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.

In the Archives: Remembering 40 Years at the North Dakota Heritage Center

This year, the State Historical Society of North Dakota is celebrating an anniversary—40 years since the North Dakota Heritage Center first opened its doors to the public.

This anniversary affects all of us who work here, but today I want to focus on the archival side of this story. Of course, as faithful readers know, the State Archives collections, which consist of two-dimensional objects such as photographs, papers, and books, document the history of the state, including our own history.

Much of this history is described in the first chapter of the “North Dakota Blue Book 2015-2017.” The State Historical Society got its start in the guise of a Ladies Historical Society, formed in 1889, which became our current organization soon thereafter. Initially, the State Historical Society resided in a single room in the basement of the North Dakota Capitol building. In 1919, the state Legislature authorized the construction of the Liberty Memorial Building honoring the veterans of World War I. When the memorial building was ready for occupants in 1924, the State Historical Society moved over, taking up multiple rooms. (Today the North Dakota State Library is located in the Liberty Memorial Building.)

More space was eventually needed, however, and in the 1970s, initial funding was provided for the State Historical Society’s new building, which broke ground in 1976.

Jim Davis, former head of reference services in the State Archives, often shared stories of this history with me. He was first hired to help move Archives collections into the new building, as well as to sort items. He stuck around, and by July 1981 became a full-time employee. So, I invited Jim to share some of his memories in a brief interview, which I have transcribed, edited, and condensed below. He recalls:

I was hired on October 14 [of 1980] to move books and sort. There were stacks and stacks of boxes up in the Archives. … We were still working on all that when we opened up. We were still putting out the microfilm, which was all behind the desk. There was no self-serve for anything but county history books. As we were opening, they were still putting the finishing touches on the Archives. I had to move my typewriter as they finished putting the glass up [around the desk]. … It was February 2 of 1981 that we opened the Archives. I opened the doors [of the Orin G. Libby Memorial Reading Room] to the public—May was the actual grand opening. … It took some getting used to. The building was so much bigger. We had a lot of space to deal with. The meeting rooms, the auditorium. We were really scrambling to get the auditorium ready before the big opening.

The grand opening of the North Dakota Heritage Center in 1981 drew large crowds to see the new building and exhibits.

Bundles of wheat are tiled across an orange background. On the right side is a yellow box with brown border that has text in brown that reads North Dakota Heritage Center

A light yellow, three panel brochure. The left side lists a program schedule and grand opening events. The middle has an image of the outside of a building with people walking up to it and also has text underneath it that lists the North Dakota Heritage Commission and North Dakota Heritage Foundation members. The right panel has a white and blue sticker that reads Hello my name is Terry Rockstad. Under the sticker is a bunch of text about the North Dakota Heritage Center.

Front cover, above, and interior view, below, of the program from the grand opening of the North Dakota Heritage Center in 1981. It details a range of celebratory events held to mark the occasion. SHSND SA 32435

A pink Plains Talk newsletter, Volume 12, No. 3, Summer 1981. The article is about the Heritage Center Grand Opening being highly successful.

In the summer 1981 issue of Plains Talk, our agency newsletter, we wrote of the successful opening of the North Dakota Heritage Center. SHSND SA 1605600

Now, 40 years later, we have worked through two additional expansions. In 2007, the Archives storage areas and offices were expanded, and in 2014, 97,000 square feet were added to the Heritage Center building, which became known as the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum. And we are still going strong! These photos, stored and accessible in the State Archives, show how the Historical Society’s exhibits have changed over time.

An exhibit with display cases lining the walls and glass tables in the middle. Many artifacts are displayed. Above the cases is a canoe and bull boat and other artifacts.

Here is the Historical Society’s first exhibit space in the basement of the North Dakota Capitol building. SHSND SA A5113-00001

An exhibit display with ox pulling a wooden cart

This Red River cart and ox was on exhibit in the 1950s when the Historical Society was housed in the Liberty Memorial Building. SHSND SA 00239-00101

Two men look at an exhibit about forts with a section of a log cabin and a bed in it. Above them are signs that read Forts and Fighting Boredom, Not Indians.

