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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!

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New Contemporary Collection Highlights Overseas Military Intelligence

Kurt's dress uniform

US Army Sergeant First Class Kurt Peterson’s dress uniform.

There are times that the State Historical Society receives donations that have a wealth of history and information. These are the best kinds of donations, because they make interpretation and research easier and more valuable. One such recent donation is from Kurt Peterson. Kurt, raised in Bismarck, joined the US Army in 1980. During his unusual career path, he was in military intelligence, worked as a Russian linguist, served in the Gulf War, and was an interpreter and inspector for Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) and Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) treaties. These are some highlights from Kurt’s global adventures and the related objects he recently donated.

The Berlin Wall

In January 1990, while stationed at Augsburg, Germany, Kurt and a friend set off to Berlin to see the crumbling Berlin Wall, which had separated communist East Germany from West Berlin for 28 years. They parked near the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag and found some Berliners hammering on the wall. Kurt and his friend borrowed a bolt-cutting tool and cut pieces of the wall’s rebar. Then they borrowed the hammer and chisel and removed small painted pieces of the concrete wall.

Piece of the Berlin wall's painted concrete and rebar

Piece of the Berlin wall’s painted concrete and rebar.

Diplomatic Courier Duty

In 1972, the US State Department signed an agreement allowing the Soviets to have control over design and construction of the US Embassy in Moscow. Ground broke for the building in 1979. After two years of construction a team of security specialists discovered that the Soviets had integrated eavesdropping devices into the infrastructure of the Embassy. By 1987, the US Government decided to refurbish the existing structure using materials shipped in from Helsinki, Finland. Kurt applied for courier duty with the State Department . After a week’s training in April 1990, he flew to Finland. He completed 10 trips from Helsinki to Moscow, about 750 miles, and traffic hit top speeds of 40-45 miles per hour. During each trip, a wire with the lead seal was placed on the latch closing the truck and only opened after the truck arrived in Moscow to unload its contents. This was to ensure no one tampered with the building supplies en route to Moscow.

Kurt's diplomatic passport and two customs seals

Kurt Peterson’s diplomatic passport and two customs seals used to secure supply trucks traveling from Helsinki to Moscow. He kept these seals after the trucks were opened in Moscow.

Gulf War

As a Russian linguist, Kurt never thought he would be deployed to Saudi Arabia.I In 1991, however, he worked with the Kuwaiti Army listening to Iraqi radio communications to determine their location.

US flag with the following written on it - To the people whom they belong to this flag and doing all their best to free our country Kuwait, we are really proud to work with you hand in hand as a family. 1-28-91. Mohammad Dashti

Presentation flag given to Kurt by one of the Kuwaiti military personnel.

Kurt with three other American soldiers and two Kuwaiti military members

Group of four American and two Kuwaiti military members. Kurt is in the middle.


The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) was signed on July 31, 1991, and entered into force at the end of 1994. START was the first treaty to call for reduction to the strategic nuclear missiles of the United States and Soviet Union. Kurt became a START inspector/interpreter for US inspection teams deployed to the former Soviet Union. He inspected treaty-related facilities and equipment and translated oral and written communication in Russian and English between diplomatic representatives. He also performed escort duties for the former Soviet Union inspection teams at US facilities.

Map of Russia with inspections sites Kurt visited

Map of Russia with all of the inspections sites Kurt visited circled. Click map to see larger.

Kurt's US and Russian identification badges

US and Russian identification badges.

We’re always seeking interesting objects related to North Dakota. Do you have a collection with a North Dakota connection to consider preserving at the State Historical Society of North Dakota? Please view our Collection Priority List and fill out a Potential Acquisition Questionnaire.

Curating the Decorative History of the North Dakota Governor’s Residence

The 1955 North Dakota Legislative Assembly appropriated $200,000 to build a new, brick, one-story Governor’s Residence. Construction on the residence was completed in the Spring of 1960. Governor John Davis and his family were first to occupy the residence. Since then, the building has been the official residence of Governors William Guy, Arthur Link, Allen Olson, George Sinner, Edward Schafer, John Hoeven, Jack Dalrymple, Doug Burgum and their families. The Governor’s Residence is slated for demolition this fall to make room for the new Governor’s Residence being constructed next door.

Throughout the occupancy of the Governor’s Residence, there have been several renovations of both public (State) and private rooms. The State Historical Society of North Dakota has eight collections from the Governor’s Residence totaling about 800 objects including furniture, decorative objects, silver, china, and building material from the various eras. The State Archives has also collected materials including photographs, blueprints, and pamphlets.

Governor's Residence living room in 1989

Governor Edward Schafer and First Lady Nancy Schafer sitting in the State living room

In 1989 the State Living Room was renovated. This photograph was in a collection of Governor’s Residence photos transferred to the State Archives and shows Governor Edward Schafer and First Lady Nancy Schafer sitting in the State living room prior to the renovation. The couch, two blue chairs, two striped chairs, valance and drapery, and the table upon which the Schafers are sitting have been a part of the SHSND collection since 1998.

State guest bathroom

The State Guest Bathroom, as it appeared in 1985. The agency collected a sample of the wallpaper, silver soap holder from the shower, and the yellow tile appearing in the photo, as well as a silver tissue box holder, toilet paper holder, and toothbrush holder collected in 2000. We recently acquired samples of the shower tile, floor tile, and wallpaper from the 1998 renovation of this bathroom.

China with gold wheat center design

The Gold Wheat Center Design china is Wheat by Lenox, R-442. The sterling silver dinnerware, made by Gorham, features a gold Wheat design on handle, and “ND” is carved into the bottom of each handle. Originally purchased by Governor Brunsdale in 1951-1957, more pieces were added in 1966. The items were used during dinner parties at the Governor's Residence and the Former Governor’s Mansion at 320 E. Ave. B in Bismarck. The placemats and napkins were purchased from Macy’s and monogramed with the “ND.” The placemats and napkins are new acquisitions to the SHSND collection, while the china and the silver were received as part of a complete set from the Governor of North Dakota in June 2004.

State guest bedroom

The State Guest Bedroom went through many furniture changes throughout the years. There were two futon-like pieces of furniture, two single beds, and finally this double bed. The room as pictured was decorated by First Lady Jane Sinner in 1989.

We were recently provided with samples of the wallpaper pictured and of the wallpaper currently in the bedroom. The quilt on the bed is called "Waving Wheat," designed by Carol Kelly and constructed by the North Dakota Quilters in 1988. Sewn into a corner of the quilt are a brief history of the quilt and a list of the people who helped construct it.

While the structure itself will no longer stand in a few months, and Governor Doug Burgum and First Lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum will occupy a new residence, the Governor’s Residence of 1960-2017 is well documented at the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

We would like to extend a sincere thank you to Steve Sharkey, the Residence Manager for 30-plus years, for having the foresight and love of history to continue offering the State Historical Society these objects throughout the years.