Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


Fascinating reading...

Posted 7/25/17 (Tue)

For the past several weeks, one of my assignments has been to find information about the local boys in The Kenmare News archives who were involved in World War I and write about their experiences.

And as a student of history who has concentrated on the World War I years, I’ve found a lot of interesting information in The Kenmare News archives that none of my professors taught me in college.

What is most interesting are the letters that Soldiers sent home. Some of them are routine letters that any Soldier might write today while others were more descriptive about the train up for the western front, the French, the Germans and of course, trench warfare.

Over the course of about six months in 1917, The Kenmare News featured letters home each week on the front page of the newspaper.

The details of those letters is what makes them so fascinating to read. One Soldier described booby traps the engineers were making, another Soldier missed home and was so happy to get a box of cookies from his girlfriend. Yet another explained in detail the trip from North Carolina to New York as his North Dakota National Guard unit was one step closer to meeting the enemy in France. Another described a field hospital where he worked treating the wounded.

That portion of my four-week assignment is done and excerpts of those letters are in this week’s edition.

But as I was looking through the 1917 archives, I was often sidetracked by other interesting headlines of the day.

There were a lot of things going on in North Dakota in 1917 and the local newspaper described some of it very well.

For instance, this was a year after Non Partisan League Gov. Lynn Frazier was elected and the league was building itself as a major political force in North Dakota.

It appeared as if there was a group that despised Frazier and the league and were attempting just about anything to swing voters away from the league.

Twice in 1917, in April, then again in November, were speeches that President Wilson made. April, of course, is when the war started for the United States and his November speech was one of Thanksgiving despite the war.

Former President Theodore Roosevelt made speeches supporting the war effort that often times made him sound more like the current president than Wilson, because if you recall, Wilson was a reluctant participant in the war.

There were articles about the price of wheat and that everyone should refrain from using wheat products in their diet to support the Soldiers.

Articles of “slackers” and the names of them were printed occasionally. “Slackers” was the word used for “draft dodgers” during World War I.

As you might imagine, there were few pictures printed in newspapers in 1917 but at least one cartoon was featured every week, which was often a political cartoon about the Non Partisan League, slackers or the Bolshevik Revolution that had just begun in October 1917 in Russia and how it was spilling over into the United States.

Still other articles pointed to local residents wanting to establish a home guard now that the National Guard was gone and preparing for war. And despite Gov. Frazier publicly denouncing it, numerous are residents continued on their path to vigilantism.

Paid advertisements were also very interesting and some of them were very direct in their message.

“Buy Liberty Bonds to support your boy in the war,” Liberty Bonds will beat the hun and hand Germany the loss it deserves,” and “If you don’t buy Liberty Bonds your house may be taken like in Belgium or France.”

Those ads were generally paid for by the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis.

Locally, many of the ads were routine regarding retail shopping or farm machinery.

Ads were quite different 100 years ago as they were very simple in their design, most likely because newspapers didn’t have the capacity at that time to create interesting and unusual graphics.

And from April-December 1917, there was only one ad that ran consistently with a familiar name.

It was about the Irvin Hotel and the Irvin Cafe, suggesting a great resting place and the best place in Kenmare to enjoy a meal.

Regardless of the content, if you like history, you’ll love going through old editions to learn about life in the day. Whatever year you may choose, there’s always some real history that is fascinating to read.