Cliff Hitterdal & the Meuse-Argonne
Markus Krueger & Davin Wait
October 1, 2018
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This fall marks 100 years since maybe the most despairing months in Clay County history. Certainly the deadliest. Most Clay County soldiers were just landing on the battlefields of France in September of 1918, and they were landing just in time for the deadliest battle in American history: the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of World War I. More than one million American troops took part in the offensive, though it's now perhaps best known as the battle that made "Sergeant" Alvin York famous. Sadly, this is also the "deadliest" battle in American history because more than 26,000 American troops died on the field. Those that escaped the gunfire, gas, and shells had another adversary, as well: the new H1N1 "Spanish" Flu that was sweeping across the globe. The pandemic was coursing through the trenches of Europe at the time, and it reached Minnesota the same week the Meuse-Argonne Offensive was launched in France.
This short video offers an insider view of September 26, 1918, when Hitterdal, MN, native Cliff Hitterdal took part in the first morning of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. He was wounded two days later. The interview was conducted in 1976 and, yes, you can tell Cliff is a Midwestern boy and the son of Norwegian immigrants.
Dr. Humphrey's Movies
By Davin Wait, HCSCC Communications Manager
from The Hourglass, Fall 2017
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At this moment, HCSCC possesses five different formats of the same 12 minutes of film footage previously owned by former Moorhead physician, surgeon, and five-time mayor Dr. Edward W. Humphrey. The footage was primarily filmed in the spring and summer of 1917, and it now exists in our archives in the original 35mm reel, the 16mm reel onto which his son Dr. George Humphrey transferred the original and then sent to us in 1988, the ¾” videotape WDAY produced from that 16mm stock in 1989, a 1996 VHS recording produced by MSUM’s Bob Schieffer and featuring our archivist Mark Peihl’s commentary, and the current collection of digital files (.mp4, .mov, etc.) swirling around on YouTube, Facebook, and our shared digital spaces.
As our tendency to commemorate centennials would go, it’s worth noting that the footage turned one hundred years old last summer. It’s already proven itself a valuable asset to both CCHS and HCSCC, but I’d like to return to the material as a focal point for a brief introduction to Humphrey, some of the earliest years of film in Clay County, and the communities that were taking shape in 1917, the year that brought the War To End War and immediately preceded the Spanish Influenza. Given the ephemeral nature of film, it’s also an opportunity to reflect on the struggles of preserving the past and translating it for the present and future.
Edward William Humphrey was born on January 16, 1877, in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, to his father William and his mother, Elizabeth Fischer, a woman who migrated to the U.S. as child with her French parents. Born after his older sister Agnes and before his brother William and younger sister Isabel, Edward moved as a child with his parents to a farm outside of Gary, South Dakota – a small town 30 miles southeast of Watertown and about as close as you can get to the Minnesota border. He grew up there and lived through the tragedy of his young mother’s death in 1887.
Humphrey left South Dakota for college in Ames, Iowa, and in 1899 earned a four-year Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State College of Agricultural and Mechanic Arts (formerly Iowa Agricultural College and now Iowa State University). Iowa State was small then, averaging about 70 graduates a year during Humphrey’s stay, but it would have offered an interesting contrast to his farm life in Gary. He likely would have encountered George Washington Carver, the young scientist born into slavery who was teaching and finishing his graduate degree there in 1896. Humphrey also certainly encountered Iowa State’s football coach, Glenn “Pop” Warner, a man whose revolutionary football mind led to his commemoration as the namesake of the youth football league. Humphrey wasn’t the All-American that his 1961 obituary claimed him to be, but he did play for Warner on a solid Iowa State football team in the late-90s (including the three semesters he may not have been enrolled in classes, as University of Nebraska-Kearney professor and Ames historian Dr. Doug Biggs recently shared with me).
