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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!

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!

3 Terrifying Historical Things Scarier than Any Movie

They say people who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, so pay attention to this blog post! Visit ndstudies.gov or the collections of the ND Heritage Center & State Museum and you may never sleep again.

1. Cough Syrups and Suppressants

People in the 19th century took their coughs pretty seriously. Decades before antibiotics, huge fortunes were made selling “all natural, safe and soothing” cures. Which isn’t to say that these serums weren’t effective at mellowing you out — it’s just that slapping “natural, safe, and soothing” on the label doesn’t mean they weren’t packed with as much booze and narcotics as they could handle. Which they were.

4 package boxes for tonics

Is there anything it can’t cure? Not according to the label. (SHSND 18061)

This type of massively misleading marketing drove support for a clean food and drug policy in the United States. One of the unsung heroes of the movement, who had crazy ideas like removing morphine and chloroform from baby cough syrup, was Edwin Ladd. A chemistry professor at North Dakota Agricultural College in Fargo, Ladd later brought his expertise to bear as a U.S. senator. Ladd’s passion for ensuring food quality is the reason the box of ground pepper you bought at the grocery store is actually ground pepper and not something like ground coconut shells. I am totally not making that up.

2. Rocks from Space

Most are familiar with a popular theory about the end of the dinosaurs; everything was going fine until a giant rock fell out of space, and then something awful happened to the temperature. But that was so 65 million years ago. Could such a thing happen to humans? It already did. In Siberia. And not to be outdone, North Dakota has its own impressive collection of meteorites.

The best documented case would be the Richardton meteorite. On an otherwise normal day, June 30, 1918, at 9:48 a.m., a meteorite exploded above Richardton and Mott. In total, nearly 220 pounds of rock were collected, and amazingly, nobody was hurt.

metorite rock, triangular in shape, dark grey speckled with tan

 

This thing traveled a long way to get the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum. (On loan from University of Minnesota)

To see how unlucky North Dakota can be in the Milky Way, including our impact craters, check out North Dakota Night Sky. And see a piece of the Richardton meteorite on exhibit at the ND Heritage Center & State Museum.

3. Anatomy Furniture

Museums sometimes hold a great deal of furniture for a variety of reasons. And sometimes that reason seems to be documenting all the different ways Lovecraftian horrors can be imposed in a room.

brown cloth footstool with horn legs

This footstool is made of your Roomba’s nightmares. (SHSND 12774)

Back in the day, furniture that was likely to be conversational as well as stabby was a common theme. This is a huge and surprisingly heavy hat rack that could also impale your pets.

horns joined together with fur and velvet fabric to form hooks for hats

Did not predict the sharp decline of giant hats. Did predict the comeback of the scrunchie. (SHSND 6085)

Make a plan to visit the State Museum on Halloween. You never know what spooky thing you’ll discover.

footstool in the shape of a small chair. horns bottom and decorating the top edge. Quilted pattern on the fabric.

This stool may cause reproductive harm. Thankfully it is encased on exhibit in the State Museum’s Inspiration Gallery. (SHSND 2010.68.1)

Stay weird out there.