Here, two men take in an exhibit at the new North Dakota Heritage Center in 1980s.
SHSND SA 2012-P-061-00008

A trex skeleton towers above an exhibit

This photo was taken in the Adaptation Gallery: Geologic Time, one of the new galleries created in the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum as part of the 2014 expansion. SHSND SA 32141

For more information on the agency’s history and state record series holdings, check out the Archives website. And don’t forget to glance through our photo collections on Digital Horizons and SHSND Photobook for Historical Society (and other) images!

Peggy Lee, Powwows, and Hockey: Acquiring “Fashion & Function” Exhibit Loans in the Time of COVID-19

Our registration staff at the State Historical Society of North Dakota is tasked with completing the paperwork for and transportation of incoming exhibit loans. We ask individuals, museums, and companies for loans of objects to fill gaps in our collection for the purpose of creating a more complete exhibit. For the upcoming Fashion & Function: North Dakota Style exhibit at the State Museum, created by our own staff, we requested and received 11 loans ranging from a pair of jeans to Cara Mund’s Miss America gown.

Our collection does not have much Native American powwow clothing that is sturdy enough to be on exhibit for the two-year duration of Fashion & Function. As a result, we turned to other museums in neighboring states to fulfill our need.

Discussions with the Minnesota Historical Society began in January 2020. First, we identified the pieces we wanted to borrow for the exhibit by searching their online database. We came across a woman’s jingle dress and a child’s grass dance outfit in their collection that would be perfect additions to our exhibit. They then required us to fill out a General Facility Report about the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum. The report asked everything from what material the walls were made of to how far the building is located from the closest fire station. It took us a few months to complete the report, and then COVID-19 struck. We pivoted to telecommuting from home, while the staff from Minnesota was also sent home for a time. Due to the pandemic, it was November before Head of Curatorial Services Melissa Thompson and Jenny Yearous, curator of collections management, drove to St. Paul to pick up the loaned dress and child’s outfit. Our internal loan policy states that loans in transit must be accompanied by a curator at all times. So during the drive back to Bismarck, either Jenny or Melissa stayed with the boxed loan in the vehicle. They took turns using restrooms and relied on drive-thrus for meals.

The inside back of a vehicle with a white box loaded in it. A white van can be seen through the back window.

The loans from the Minnesota Historical Society were transported in a box made of coroplast, which is a corrugated archival material.

One of the loans from the Minnesota Historical Society was a jingle dress completed by Orvilla Longfox (1956-2020) of Cloquet, Minnesota, in 2016. Longfox was an artist who revitalized the ancient art of quillwork learned from her mother. She was renowned worldwide for her traditional artwork with dyed quills and buckskin. Her work is featured in museums and businesses, as well as in private collections.

A tan dress with blue flowers and green vines on the chest into shoulders and arms. There are strips of flowers and vines along the lower portion of the dress with deer toes hanging down to make the dress jingle.

This hide, hoof, and quill jingle dress on loan from the Minnesota Historical Society features floral-and-butterfly quillwork designs and deer toes for jingles. The dress took Orvilla Longfox one and a half years to create, partly due to collecting and cleaning the deer hooves and quills.

Meanwhile, the boy’s grass dance outfit, below, was made by Kirstie Davis Deyhle of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe for her son Loyn Deyhle during the winter of 2001-2002 and altered as Loyn grew. It was worn at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum Memorial Day powwows in 2002, 2003, and 2004.

Maroon collared short sleeved shirt and pants with a bright orange chest plate emboridered with green, blue. red, yellow, and white flowers and butterflies. There are teal, orange and yellow strings of beads or yarn coming out of the sides and bottom of the chest plate. There is also an orange piece around the waist that hangs down to the knee area as well as wrist cuffs that look similar to the chest plate. Around the ankles are tan cuffs with silver bells attached to them.