After earning his degree in Ames, Humphrey traveled a long road in a brief four years before landing in Moorhead. He earned an M.D. in 1902 from the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Hamline University in St. Paul and then interned in Rochester, MN, before practicing briefly in Lidgerwood, North Dakota. By 1903 he was in Moorhead, living at 411 2nd Avenue South, practicing medicine in the Wheeler Land Company block (Front Street and 7th Street S), and married to local woman Edith Vincent. In 1907 he became the chief surgeon at Northwestern Hospital while living with Edith and his brother William, a student, two blocks west. By 1909 he and his wife were living at 428 8th Street South, just across the street from Solomon and Sarah Comstock. In 1913 he opened a practice with Dr. Gilbert Gosslee in north Moorhead; in 1918 he purchased land for what would become his own Moorhead Clinic; and in 1919 he defeated incumbent Nels Melvey in the Moorhead mayoral race on the strength of his popularity in the 3rd ward – the only ward he won.
Some evidence suggests that Humphrey’s politics weren’t particularly attuned to the plight of the working classes or poor, but he was a loud voice in the community’s anti-saloon movement and committed to Moorhead's growth. As a business-friendly Democrat who championed several public improvements during his first campaign for mayor and a man with expensive tastes who shared within his circle, he developed many friends and partners in the community. His love for cars and his influence as a doctor in the middle of the Spanish Flu epidemic surely must have raised his profile in the community prior to his election, as well, but his film equipment and that early movie magic might actually have played a larger role.
The Moorhead Daily News was already commenting on Humphrey’s home movies in the early spring of 1917. His friend Ed Rudd, of The Daily News, often served as Humphrey’s cameraman, so the physician and surgeon’s early film exploits were well-known in the newsroom. On Thursday, March 29, 1917, it was reported that he and his wife Edith had entertained several guests with their film projector and five newsreels, of “most impressing war pictures.”*
*These likely would have been The Universal Animated Weekly, The Hearst International Weekly, Pathe Animated Gazettes, or The Hearst-Pathe News – 5-minute news accounts released in local theatres that tended to offer more spectacle than reporting – but official British and American newsreels wouldn’t have been far behind. According to Criss Kovacs of the National Archives, prior to entering World War I, the U.S. Army Signal Corps spent nearly $3 million to equip and train almost a thousand employees for newsreel production (about $65,000,000 today). The Committee on Public Information (CPI) used much of this footage in its weekly newsreel, the Official War Review, in an effort to drum up public support.
A month later on Friday, April 20, The Daily News announced that Humphrey had added to his entertainment collection and purchased a Universal moving picture camera: “with his projection machine makes one of the most complete motion picture outfits extant.” He’d bought the piece in Chicago on a business trip only days before, spending somewhere around $475 on the $300 camera, film, and accessories. Humphrey likely wasn’t considering the political power of film, like the CPI, but he almost immediately set out filming the community, and they responded to that opportunity with enthusiasm.
Now, motion pictures were nothing new to the community by then: Fargo had several movie theatres by this time, Moorhead’s Lyceum Theatre had been screening films since December 7, 1910, and a traveling showman had even brought the “Marvelous Cinematoscope” to Moorhead’s Fraternity Hall in May of 1897, the very infancy of moving pictures (see Mark’s article in the January 1997 CCHS newsletter for this account). However, the fact that Humphrey had turned the camera back onto the local community offered something markedly different. He’d just turned Fargo-Moorhead into both the audience and the stars.
Only days later, on Monday, April 23, Humphrey filmed “Patriotic Day,” one in a string of nationwide events scheduled to build support for the war. Moorhead’s event had been postponed because of bad weather, but two thousand people gathered at the high school; local children dressed up in red, white, and blue to create a living flag; and the community ran a flag up a 72-foot pole. Humphrey’s neighbor, Solomon Comstock, gave a speech. All of it was captured on Humphrey’s film and the framing of his shots show that he was given prime real estate to record it.
