On display at HCSCC through May 26
Submitted by Todd Tingelstad, William Togbah, and Nolan Alber.
Disasters can be man-made or natural. They can happen with little or no warning. As they come, they leave people with their reality — deaths in the hundreds, demolished dwellings, unrecognizable towns and cities, counties and states. At times, they can show the awful beauty of destruction.
These disasters are the reason the Minnesota Disasters exhibit is being held at the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County (HCSCC) at the Hjemkomst Center. It showcases many events in the area’s past, recounting tornadoes, floods, droughts, blizzards, fires, swarms of grasshoppers, and even a bridge collapse. All of these provide outstanding artistic opportunities, as the numerous photographs, paintings, and videos show.
In the words of the Minnesota Disasters exhibit: “From man-made catastrophes to Mother Nature’s fury, disasters leave an indelible mark on our landscape and our memories.” It is such memory that the exhibit is intended to instill in those who go to view the exhibit.
As viewers, we were amazed by some of the pieces on display. Photographs of different events line the walls of the exhibit. One, a picture of a 1941 blizzard where the snow buried entire cars, reflect the unique potential of the phenomena. Another photo showed the aftermath of a 1965 tornado in Mounds View, Minn., where entire blocks of houses were decimated, killing 13 people and injuring 683 more. However, the aerial shot of the houses reduced to rubble was truly breathtaking.
To better understand the exhibit, we asked Markus Krueger, HCSCC visitor’s services coordinator, to serve as a tour guide. He has been with the HCSCC for almost eight years.
“People who are interested in weather such as floods, droughts, tornadoes, [and] thunderstorms, are viewing of the exhibit.” Krueger said the purpose of the exhibit is “to tell disasters stories of Minnesota.” Some pieces are literal stories.
Krueger introduced us to “Robert Johnk Rides a Tornado,” a short journal entry displayed in the exhibition. It recounts Johnk’s encounter with a Minnesota tornado.
More writing comes in the Probstfield Family Diary, on the grasshopper phenomena of 1876. Over four days, a farmer made note of how the grasshoppers had completely decimated his crops. The short entries are powerful, and display the common man’s struggle with things beyond his control. In many ways, the imagery is as effective as poetry.
Beside the diary is a contrasting piece from the Red River Star newspaper. As Krueger explains, the Star completely downplayed the grasshopper ordeal to avoid losing customers. Seeing both tales and their competing sides was a refreshing way to picture the past.
A traveling foldout sits in the middle of the exhibit, chronologizing disasters in Minnesota. One of the most notable is the collapse of the I-35W Bridge on August 1, 2007, in Minnesota. It resulted in 13 deaths and 145 injuries and received national and international news coverage.
As we visited the exhibit, a news feed of the collapse played. It featured what people experienced when the bridge collapsed. Personal accounts of the moment littered the mini-documentary in a fascinating compilation.
Krueger said people do care about disasters because, in 2009, homes and roads of the Fargo-Moorhead area were damaged from flooding. There is a close personal connection to many area residents and natural disasters, increasing the fascination with these photographs and videos.
The exhibit runs through May 26 and is sponsored by the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS), with other pieces collected from the Clay County records or donated by locals. The MHS hopes to inspire other counties — specifically rural ones — to tell their own Minnesota Disasters stories.
The foldout sports a quote by journalist Larry Millett. “The more spectacular the [disaster], the more we find ourselves drawn into its violation of the ordinary,” Millett says. This sums up the fascination with natural and man-made disasters. Through the destruction, we see its beauty. Minnesota Disasters collects that beauty and rich history, and displays it to the Fargo-Moorhead area.
This article was provided as part of a group writing project from the English 275 class at North Dakota State University. Images by the authors.