Dakota Datebook

Turkey Show

by Merry Helm

November 23, 2018 — On this weekend in 1937, Towner held its fifth annual turkey show. Exhibitors from Velva, Drake, Granville, Denbigh, Bantry, Upham, Balfour, Eckman and Towner contributed to the largest entry of live birds in the show’s history.

The Mouse River Farmers Press reported, “Two kinds of turkey (were) served at the turkey banquet. Gobble turkey for many, and turkey of the sea for the others. The submarine variety didn’t seem to please. A few red faces. The Minot crowd (was) down again to see how a good turkey show is run. Among them Roy Aney with his usual flow of wit and fat man joviality. Cranberries were a part of the trimmings, but Roy served the raspberries.

Norval Baptie

by Merry Helm

November 26, 2018 — In the 1890s, World Champion speed skater John Johnson raced a young teenager in Bathgate, North Dakota. Afterwards, Johnson told a Minneapolis reporter, “He’s the fastest fellow on a small rink that I’ve ever seen … he’s got such marvelous control that he could skate in a wash tub. His name is Norval Baptie. Keep the name in mind because you’ll be hearing a lot about him from now on.”

By the time he was 16, Norval Baptie fulfilled that prophecy by becoming the World Champion in speed skating. And it was on this day in 1966, that he died.

Baptie was born in Bethany, Ontario, but lived there for only a year before his family moved to Bathgate, several miles west of Pembina. Although North Dakota produced him, Canada claims him, and almost nobody in our state has ever heard of him.

We know that he was born in 1879, and we know he won his first World Outdoor Championship in 1895. We know that he spent the next 25 years shattering every amateur and pro speed skating record there was and that he won nearly 5000 races. We know those races ranged from the 200 meter to the 8 kilometer, but see…? We’re talking meters and kilometers because this comes from a Canadian source, Today’s Canadian Headline … almost every mention of him on the Internet comes from a Canadian site, and they even drafted Baptie into their Speed Skating Hall of Fame.

How could Baptie have been forgotten here in his home state? He dominated the ice for more than 20 years in distance, speed and then later in “fancy” staking (or what we now call figure skating). He toured with world famous skaters like Sonja Henie. He performed all over the world. He managed the famous rink at Madison Square Gardens.

In 1913, Norval wowed fans by switching to figure skating. He persuaded the owners of the Sherman Hotel in Chicago to create an indoor skating rink, and then he produced the world’s first indoor ice-skating show. His acts included singles, pairs and ballets.

Baptie’s show was so successful that a competing hotel, the Terrace Gardens, built a colorful ice arena, surrounded by tiers of dining tables, and lured Baptie away from the Sherman. In 1930, reporters were still writing about Norval’s show at the Terrace Gardens, now with his elegant wife, Gladys Lamb, as his skating partner.

When he was 51, a group of New York sportsmen were willing to put up $25,000 as a bet that Baptie could still beat any competitor, pro or amateur, at any distance.

Unfortunately, we don’t know the outcome of that wager, but seven years later, when Baptie was 58, he told a skeptical reporter that he could still skate as fast as he did when he won his first championship at age 16. The next day a group of reporters gathered to watch him prove it; he missed his own record by only 3/5ths of a second.

Spirit of the West

By Tessa Sandstrom

November 27, 2018 — Thousands of people lined the streets and gathered in the Bismarck auditorium on this day in 1921 to greet the French war hero, Marshal Ferdinand Foch.

Marshal Foch was credited for holding the Germans at Marne, and for devising much of the strategy that won the war. Now the war hero was on a tour of the United States, and because he wished to see as much of the United States as possible during his 60-day visit, the tour brought him to Bismarck for one day. Bismarck residents set to work upon the news of his visit, and were determined to give Foch a visit he’d never forget. Following the ceremony, it was evident they had succeeded.

Foch arrived in Bismarck at 11 o’clock. A short parade led him through the streets of Bismarck, then to the city auditorium where he and several of his companions spoke to the large crowd. The audience waited patiently through the other speakers to hear Foch.

In his speech, Marshal Foch spoke of the similarities between France and the United States, and of their shared sacrifice in the Great War. “Even far in the west,” he said, “the people of North Dakota were united with all America and America united with France in the war…Therefore, I wish to come out to this state of North Dakota to bring the deep gratitude of the French nation and to tell you in person all this great state has done in the war.” Several other organizations showed gratitude to Foch as well, and among them was the Dakota Sioux nation.

Close to the end of the ceremony, Chief Red Tomahawk presented Marshal Foch with a peace pipe. Together, the Chief and Foch smoked the pipe, which was given to Foch, along with a beaded tobacco pouch as a gift from the Sioux nation. Foch was then given the name “Charging Thunder,” or Watakte Wakiya. The representatives of the French and Sioux nations then exchanged words of gratitude. “I know the record of the North American Indian in the war,” said Foch, “and I have come here in part particularly to thank this nation for the splendid men they sent—and the mothers of the Indian soldiers.” Foch also made a promise to Red Tomahawk that the graves of the Indians who died in Europe would never be disturbed.

Foch exited the city with as many cheers as when he arrived, and was particularly delighted when the Sioux Indians danced around him. His visit with the Sioux Indians made his stop in North Dakota particularly unique, reported the Bismarck Tribune. “Photographers, especially the movie weekly men who accompanied the train, saw a glorious opportunity for something different in the way of Foch pictures.” In this visit, Foch was able to “touch the spirit of the great west for the first time.”

Foch’s visit left a lasting impression on the state and Foch himself. Five years after Foch’s visit, the Sioux veterans sent Marshal Foch a card with holiday greetings and a note that they would turn toward France, raise their hands, and in spirit, greet the Marshal on Christmas. They asked that the Marshal do the same. The veterans later received a card from the Marshal saying he would, and in genuine Christmas spirit, wrote “Very many thanks, remembrances and best wishes (Remerciment et melleurs voeux).”

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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