Two weeks later, on Monday, May 7, Humphrey recorded a test run of the Moorhead fire department running at “top speed and with full equipment.” Two days after that, about 650 Moorhead Normal School students and about 550 Concordia College students took a break from class and study to march in circles from their classrooms and through the grounds while Humphrey sat outside of Weld Hall and Old Main to record them. Again, the Daily News covered it, with the following headlines: “1200 Students Pose for Movies | Dr. Humphrey Takes Moving Pictures of City’s Students Today | Normal School and Concordia Students Make Excellent Appearance.”
We can presume that Humphrey filmed the community for much of the summer of 1917, as his footage runs from mundane shots in his driveway, through the auto polo matches at the Fargo Interstate Fair in July, and to another patriotic WWI gathering for Dedication Day at Concordia in early September. Unfortunately, we can’t be sure of how much footage existed or what we’ve already lost, because much of it decomposed in his Pelican Lake cabin where it sat for years before Humphrey’s son found and donated it to CCHS in 1989. This is also what makes this century footage even more valuable to us as historians.
In the early years of film, the nitrocellulose base that was used before the acetate “safety film” was the same general material as guncotton: a cheap, highly combustible, and autocatalytic explosive. This meant that the slightest heat or friction, in almost any setting, could send this film into flames . . . and often did (the 1909 Cinematograph Act in Great Britain required a fire-resisting enclosure, or projection box/booth, for theaters; this is partly why projectors no longer sit in the middle of the auditorium, a much cheaper option for movie houses).
Additionally, and this is true of the acetate-based safety films that followed, nitrate film base was often made with immediate durability, not preservation, in mind. So even if the base doesn’t deteriorate on its own, turning into a rust-colored powder, it frequently interacts with heat, humidity, and the emulsion layer (the photosensitive silver layer) in unfortunate ways: separation, growing dry and brittle, decomposing and creating byproduct “bubbles." Add to this the frequency at which film was destroyed for its silver content, including many early Hollywood “lost masterpieces” -- Austrian-American director Erich von Stroheim’s Greed (1924) comes to mind -- and it is amazing that we have the footage that we do.
Humphrey went on to win the mayor’s seat in February of 1919, almost assuredly in some part due to the press he received and the relationships he built around his moving pictures. Even so, the movies, his public works projects, and the strong support he received from Moorhead businessmen weren’t enough to help him in 1921, when he waffled on campaigning again and lost his reelection bid to Clarence Evenson.
Strangely enough, though, that wasn’t the end of the political magic of those 1917 movies for Humphrey. The footage turned up again in May of 1931 as Moorhead celebrated its 50th anniversary. The Moorhead Theatre (which opened in 1928 and ran the Lyceum out of business the same year) screened the films to show the community what the old days were like (The Daily News got it wrong and said they were 20 years old).
Humphrey ran for mayor again in the next election, following FDR's New Deal Wave . . . and won.
Then he repeated that success three more times before retiring a five-time mayor in 1941.
Clay County's Little Gem:
Buffalo River State Park
By Mark Peihl, HCSCC Senior Archivist
from CCHS Newsletter, May/June 2004
updated August 2, 2018
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My wife and I recently spent an afternoon strolling through the Buffalo River State Park. This little jewel in the center of Clay County is one of our favorite haunts. We cross country ski and hike its many trails and marvel at the constantly changing panorama of its wild prairie flowers. An unusual combination of geology, farming practices, drought, a nationwide depression, evolving government agencies and the efforts of a dedicated group of sportsmen brought about the park. But it was a difficult birth. This article looks at the park’s origins.
The Buffalo River State Park today sits squarely on the Buffalo River Delta, a geologic remnant from thousands of years ago. Many of our readers know that at the end of the last ice age, some 12-15,000 years ago, water from melting glaciers pooled here to create glacial Lake Agassiz. Changing drainage patterns affected the level of the lake. At each level, beaches, like bathtub rings, formed all around the lake. Two of those beaches are visible near the park. Campbell, right at the entrance to the park, is marked by a plaque on a huge bolder just off Highway 10. Herman beach, marking the highest level of the lake, runs north and south about 2 ½ miles to the east, near the park’s eastern border. Between the two is the Buffalo River Delta.