Ojibwe boy’s grass dance outfit from the Minnesota Historical Society.

Jocelyn Lamoureux-Davidson (born July 3, 1989), a North Dakota native from Grand Forks, played for the now-defunct University of North Dakota women’s hockey team. Her skills earned her a place on the U.S. Women’s National Team. She won six gold medals and one silver medal at the women’s world hockey championships. She was also a member of the U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey teams at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, in 2010, and Sochi, Russia, in 2014. At the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, Jocelyn scored the game-winning goal to win the gold for Team USA.

When we heard that Jocelyn and her twin sister Monique Lamoureux-Morando were going to be inducted into the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Hall of Fame at the North Dakota State Capitol last summer, the agency got in touch with the governor’s office and was able to get Jocelyn’s contact information. Jocelyn kindly offered one of her USA hockey jerseys and her 2009 IIHF World Women’s Championship gold medal to the Fashion & Function exhibit. Ideally, she would have travelled to Bismarck to drop off the items or Melissa would have travelled to Grand Forks to pick up the items. Due to the pandemic, however, we put our trust in the U.S. Postal Service to transport these items. They arrived safe and sound and will be on display in the exhibit’s sports section.

A blue hockey jersey with red around the neck, white patches on the arms, white and red down the inside of the arms, and a thick white and thinner red band around the bottom of the jersey. In the middle of the jersey is a logo that says USA in blue with a white outline. The bottom half of the S is red and turns into a waving flag. The inside of the A is a white star.

Front view of Jocelyn Lamoureux-Davidson’s jersey from the 2009 world women’s hockey championships.

The back of a jersey that's navy blue with a thick white band and thinner red band around the bottom of the jersey. The arms have white patches on them towards the middle. J. Lamoureux is listed in white at the top of the jersey, and 17 is listed under it in large white lettering outlined in red.

The back view of the same jersey with its J. Lamoureux nameplate.

A gold medal with a goalie and hockey player skating with their stick up in the air as if trying to score a goal. The part that goes around the neck is blue with a thin white and thicker red borders and reads IIHF repeatedly in white lettering.

Check out the bling. Here is Lamoureux-Davidson’s 2009 International Ice Hockey Federation World Women's Championship gold medal.

Born in Jamestown, Peggy Lee (1920-2002) was an acclaimed musician and actress. Elise Dukart, assistant registrar, knows her best as the voice of Peg from Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp.” The State Historical Society did not have any artifacts in the museum collection to showcase the famous singer’s life and fashion style, so we reached out to Peggy Lee Associates LLC in California for assistance in February 2020. The exhibit team decided to borrow a beautiful dress worn by Lee in the early 1940s.

Like Lamoreaux-Davidson’s items, Lee’s dress also needed to be shipped from its location.

Holly Foster Wells, Lee’s granddaughter and president of Peggy Lee Associates LLC, had intended to bring it in person in July 2020 during a Peggy Lee centennial year celebration scheduled in Jamestown and Wimbledon. But the pandemic prevented her from travelling, and the celebration was postponed. The dress was shipped to the Historical Society in July.

A tan box that looks smooshed with a lot of tape on it and a black arrow on the end that looks like a smiling mouth

Peggy Lee’s dress for the exhibit arrived in this bruised and battered box.

Unfortunately, the box containing the dress arrived damaged. The registration team took photos of the box and contacted the Lee organization to alert them of the situation. The dress was then removed from the box, and its condition was assessed. Additional photos were sent to Peggy Lee Associates LLC. Thankfully, the dress was not damaged during shipment. It currently happily resides on a mannequin amid the other dressed forms waiting to go on exhibit.

A light green short sleeved dress with tan lace covering it.

A dress worn by the singer and actress in the 1940s was borrowed from Peggy Lee Associates LLC.

We are grateful to all those who worked with us to obtain loans for Fashion & Function during these trying times of the pandemic. This exhibit, opening in February, will be more complete because of these items.

This blog was co-written by Elise Dukart.