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.

Black Fridays Past: Items From the State Collection That Once Caused a Shopping Frenzy

November and December are gift-buying months for many people in the United States, which often leads to a shortage of some of the year’s must-haves. The day after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday, is a popular day for shopping the sales with hordes of crowds hitting America’s malls. Since some items are limited in number and are only on sale during certain times of the day, people line up early in the morning, risking frostbite (at least in North Dakota) to guarantee they will get the product at the discount price. Here at the State Historical Society, we’ve been lucky over the years to snag a few of these coveted items for the museum collection.

In the early 1980s, the most desired toy was a Cabbage Patch Kids doll. By the end of 1983, nearly 3 million Cabbage Patch Kids had been sold. Cabbage Patch Kids were flying off the shelves, and some were being sold on the black market at a highly inflated price.

A black Cabbage Patch Kid doll with gray clothes and green trim sits in its yellow and green box.

This Cabbage Patch Kid was purchased from Target by the State Historical Society of North Dakota in 1985. The name on her birth certificate is Oriane Adelaide. No staff members were harmed in the procurement of this doll. SHSND 1985.85.1

Beanie Babies were one of the most popular collectibles of the 1990s. Since 1994, collectors have been on the hunt for the tiny creatures, with some more collectible and desirable than others. In 1997, McDonald’s had a line of Beanie Babies created for their Happy Meal toys. They sold 100 million Teenie Beanies within two weeks.

Plastic McDonalds TY Beanie Baby package with a yellow billed purple platypus

This purple platypus Teenie Beanie appeared in kids’ Happy Meals during the late 1990s. SHSND 2019.43.1

A purple Princess Diana TY Beanie Baby with a white rose on its left chest area. A plexiglass container sits behind it and collectors clipp for the tag sits in front of it.

Commemorative Princess Diana Beanie Baby bear released in the months after her 1997 death. SHSND 2019.43.4

The donor of the Beanie Babies, Becky King, and her daughter started collecting them in 1994, eventually amassing more than 500. All were kept with their Ty tags intact, and some even came with plastic tag protectors and in plexiglass protective boxes.

Toys are not the only items in the Black Friday danger zone. Electronics often go on super sale, causing people to throw elbows in the quest to check off their shopping lists. One such item was the fourth generation iPod of 2004. Apple sold 4.5 million iPods during the holiday season that year.

A white apple iPod

Fifth-generation iPod from 2005 featuring a colored screen and a larger memory than its predecessor. You can all but hear the sounds of Fall Out Boy as you gaze upon it. SHSND 2018.40.1

The Nintendo Wii was released in November 2006 and sold over 600,000 consoles in its first week on the market. Due to its immense popularity, the Wii was soon hard to come by in many markets. The Wii is a different kind of video game option because the controller is a hand-held remote with motion-sensing controls that have gesture recognition. Might one of the contributors to this blog post have accidentally flung a controller across the living room during a particularly intense game of Wii Tennis? You’ll never know.

A Nintendo Wii with its cords, sensor, and operations manuals

The Nintendo Wii in the state museum collection was a Christmas gift to our donor from herself and her husband in 2008. She liked to play the games because she could get a workout and have fun at the same time. SHSND 2018.9.10

The most popular must-buy gifts each year are usually the iconic toy or cutting-edge electronic item of the moment. Our collections are missing some of these. If you have any of the following, please consider donating them to the State Historical Society. In particular, we would like to add objects with stories (i.e., something loved and used by its owner) to our collection such as Teddy Ruxpin, Transformers, Nintendo NES, Game Boy, Castle Grayskull from “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe,” Tickle Me Elmo, Furby (the non-haunted version, please), a Razor scooter, a television with built-in VCR, a Tamagotchi virtual pet, an Instant Pot, an air fryer, and a flatscreen TV. You can offer items to our collections by filling out the donation questionnaire online here.

We hope you had a safe, trample-free Black Friday!