Many rivers carried water and sediments into the lake, including the Buffalo River. Rocks and gravel settled out near the mouth of the Buffalo, lighter sand and silt flowed further out before settling. This created a fan-shaped delta at the Buffalo’s mouth. Wave action from storms crossing the lake eroded back the western edge of the delta creating Campbell beach. Unlike most of the rest of Clay County, the soils in the beach/delta area are pretty marginal, better suited for haying and grazing than crop production. It’s one of the few places in the state where virgin prairie escaped the plow.
The area is also marked by flowing springs which feed the Buffalo. Through most of its length the Buffalo is a muddy, lazy, typical little prairie stream running in a trench, but through the beaches and delta it tumbles over rock and sand cutting a deep ravine. Here the river is a clear, cold, fast spring-fed creek with a mix of elm, ash and basswood trees along its banks.
This delightful combination of environments, a wooded clear stream running through virgin prairie, has attracted people for ages. It’s a natural place for a park.
The park buildings today are located in the southeast quarter of section 10, Riverton Township. Jacob Henry Smyser and his wife Mary acquired the quarter through the Homestead Act in 1883. But Smyser was no ordinary sod buster. He’d been born in Pittsburgh to a wealthy steel family, graduated from West Point in 1861 and joined the 4th US Artillery. After the Civil War, Smyser remained in the Army’s Ordinance Department for a few years then contracted tuberculosis and retired from the military. He and Mary moved west for his health, arriving in Clay County in April 1878. He filed on his quarter and bought up much of the surrounding countryside, eventually owning over 1600 acres. Though far from ideal for farming, the area was perfect for Smyser’s needs. He raised pedigreed horses and cattle, grazing them on the rich prairie grass. Jacob and Mary built a twenty-room mansion on the banks of the Buffalo about where the park’s contact station now stands. Surrounded by servants, Smyser lived the life of a country gentleman. They called the place Willow Bank Farm. Mrs. Smyser entertained eastern guests in high style, throwing lavish parties. Visitors picnicked, swam in the Buffalo and toured the estate on splendid saddle horses and in a fancy carriage driven by a cockney groomsman. Their home featured a spectacular curved mahogany banister, built by a cabinet maker brought from the east specifically for the task.
But Captain Smyser’s TB eventually returned. He died in May 1885 at age 46. After his funeral in Pittsburgh, Mary returned to Willow Bank Farm for a time but she soon sold the property. A succession of owners raised livestock on the parcel. Locals used the area for hunting and other forms of recreation. Eventually Moorhead businessman William H. Davy acquired much of the land.
A Fargo Forum photographer took these pictures the Jacob and Mary Smyser home in 1941, long after it had been abandoned. It still boasted its spectacular custom-made mohogany staircase and the heavy mirror hanging above the glazed-brick fireplace. The home was later burned. Fargo Forum, June 22, 1941.
Agriculture was changing the rest of Clay County. High grain prices during World War 1 induced many farmers to put more land into production. Falling commodity prices after the war depressed farm income. Farmers responded the only way they knew how – by increasing production, breaking up more prairie land. This sent prices even lower.
In 1923, a group of Moorhead area sportsmen, alarmed at the disappearance of game and fish from the fields and waters of Clay County, formed the Moorhead Rod and Gun Club. Some of the tactics of this active bunch seem today, at best, quaint. They declared war on the crow, (“the most destructive enemy of game birds known to man”) and shot thousands. And they failed to recognize the real culprits - loss of habitat and declining water quality. But they did create a game refuge in the beach ridge area, introduced the Ring-necked Pheasant and Hungarian Partridge to Clay County and stocked countless fish fry in local lakes and rivers – including Brook and Brown Trout in the delta section of the Buffalo River.
