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!

Remembering Halloween in the Archives

October is a time of transition. As the air becomes crisp and harvest concludes the growing season, the last gasps of summer give way to occasional early reminders of the coming winter.

The month is also special for the State Archives because it is American Archives Month. To celebrate, the Archives has provided a variety of content for the State Historical Society of North Dakota’s Facebook page, including a virtual scavenger hunt, our Ask-an-Archivist panel, a Feature Friday, where we highlight the collections our volunteers are working with, and a blog post from fellow Reference Specialist Ashley Thronson.

With Halloween approaching, it is a great time to examine some of the archival holdings related to the holiday and how it’s been celebrated over the years. Photographs are one of the best resources to explore the past, providing a visual example of societal differences then and now. We have several examples illustrating how previous generations experienced Halloween. Note the photo below of a Brownie troop sporting their costumes for a Halloween party in 1947. Their happiness at the occasion is evident, and their costumes are largely homemade.

many children and a few adults are dressed up in Halloween masks

Brownie troop Halloween party in 1947, Williston. SHSND SA 10958-025A-000-00019

Do you remember the delight of annual Halloween parties in your classroom at school, receiving candy and other treats, often having a day of fun activities, or perhaps a movie or a play, and maybe being permitted to wear your costume to school? Generations of schoolkids enjoyed this pastime. While the costumes have certainly changed, as have the treats, the excitement remains.

9 children are dressed up in halloween costumes. The front three are dressed as witches and sitting on broom sticks.

Students in costume for a Halloween play. SHSND SA 11225-0008-000-00110

Despite the kids’ somber looks in the above picture, one imagines they had a fun day at school back around 1920. What stands out in this group photo is the three children in the front row dressed as witches. The kids were in costume for a Halloween class play, but it is unknown what play they were performing. In looking at the types of costumes, visions of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” come to mind, as the book had been published in 1900, or perhaps the spooky “Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

Three students stand at the front of a classroom dressed in Halloween costumes.

Students Richard Vennie, Laurie Bengenheimer, and Jacalyn Wrangham don their Halloween costumes for class in October 1960. SHSND SA 00080-box03-folder26-00012

Likewise, the above 1960 photo from the Bismarck Tribune Photograph Collection shows kids in their classroom dressed up for Halloween. Notice again that the costumes appear homemade. The seated kids appear to be working on art projects as part of the lesson.

The 1966 image below from the William E. “Bill” Shemorry Photograph Collection shows a large class of happy kids posing with their treat bags, either before or after their Halloween party. What is interesting is that the kids are not wearing costumes. This might reflect social norms for dress in school at the time, which may have frowned upon children wearing costumes. It also could be due to the timing of the day Halloween fell on. Whatever the reason, their bright smiles evoke thoughts of children excited to engage in trick-or-treating.

Many students stand and sit in the front of a classroom holding bags of goodies

Happy schoolkids pose with their treats in this 1966 Williston classroom photo. SHSND SA 10958-023G-000-00050

Halloween also can bring joy to those suffering in hospitals, as folks attempt to brighten their days by delivering treats when they otherwise are unable to participate in activities. One great example is that of former North Dakota first lady Betsy Dalrymple, who is pictured below bringing candy to a young boy in Sanford Hospital in 2012. The photo is part of her papers, one of two state series in the Archives related to the office of the first lady of North Dakota.

An adult woman sits on a hospital bed where a young boy lays with his hand wrapped. She is handing the woman is handing the boy a small treat bag.

Then-North Dakota first lady Betsy Dalrymple visits children in Sanford Hospital on Halloween 2012. SHSND SA 32404-00694

Halloween is an exciting time, and sometimes the weather here in North Dakota also makes it an interesting evening for the parents and kids scurrying about for candy. Folks may recall warm evenings, or snow and bitter cold heralding a potential long winter on the northern Plains. Reflect upon your past Halloweens and think about what stands out to you. Was it a special time of trick-or-treating with friends or with parents, attending a party, or having a fun day in school?

As we conclude American Archives Month, we hope you have a safe and enjoyable holiday.

Fun Finds From Our Social Media Accounts

As the main person responsible for monitoring the State Historical Society’s social media accounts, I always keep an eye on our likes, shares, comments, tags, and incoming messages. Some days can be overwhelming trying to stay on top of it all. Other days a diamond in the rough emerges and makes it all worthwhile.

I recently came across a true gem after receiving an email notification about a comment on one of our YouTube videos. In this video, Curator of Education Erik Holland uses a miniature tipi to demonstrate how to pitch a three-pole tipi. The video was made as a resource for teachers using the educational “Tipi in a Box” program. After reading a couple comments (see below), it soon became clear that some people are watching the video for instructions on how to create mini tipis for animals. How cool is that!

— I'm so happy you were making a tiny tipi...that's what I'm making for the squirrels!

— im making this for my green iguana this is a good tutorial

Graphic of two tan tipis sit next to each other with a squirrel in the doorway of one and a lizard in the doorway of the other.

I knew my niece would get a kick out of the story about people building mini tipis for animals, so I told her and asked if she would create a picture for my blog. She immediately opened Paint 3D on my laptop and got to work on this masterpiece.

Switching from animals to natural disasters, blizzard posts are a huge hit among our social media followers. Our most popular blizzard post on Facebook, marking the 50th anniversary of the Blizzard of 1966, featured photos and information on the blizzard and has over 15,000 likes, comments, and shares! Although it is our most popular blizzard post to date, any post we make about blizzards gets a lot of attention. I’ve tried posts on other natural disasters like floods and tornados to see if they do as well, but our social media audience has spoken, and blizzards it is!

Two cars are shown buried in a snow drift.

Here is one of the photos I included in our Blizzard of 1966 Facebook post. Snow buried these two cars in the Baptist Home’s parking lot in Bismarck. SHSND SA 00056-00046

Since I’m on a roll (pun intended … you’ll understand soon), I’ll share one more post that made me smile for many reasons. The North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum was tagged on Instagram by bathroomsofnote. Reading the username made me laugh and wonder what I was in for. It turned out to be about a visitor’s very positive experience with our bathrooms, as you can tell from the following part of their post:

Some of you may already know this, but I'm a huge #museumnerd so I'm absolutely head over heels for these restroom installations in love with these little vignettes on the history of bathrooms, which add a great pop of color to the neutral-toned tile and stalls, and really made me appreciate the little things about the modern restroom experience. Dug the light fixtures soft glow, happy to see accessibility considerations, and having a changing table in the men's room is always appreciated Lots of hands-free stuff here, too, which is nice. All in all I was really impressed by these bathrooms

A public bathroom is pictured with four sinks with mirrors above each with square tiles on the walls and historical posters between each mirror

I had no idea there was an Instagram account dedicated to bathrooms, but I’m very happy they took the time to recognize ours and share their experience with the world. This is one of those tagged posts you never see coming. Knowing that there might be another one like this right around the corner keeps me energized as I continue to monitor our social media accounts.

Thank you to those who have made my day!