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North Dakota: Legendary. Follow the trail of legends

Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota's natural and cultural history. We encourage dialogue, questions, and comments!

Guest Blogger's blog

Securing Echoes of the Past: Safety at the State Museum

In the late 1840s a recent Scottish emigrant changed careers quite by accident. Unfulfilled working as an employee of a Chicago barrel-making company, he moved 50 miles north to Dundee Township, Illinois, where he engaged in cooperage as an entrepreneur. While collecting wood for use in his barrel production, he happened upon a clandestine group of men actively involved in a counterfeiting operation. Careful surveillance of the group and the appropriately timed notification of the local sheriff began the transformation of Allan Pinkerton from barrel maker into the most well-known security expert in the 19th century.

large ornate gravestone with "Pinkerton" and a quote

Allan Pinkerton is buried in Graceland Cemetery in Chicago. Part of his epitaph reads, “Devoting himself for a generation to the prevention and detection of crime."

Having a general knowledge of the backgrounds of my fellow security team members, I would suspect our collective stories are more like Allan Pinkerton’s than not. The backgrounds of the security officers include, but are not limited to, security, construction, emergency medicine, military, high tech, consulting, juvenile corrections, and law enforcement. Many divergent paths have brought us to a common place in time with the primary goals of assuring the safety and security of both visitors and staff at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum and the protection of its holdings and property. The myriad of experience and training that resides in the collective ethos of the security team produces a synergistic environment of protection for the ND Heritage Center. All my coworkers seem to have a genuine interest in one or more of the different aspects of historical inquiry that is on display or stored at State Museum.

A primary responsibility of the security team is to maintain a presence on the floor of the State Museum during hours open to the public. The time spent on the floor is a critical part of our daily duties. Time spent with “boots on the ground” helps provide customer service and safety in many different ways. Engaging visitors in order to find out a little about their story is an incredibly empowering experience. Pared down to the foundational building blocks, isn’t “story” the bedrock of what we do at the ND Heritage Center? In addition to customer interaction, careful observance of the physical environment of the museum is of prime importance. Promoting conduct appropriate to a cultural institution ensures visitor safety and collection protection. In addition to providing a physical presence in the publicly accessible areas of the ND Heritage Center, security personnel make scheduled inspections of mechanical, telecom, office, artifact, and archival storage areas.

Security has a ubiquitous electronic presence not only here at the ND Heritage Center but also at many state historic sites. The State Historical Society’s security control room is the epicenter of monitoring and responding to alarm and trouble notifications, video systems, and telephone calls. Using a football analogy, when assigned to the control room, it is advantageous to take on a linebacker’s attitude of playing with your “head on a swivel.” As one of the primary points of ingress and egress to the facility, the security control center is a hub of activity during the day. As opposed to encountering the public at the main entrances, we have the privilege of greeting employees and their guests, contractors, and deliveries in addition to issuing badges and the aforementioned system monitoring responsibilities.

male security guard in maroon sweater and glasses in control room with monitors

Keith monitoring the State Historical Society’s security system.

Understanding the importance of preserving and presenting North Dakota’s place in history is at the heart of why we are here. In his novel Requiem for a Nun, author William Faulkner famously stated, “All of us labor in webs spun long before we were born, webs of heredity and environment, of desire and consequence, of history and eternity. Haunted by wrong turns and roads not taken, we pursue images perceived as new but whose providence dates to the dim dramas of childhood, which are themselves but ripples of consequence echoing down the generations.” For me, it is salient to create a safe and friendly environment for those who choose to listen for those faint echoes.


Guest Blogger: Keith Smith

Keith Smith with bearOriginally from southern California, Keith Smith moved to Bismarck in 2017 to be closer to his grandkids, following significant stops in Phoenix, Arizona, and Logan, Utah. He became a security officer at the ND Heritage Center & State Museum in spring 2019. He has been married for 38 years and graduated from the University of Wyoming—Go Pokes!