In 1934, the club received word that parties planned to create a private resort along the Buffalo in Riverton Township. Members and others in Clay County realized this would keep the general public out of this long-popular recreational area. By early the next year, the club formulated a counter proposal. They planned a 20-foot-high dam (near the present state park dam) which would back up a lake half a mile wide and a mile long for the propagation of fish, establish a public recreation area, create relief construction jobs for those unemployed by the depression and to provide an emergency water supply for Moorhead, Dilworth and Glyndon.
The idea attracted lots of interest and support all over the county. There were only three lakes in the county with real fishing potential, all in the southeast corner of the county. Nineteen-thirty-four had been an extremely dry year. Dust storms from Dakota darkened the skies, lakes dried up. The Red River, sole source of water for Fargo, quit running. And water levels in the deep wells Moorhead relied on dropped precipitously. The proposal looked pretty good.
A petition quickly gathered over 500 signatures supporting the “Muskoda Dam and Reservoir Project.” (Pronounced MUS ke dee, the name came from a railroad siding and small community two miles to the east.) The Clay County Commission, Moorhead city council, Rotary Club, Kiwanis, Chamber of Commerce and American Legion Post also signed on. In March 1935 Rod and Gun Club President C. P. Brown began the process to seek federal and state funds for the project. (Moorhead resident Brown was the manager of the Fargo and Moorhead Electric Street Railway and later Chairman of the Buffalo River Dam Committee. His nephew donated copies of his correspondence to the Buffalo River State Park. Much of the information in this article comes from that collection.)
By the time Franklin D. Roosevelt took office as President in March 1933, the Great Depression had reached critical proportions. FDR responded to the emergency with a series of relief programs to aid those out of work. Among the first was the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. Under FERA the states, through State Emergency Relief Administration offices (SERA), distributed the federal funds. Because of the urgent unemployment situation, FERA initially relied on direct relief – cash payments to the needy. But FDR hated direct relief. He called it “a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit.” He much preferred the poor to work for their assistance. By the end of 1934 FERA had shifted to funding projects designed to improve the nation’s infrastructure and employ those in need.
The Minnesota SERA divided the state into eight districts, each with a supervising engineer. Local groups submitted project plans to the district engineer who examined the proposal, made recommendations and forwarded the project to the state level for final planning and funding. Brown and the Rod and Gun Club launched a two-pronged attack for money. They submitted plans to the SERA engineer and sent a delegation to meet with the SERA administration in St. Paul. And they mounted a savvy and aggressive lobbying campaign to get the state Executive Council (the Governor, Lt. Governor, State Auditor, Treasurer, Secretary of State and the Attorney General) to approve state money to purchase flowage rights to the land to be flooded. The club enlisted state legislators, local politicians and party leaders of every political stripe in the effort.
Public funding was necessary for the project to succeed but trying to get it involved a long slog through federal and state bureaucracies. In May, the Executive Committee approved the land acquisition funds but the rest of the plan took years to complete, morphing along the way into a completely new project.
In March 1935 the SERA engineers surveyed the proposed reservoir site and submitted a preliminary plan to the state. A series of frustrating delays followed. SERA took all summer to come up with final engineering drawings. In September the US Army Corps of Engineers refused to approve the plans because of “engineering deficiencies” and sent them back to SERA for revision. Meanwhile, the federal government gave preliminary approval to the venture, subject to agreement by the Army Corps and the Minnesota Department of Conservation. It received Works Progress Administration (WPA) project number 7-178.
The FERA plan of funneling money through the states never worked that well. The feds did away with FERA December 31, 1935 and turned relief projects over to the WPA. With this program, the federal government administered projects directly. Local groups had to come up with money for materials and the feds paid for the labor. Federal regulations also required that a local governmental body had to accept responsibility for the project and see to its continued maintenance.
