also donated was a 155-millimeter German field piece displayed in the Great Northern park. G. Angus Fraser, then North Dakota adjutant general said, “Scrap it, and shoot it back at the Germans.”

The success of the drive is evident in a photo of scrap metal on Broadway taken in 1942.

Added to the pile – which contained 230,000 pounds of scrap stretching 150 feet long, 30 feet wide and 16 feet high – were refrigerators, unused railroad rails, the bell from the city hall tower and a threshing machine. The effort was directed by the Fargo Junior Chamber of Commerce.

Apparently the Indian statue, then at the foot of Broadway just north of the NP tracks, was considered for the scrap drive. But in the end, it did not go into the scrap heap.

Fats and other household items were also added to the salvage list. The fats from kitchen use were to be strained and taken to local butchers. Mrs. Charles Vogel of Fargo headed up the state women’s salvage group.

The extent of salvage efforts is evidenced in headlines from the following stories from 1943: Cattail Fluff In War Effort; 52,131 Pounds of Fat Collected; Arthur Sets Scrap Metal Festival, Movement of Junk Off Farms In Full Swing This Week; 83,771 Lbs. Of Tubes Collected in 3 States; Silk And Nylon Weighty Topics In Quantities.

While I remember saving certain items such as newspapers, tin cans and toothpaste tubes, I don’t remember the scrap heap on Broadway. Nor do I remember the cannon.

But I do recall the beautiful little parks on either side of the NP depot. The park on the west side was razed for a parking lot in about 1964; and after Shotwell’s Floral suffered an explosion and fire in 1968, that park, too, became a parking lot.

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Readers can reach Forum columnist Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at ahalgrimson@forumcomm.com