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!

Ice Cream, Accordion Music, and Kite Flying: North Dakota State Historic Sites Offer Summer Visitors a Season of Delights

A new season is upon us, and we are thrilled by the prospect of delighting visitors at our state historic sites. There is much curiosity about what kind of season we will have this year. Last year was tough on sites. Our site supervisors worked hard to open on short notice, create procedures to keep visitors safe, and rearrange schedules to accommodate staff in quarantine. This year we are ready for guests and providing new events and experiences.

As part of their effort to keep visitors safe in 2020, sites canceled many summer events they would typically hold. This year, we have established new guidelines for events at sites, and I am super excited about the great events we will be hosting. Some are returning favorites; others are brand new. There are too many to list each one, but here are a few highlights of what’s happening at sites this summer:

June 27 Great Western Trail Monument Dedication. Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center, near Williston
July 3-4 Kite Flying Weekend, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Fort Abercrombie State Historic Site, near Fargo
June 15 and July 13 Entertainer Kittyko holds a child-oriented performance, 11 a.m.-12 p.m. Former Governors’ Mansion State Historic Site, Bismarck
July 24 Grant Invie Concert. 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse State Historic Site, Jamestown
August 8 Annual Ice Cream Social returns. Former Governors’ Mansion State Historic Site, Bismarck
August 14 Painting class with Linda Roech. Welk Homestead State Historic Site, near Strasburg
August 17 Entertainer Kittyko holds a child-oriented performance, 11 a.m.-12 p.m. Camp Hancock State Historic Site, Bismarck

many people are gathered outside for an event. Some are eating ice cream cones. A blue canopy is set up between a green building and a yellow house.

The annual ice cream social at the Former Governors’ Mansion State Historic Site returns this summer after a pandemic-related hiatus.

Beyond events, some sites will also offer new experiences for visitors this year. Fresh off of their success opening Fashion & Function: North Dakota Style, the exhibit team has been hard at work on a new Sitting Bull exhibit for the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center (MYCIC). The exhibition focuses on the Hunkpapa Lakota leader’s life and cultural impact and will open in June. Last year we installed a new civics exhibit at the 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse State Historic Site. With the looming threat of COVID-19, many of the hands-on elements in that exhibit had to be put on hold. This year, however, thanks to some new procedures and the improving pandemic situation, we are now able to bring these elements to the public.

A gold colored embossing stamp sits nest to a roll of gold starburst edged stickers, a bookmark displaying an embossed sticker with an illustration of a brick building, and a sign that reads Try it! with some other unreadable text. All of these items sit atop a wooden desk or table.

Visitors to the new civics exhibit at the 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse State Historic Site will finally be able to try their hand at the embossing stamp shown above. This stamp was one of several interactive elements put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, at the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site, Rob Branting, site supervisor, will conduct a new interpretive tour of November-33. (November-33 is a decommissioned Launch Facility, which housed a Minuteman III missile that could be fired from a Launch Control Facility such as Oscar-Zero.) Rob’s tours will take place on alternating Fridays and Saturdays in the summer from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Contact the site for details.

At the time of this writing, some site projects and programs are still works in progress. At Camp Hancock State Historic Site, our Site Supervisor Johnathan Campbell is working to recreate how U.S. Weather Bureau offices once located at the site would have looked in the 1930s. Similar to the civics exhibit at the 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse, the recreated Weather Bureau offices will incorporate hands-on elements. The Ronald Reagan missile site is planning a Perseid Meteor Shower Party for the evening of August 12. The 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse will host talks by both the veterans officer for Stutsman County and the president of the county commission. The Welk Homestead State Historic Site is organizing its annual Accordion Jam Festival, slated for July 17. At the Chateau de Morès State Historic Site, staff are collaborating with the Friends of the Chateau de Morès to convene a series of outdoor painting classes with Joseph Garcia, site supervisor at MYCIC and Fort Buford State Historic Site.