Problems started in December when the Clay County Commission refused to take responsibility for the project and the feds dropped a bombshell. A water source for Moorhead was a central part of the project. Regulations required that the Moorhead City Council agree to definitely make use of the water before the reservoir could be completed. Pumping facilities and a pipeline could cost the city between $250,000 and $500,000. The city tried to submit a vaguely worded letter of support for the project but it did not satisfy the feds. With money nearly in hand, the project was close to unraveling. The city council asked federal and state officials to come to Moorhead to discuss the project. The brutal cold and blizzards of early 1936 delayed the officials’ visit until April. Meanwhile, the state went forward with condemnation proceedings on the 122.8 acres of land the proposed reservoir would inundate.
On April 7, WPA officials finally met with local authorities. The meeting concluded with the dropping of the water reservoir part of the project and the county commission agreeing to take on the dam responsibility. But it was a moot point. Without the water source component, it was highly unlikely that the feds would approve the plan, money allocated or not.
Even with the water component, the plan would have been in trouble. The Department of Conservation was clearly never pleased with the dam and reservoir project. But a new plan was coming together in St. Paul which would change the venture’s direction completely.
Since the 1880s the state of Minnesota had haphazardly acquired properties as state parks with no real plan for their development or use. By 1923 twenty-three such “parks” were in place, many little more than monuments to events related to the US – Dakota Conflict of 1862. Most were administered by the State Auditor, some by the Forestry Department. In 1925, the legislature created the Department of Conservation (predecessor to today’s Department of Natural Resources) and placed the parks under its jurisdiction. But real professional park management did not begin until a separate Division of State Parks within Conservation took over in 1935.
Harold Lathrop, the first Park Commissioner, brought a new ethic to park management that tried to balance the inherent paradox of maintaining natural environments with use of the parks by recreationists. Lathrop also attempted to address the uneven geographic distribution of state parks. Most were located near the twin cities or in the Minnesota River Valley. None existed north or west of Itasca State Park near Park Rapids. With advice from the National Park Service, state funds to buy lands and WPA funding to outfit the parks, the late 1930s saw the biggest and best planned expansion of the state park system in Minnesota’s history.
In July, 1936, Department of Conservation Engineer Abbott G. Smith and WPA Division Engineer Walter Macgregor visited the proposed dam site with members of the Rod and Gun Club and local game wardens. They proposed a new plan. Instead of one huge dam and reservoir (which they pointed out would drown out every tree in the vicinity) they suggested building a series of three to five small dams creating pools for wading or swimming in the channel of the Buffalo and saving the timbered land proposed for inundation for a state park. Excited by the idea, practically every official in Clay County quickly lined up to sign on to the new proposal. A couple of weeks later, Lathrop also visited the site with Smith, Macgregor and about 50 local officials, liked what he saw and promised to push the state park. Within days 500 county residents signed a new petition supporting the park.
Their enthusiasm was well placed but a bit premature. A new round of maddening delays began. Designs for the first of the smaller dams were not completed until fall. Park officials also entered negotiations with William H. Davy for the donation of a 200 acre parcel just west of the dam site. The proposed park would bear his name. Things were close to a resolution when the 92 year old Davy died in December 1936. To everyone’s surprise he died without a will. His attorney, William Adams, was not appointed executor of his estate until February. The state arranged a purchase agreement that spring. A bill in the 1937 legislative session passed establishing the “Buffalo River State Park” but the legislature, dominated by fiscal conservatives, refused to allocate any money for maintenance. Lathrop refused to submit the dam plans to the WPA without a way to maintain it.
A visitor views the dam at the Buffalo River State Park in 1939. The original plan called for a 20 foot high dam hundreds of feet wide at this site. The resulting lake would have drowned nearly all of the trees in the proposed park. The Department of Natural Resources has since replaced the this dam with a series of rock rapids. Fargo Forum, May 21, 1939.
Clay County eventually agreed to provide maintenance and Lathrop submitted a new proposal calling for only one dam, picnic facilities and a 300 foot wide sand bottomed swimming pool. Other features included a road into the site and a fence around the grounds. Construction proceeded through summer but halted in fall 1937, ironically because of a lack of workers.