Hidden in the Badlands: 5 Surprises at the Chateau de Morès

Call me Madame. Actually, you can call me Anna; we reserve the title “Madame” for Medora von Hoffman, the first lady of the Chateau de Morès. She and her husband the Marquis de Morès, Antoine de Vallambrosa, lived here 136 years ago. A lot has changed over the decades, but the Chateau itself has remained steady, guarding its secrets well.

What secrets? I am so glad you asked! At first glance, the Chateau seems like a lovely home tucked on a butte beside the Little Missouri River. The Marquis and Madame strove to be on the cusp of national innovation, and their opulent style is clear. However, throughout the house are hidden messages about their lives that only eagle-eyed guests can find.

Keeping with Madame’s spirit of hospitality, I invite you to come along for a sneak peek at my top five hidden surprises at the Chateau!

1. Fresh Air
On hot summer days, Madame could be found in her office planning anything from menus to hunting trips. But when the heat rose, she needed fresh air. Because of social boundaries, a lady could not simply open her door to allow the breeze to flow. Instead, she had to protect her modesty. Coming to the rescue, the Marquis had small windows built at the top of Madame’s office and bedroom walls that allowed fresh air into her rooms without compromising her privacy.

two small square windows above a larger window

The small windows at the top of the frame, shown here from the Chateau porch, lead to Madame’s bedroom and office.

2. Talking in Code
Madame and the Marquis tried to embrace the western frontier while keeping pace with eastern society. To that end, the main level of the house has several distinct areas: the dining and living rooms, the homeowners’ private quarters, and servants’ areas. Each room is connected by a hallway that circles the entire first floor. Each door in the hall is equipped with faux-stained glass that allows light to shine through while maintaining privacy. And, these doors talked in code. If the doors were open, servants knew they were welcome to pass through. If closed, they should refrain from entering.

white door with yellow stained glass windows

View of the servants’ corridor in the dining room. This door is shut, so you know what that means . . . no servants can pass through!

3. Baby, It’s Cold Outside
This fireplace is impressive. Measuring five feet deep, it could put out some heat on a cold night. Did you know this is the only fireplace in the entire Chateau? Based on an unfortunate claim, the Marquis believed the climate in the Badlands was mild and one fireplace would keep the cold at bay. This was wrong, but some years the family still managed to stay as late as December before leaving to enjoy a milder European winter.

corner fireplace made of red brick

This fireplace was the centerpiece for guests in the Chateau who gathered in the living room for entertainment. Can’t you imagine settling on the settee and reading a good book?

4. Richie Rich
My favorite clue, stashed among the wares of the hunting room, is one bag of tobacco. This seemingly ordinary purchase is a huge hint about the Marquis! In the 19th century, tobacco was just beginning to gain in mass popularity, and southern states like North Carolina had already proven to produce some of the highest quality plug tobacco in the nation. The Marquis used his wealth to ship it across the continent to North Dakota, showing just how much he was willing to spend on luxuries.

tan drawstring bag with black letters on front used for tobacco

Originally from Germany, the Marburg brothers moved to North Carolina and went into business with J.B. Duke and the American Tobacco Company. If the name “Duke” sounds familiar, Duke University was named after J.B.’s father.

5. Lost in Time
Several decades ago, a collection of beautiful watercolor paintings were gifted to the State Historical Society. The artist was none other than Madame herself. Among her impressions of the Badlands and international landscapes was one small painting of the Chateau. This is the most valuable to us, because it is the only known image of the Chateau completed in color. Thanks to Madame we now know the authentic colors to paint the house.

framed watercolor painting in blues, greens, browns

Today, the Chateau is painted to look like Madame’s watercolor version.

The next time you visit the Chateau, be sure to keep an eye out for more clues! You never know what history lies hidden in plain sight.


Guest Blogger: Anna Killian

Anna Killian with statue of dogAnna Killian is the site supervisor at the Chateau de Morès State Historic Site. She is a Carolina girl and completes her duties — everything from historical interpretation to site maintenance — with a southern drawl.