If these or other events mentioned in this blog sound of interest, keep an eye on the site’s Facebook page for further details, or check out the events page on the State Historical Society of North Dakota’s website.

Two couples dance outdoors in front of a tent with a tuba player and piano player.

Couples polka during the 2019 Accordion Jam Festival at the Welk Homestead State Historic Site.

Adventures in Archaeology Collections: Current Volunteer Projects

The volunteers are back in the lab! Work in the archaeology lab with volunteers was temporarily placed on hold in October 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns. It is wonderful to have them around again—we really appreciate all their hard work and dedication.

Welcome back volunteers sign with green and yellow streamers on the sides

We are so excited to have the volunteers back in the lab again!

Here are just a few projects currently underway thanks to their help.

Most of our archaeology lab volunteers regularly assist us in rehousing artifacts. We are always learning about better ways to store collections, and some of the packaging materials used in the past need to be replaced. As this happens, artifacts are removed from non-archival storage materials such as old acidic paper bags and boxes or plastic baggies that chemically off-gas over time. The artifacts are then re-wrapped or packaged in acid-free materials and bags that won’t off-gas. At the moment, we continue our work to rehouse collections from On-A-Slant Village. (For more information about this effort, check out past blogs about some of the artifacts and pottery from On-A-Slant.)

A brown paper bag that reads 83.442.004.23 (arrow pointing to the right) 111 P.001 decorated rimsherds

An older bag of pottery rim sherds from On-A-Slant Village (32MO26) waiting to be replaced with an archival bag.

The volunteers are also re-bagging and re-boxing pottery, animal bone, and more recent historic artifacts from the Ben Standing Soldier site. The site was excavated in 1965 as part of the River Basin Surveys—a large project that attempted to record important places along the Missouri River before they were flooded due to dam building. The Ben Standing Soldier site includes an earthlodge village as well as a more recent 1900s homestead.

The inside of a gray box is shown with many ziplock bags containing glass bottles

A box of glass bottles from the Ben Standing Soldier site (32SI7). These have been re-bagged, boxed, and are ready to be put back in storage.

Among the more curious finds at the homestead were the remnants of this glass bottle seen below. It was shaped like an airplane—originally it had a figure of the aviator Charles Lindbergh in the cockpit and likely contained candy. (A more complete example of this type of bottle can be found on the website for the Brooklyn Museum.)

Part of a glass bottle that resembles an old airplane has goodwill etched into it

A bottle fragment from the homestead at the Ben Standing Soldier site (32SI7). SHSND AHP Field Catalogue No. 1564

One of our volunteers helps us by photographing artifacts. Currently we are photographing the artifacts from On-A-Slant Village that other volunteers have re-bagged.

9 projectile points of varius sizes and shades of brown/red are displayed with their collection number written below each.

These projectile points are all from On-A-Slant Village (32MO26). This quick photo will be used in our database—we often clean up images such as these and use them for presentations, posters, and more. SHSND AHP 83.442.79.1098-1106

These photos will be used in many ways. Most artifact photos are attached to entries in our database—this helps with identifying objects for researchers and tracking the condition of the artifacts for storage and display. Photos by our volunteers also get used for blogs, posters, and exhibits. (For more on past photography projects carried out with the assistance of our volunteers, visit this blog.)

A file viewer with blue menus, small  boxes where image thumbnails would be displayed down the side, and an area to the right display a larger image. The larger image that is displayed is a white teapot.

This is a screenshot of images attached to an entry in our database. The teapot is from the site of Winona, North Dakota (32EM211). SHSND AHP 2010.100.313

A broken piece of pottery depicting a turtle effigy

This photo detail of a turtle effigy on a pottery rim sherd was taken by one of our volunteers. The image is currently part of the "Small Things Considered" exhibit in the Merlan E. Paaverud Jr. Gallery at the State Museum. The sherd is from On-A-Slant Village (32MO26). SHSND AHP 7372

To all our lab volunteers, welcome back and thank you for all the work you do!