Work progressed intermittently over the next year and a half. During the winter 1938-39 the WPA built shower facilities, a latrine, garage and park manager’s residence. All, like the dam before, were built with cut fieldstone, donated by local farmers.
The park opened with little fan fair in spring 1939 but pollution in the Buffalo kept the pool closed until the next year. A new chlorination system fixed the problem. No newspapers covered the park’s official (but anti-climactic) opening on Memorial Day, 1940.
Since then the park has been expanded several times. The Buffalo River State Park is a lovely, quiet little gem… a place which belies its stormy origins.
Ole Bergstrom's footage of the Moorhead zoo, circa 1930 (HCSCC).
"A Moorhead Zoo"
By Mark Peihl, HCSCC Senior Archivist
from The Hourglass, Summer 2017
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Recently my wife and I visited Fargo’s Red River Zoo. Like museums, zoos are educational institutions but dedicated to wildlife conservation. Opened in 1999, the Red River Zoo manages an award-winning captive breeding program and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. But it wasn’t the first area zoo. In fact, from 1929 to the mid-1930s, Moorhead was home to a zoo, albeit a very different one.
A little background: Andrew and Conie Holes were among Moorhead’s earliest residents. They arrived in 1871 before the railroad and grew wealthy buying and selling real estate. In 1878 they built a gorgeous two-story, brick veneered, Italianate style home right where Usher’s restaurant stands today (the Nov/Dec 2001 issue of The Hourglass discusses the history of the Holes’ property). The Holes carefully landscaped their yard and encouraged others to do so. Andrew and Conie named their home Arbor Vitae Place. It was a showcase for many decades.
Andrew died in 1903. Conie remained in the house until 1921. The following year she offered to sell the property to Moorhead for a city park. Moorhead had no real parks at the time so the City Council took her up on the deal. However, the park needed a name. In a 4th of July address, Moorhead attorney Christian Dosland proposed “Memorial Park” to commemorate the local men who had died in World War 1. The name stuck. It’s still Memorial Park today, though for years many called it “Holes’ Park.”
Through the twenties, the park was the scene of many picnics, concerts and other gatherings -- and at the end of the decade, it became home to a small zoo.
In June 1929, a fellow in Leonard, Minnesota (northwest of Bemidji), caught a newly-born Whitetail fawn. He contacted the Minnesota Department of Conservation for permission to keep it, but a recently passed state law forbade private citizens from owning wild animals. Local Deputy Game Warden Harry Broad offered the Moorhead City Council the little deer for the cost of transporting it. They approved. On July 1, Broad delivered the fawn to the city dog pound – Jack Lamb’s coal shed on 5th Street – and it remained there until City Engineer C. H. Luckey finished building its cage.
Whitetail Deer were pretty exotic critters in Moorhead then. Though common today, there were few deer in the farming areas of Minnesota in the 1920s. Shortly before, just the sighting of some deer near Hawley had elicited front-page headlines in local papers.
The new Moorhead zoo in Memorial Park grew quickly. On July 6, a buck and a doe from Warroad joined the fawn in Lamb’s coal shed. The buck died shortly after, but two more deer and a young Black Bear arrived by the end of July. Locals suggested naming the bruin Gar or Oscar, for attorney Gar Rustad or businessman Oscar Martinson. Upon closer inspection, they dubbed the little bear Jacquiline, the feminine version of Jack Lamb’s name. The bear spent time in a cell in Moorhead’s jail until Engineer Luckey built a small cave-like “den” for her in the base of the bluff northwest of the Holes home. By year’s end, the zoo was home to at least four deer, three raccoons, two bears, two foxes, and a “pheasant which flew into the Northern Pacific office in Fargo and was dazed.”
Earlier in the year, the city had built a loop road through the park. The Moorhead Country Press reported that “lovers of animals… may drive north on 8th St, enter the park by the new winding road which skirts the lower reaches of the grounds, circle completely around the fenced enclosure to observe the creatures and drive out on the same road.”