The Kennedy Assassination 60 Years Later: North Dakota’s Secret Service Connection

a man is shown partially in a convertible with one leg hanging across the back while he protects the passengers as the convertible drives off to safety

The limousine carrying mortally wounded President John F. Kennedy races toward the hospital moments after he was shot in Dallas, Texas, Nov. 22, 1963. Secret Service Agent Clint Hill climbs onto the back of the car, as First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy leans over the president. Justin Newman, AP Photo

A few critical seconds from Nov. 22, 1963, still replay in Clint Hill’s mind—even 60 years later. On that horrific day when President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Hill, who grew up in Washburn, was serving as first lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s United States Secret Service agent in the presidential motorcade.

Photographs from bystanders and the infamous Zapruder film immortalize images of the events that changed history and Hill’s life. Footage shows President Kennedy clutching his throat after being hit by a bullet about 40 minutes into a city parade. Seconds later, Hill, from a position on the running board of the follow-up car, sprints toward the presidential convertible, scrambles onto the trunk, then pushes the first lady—crawling on her hands and knees on the trunk—back into her seat before throwing himself across Mrs. Kennedy and the slain president.

According to accounts by Secret Service agents, President Kennedy had wanted the limousine top off during the motorcade so he could be closer to the people. When the fatal bullet shattered the president’s skull, Hill selflessly turned his body into a living convertible canopy. He clung to the car with his left hand, his feet positioned to protectively cover the first lady and the president lying in her lap as the limousine sped four miles to Parkland Memorial Hospital.

Eleven years ago, I interviewed Clint Hill about his courageous actions that fateful day and his lingering sense of guilt. The retired agent was still struggling with the death, his voice cracking at times with emotion.

“I’ve always felt that sense of responsibility and guilt that I was unable to get there quick enough to intercede and really make a difference,” he said then. Hill believed it was his bullet to take. “Every day I think back to November 22. It never leaves me.”

an older man takes a portrait photo in a black suit with a black background

“I’ve never emotionally left North Dakota,” former Secret Service Agent Clint Hill told me in 2012. “North Dakota has a very special place in my heart that will never go away.” Photo by Michael Collopy

Read my article based on a 2012 interview with Clint Hill in North Dakota History, which includes his telling of the story and details he shared for the first time. For more on Kennedy, read another article in this journal issue by humanities scholar Clay Jenkinson, “John F. Kennedy and Theodore Roosevelt: Parallels and Common Ground, Including North Dakota.”

Since our conversation, the 91-year-old Hill and his wife, Lisa McCubbin, have co-authored books about his time in the Secret Service serving multiple presidents. Until recently they’ve traveled the world representing the United States and our state. Hill has never forgotten his North Dakota roots. He continues to provide interviews about his Kennedy experiences. In 2018, Gov. Doug Burgum presented him with North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award, the state’s highest honor.

As Hill continues to share his personal memories about Nov. 22, new theories have surfaced about the killing of JFK. Just a few weeks ago Hill’s Secret Service colleague Paul Landis released a new and differing firsthand account of the “magic bullet.” Nevertheless, Hill remains true to his version of the tragic events he witnessed in Dallas.

While Hill’s actions that day can be viewed as part of his professional duty, no other Secret Service agent took the risk to their own life. President Kennedy could have been describing Hill when he once remarked, “The courage of life is often a less dramatic spectacle than the courage of a final moment; but it is no less a magnificent mixture of triumph and tragedy.”

Thank you, Mr. Hill, for serving as a magnificent ambassador for North Dakota and your courageous service in various Secret Service positions, protecting Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford, as well as first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. We are grateful.

President John F. Kennedy, William Guy, an Quentin Burdick, all wearing suits and ties, are shown smiling as they look towards the person taking the photo

On June 19, 1960, John F. Kennedy flew into Fargo to attend then-Rep. Quentin Burdick’s 52nd birthday party. JFK is pictured at the bash along with William Guy (center), who was making his first run on the Democratic ticket for governor, and Burdick, who was facing off against popular Republican Gov. John Davis for an open U.S. Senate seat. In a perfect trifecta, all three men won their elections, changing the political landscape of the state and the country. SHSND SA 1960-00021