Apparently, the zoo never had an official name and it’s not entirely clear who was responsible for its day-to-day management. The park fund paid for the animal feed and materials and labor for cages and the City Engineer reported to the City Council in November that “he could secure the present caretaker of the Holes’ Park [Emil Rehn] at the rate of $15.00 per month for the care of the animals during the winter.” The Council agreed “to the proposition… for the care of the animals until spring, or such time as Street Commissioner [Axel] Nelson is able to take care of the work.” Eventually, park employee Rehn kept the job for two years and a 1930 newspaper article referred to Engineer Luckey as “zoo manager.”
The next summer it became obvious that the 5 1/2 foot square concrete-lined “cave” was far too small for the zoo’s two bears (the second was named Bruno). Volunteers built a new 20 x 24 foot brick “bear pit.” Some of the 16,500 bricks were salvaged from the ruins of Old Main, the Moorhead State Teachers College (now Minnesota State University - Moorhead) administration building which had been destroyed by fire the previous winter. By some accounts, the iron bars for the door came from the Clay County jail, left over from a 1913 renovation. The pit featured a three-foot deep, four-foot by six-foot “bath tub.” Over a dozen volunteers, under the direction of Moorhead Police Officer Roscoe Brown, built the cage over ten days. Brown spent his summer vacation overseeing the project. Veteran Moorhead bricklayer Charles Johnson constructed the foot-thick walls. (The eleven-foot deep cage still stands at the base of the bluff, northwest of Usher’s House.)
Through the early ‘30s the menagerie continued to grow, partly the result of “the natural increase of the deer herd” and partly by well-meaning but misguided individuals who caught wild animals and kept them as pets until they became too much trouble. In June, a Fargo man caught a large snapping turtle and kept it in a wire dog cage in his yard. Three times the turtle broke out and terrorized the man’s neighbors before it wound up in the zoo. Others contributed an Arctic Owl, a badger, and a monkey. A bite from the latter cost caretaker Emil Rehn two fingers. Rehn quit to become a Moorhead police officer and Pat Rorick took over as caretaker.
The zoo was very popular with locals. In 1933, Park Commissioner J. W. Briggs reported that “hundreds of visitors gather about the pens in the zoo daily.” But given the small cages, it couldn’t have been much of a life for the poor animals. Fortunately, most of today’s zoos have moved away from cramped, drafty concrete and chicken wire cells for animal exhibitions.
The zoo’s growing population made problems for the city. By fall 1932, the deer became so numerous that several had to be moved to area farms. Still, “fourteen blessed events” were expected the following spring.
It’s unclear what happened to the animals and the zoo. In December 1933, the City Council “moved that Game Warden [Robert] Streich be seen and requested to get rid of the animals in Holes Park.” The critters survived, however, for some time. Early in 1935 the Moorhead Daily News reported that “’ Jacquiline,’ the chunky, fat bear that occupied the Moorhead zoo pen for more than five years went to her happy hunting ground this afternoon. The bear was shot on order of the state game and fish department by R. E. Streich, local game warden… it was put on display in front of the Zervas meat market... Friday and Saturday bear steaks, chops and other choice cuts will go on sale to the public.” In January 1936, the elderly caretaker Pat Rorick died with “only his animal charges at the Moorhead zoo left to mourn him.” The animals were apparently dispersed later.
After acquiring the Holes’ property, the city rented out the house. Through the 1930s, it fell into disrepair. By 1935 it was a mere shadow of the show place it had been. That fall, WPA workmen tore down Arbor Vitae Place to make way for a stone-block community auditorium and American Legion club building. In the mid-1990s, the American Legion moved to a new facility on the east edge of town and a new restaurant opened in the old building in late 2001. Owners named it the Red Bear to commemorate the Red River and the two bruins that lived at the site. It then existed briefly as the Broken Axe before its most recent life as Usher’s House, a fine local restaurant.