By Rita Maisel
Earlier this week the Grand Forks Herald had an article and picture of Martin Tressing who they listed as a native of Walsh County and died while serving in Belgium during World War I. A family near the cemetery where he is buried in Belgium had adopted his grave and wished to contact relatives in North Dakota. This is not an unusual request so readers seeing the article asked if I knew anything about him. The name was familiar because Martin Tressing is listed on the large plaque of veteran deaths hanging in the entry of the Cavalier County Courthouse. I also had a memory of reading about a new baby born in the Halvor Tressing family of Milton who had been named Milton Tressing in honor of the new town where he was born. However, that memory was from many years ago and where I might have read it was no longer remembered.
A normal search would start with the Milton Centennial book, old maps showing homesteaders, or cemetery records. Not finding much I checked the clipping file which began years after that war was over. Patent searches, used to locate homesteads, had nothing under Tressing nor did the Naturalization or North Dakota Death Index. The Herald article listed his parents as Halvor and Christina Tressing with no maiden name for the mother and suggested she had come from Nekoma. The Nekoma Centennial book had a picture of Happy Tressing who worked in a store there, undated, of course. What eventually was found was an obituary filed under “T miscellaneous” for an H. E. Tressing who died in 1949 near Tacoma, WA. So, you keep digging.
H. E. Tressing was born in Milton, and the 1900 census showed Mrs. Christina Tressing, a widow, living in Milton with two young sons: Halvor E., age 10, and Martin, age 3. Mrs. Tressing was 32 years of age and was born in Minnesota to Norwegian-born parents. The father of her children was born in Norway. By 1900 Christina had been the mother of five children, three of whom were deceased by 1900. If they had lived in Milton when the older son was born and were still there in 1900, the father and deceased children should have been buried there but did not appear on printed cemetery records. In 1900 Mrs. Tressing’s occupation was as a laundress.
The obituary had some additional clues. H. E. was known throughout his life as Happy Tressing. While his obituary lists his wife and daughter Diane as survivors, it also mentions he was survived by his step-father, meaning the mother had remarried and had two step-sisters with no names for any of these people.
The Nekoma book did not have a Tressing story, but it does have an interesting story about a double wedding in 1919. Possibly 18 months ago a couple from California who did not leave names or addresses came to Langdon hunting for family history. While at the library they found a picture of a Haugen house once located in Osnabrock Township and when leaving here were planning to search for this family homestead. Before leaving they had also found and copied the story of this double wedding because one of the couples (Galen McDivitt and Anna Haugen) had been their ancestors. The second couple in this wedding happened to be Happy Tressing and Bertha McGregor. The story of these two Nekoma couples deciding to get married and driving to the home of a Methodist pastor in Langdon one February evening almost a century ago is listed as McDivitt history. On almost the same page of the Nekoma book is a McGregor family story which tells that Happy and Bertha Tressing had lived in Nekoma a while then at Adams and later moved to the Tacoma area. When Bertha McGregor Tressing’s parents retired they moved to the same town in Washington as their daughter and her family. The McGregor parents died in Washington and are buried at Lebanon Cemetery in Langdon.
More information on this family is buried in the pages of an earlier Milton publication which lists early businesses in Milton as including a popular business known as “The Magnet” where S. H. Tressing dispensed Kentucky whiskey and fine cigars. That business would have closed with prohibition in 1889. The later Milton book tells us Cpl. Martin Tressing died in Europe in World War I and that he had served in a Canadian Unit. This would not have been unusual as several Cavalier County men who hoped to get into the Canadian Air Force also went that route. Readers may remember the WWI veterans who returned to Langdon after the war and helped to establish the airport at Langdon.
To date we cannot suggest any Tressing family relatives in our area, but it is possible that readers may know connections that can be passed on to the people in Belgium who were kind enough to include their e-mail address in their request for information.
The Little Prince
Also of interest is another story with World War I connections which is the story of re-issuing the children’s book “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery on the 75th Anniversary of its original publication in 1943. It is quite possible that a copy of this classic book or some of the spin-off items based on its characters might be under Christmas trees near you this year. If you enjoy listening to Eleanor Wachtel’s program “Writers and Company” on the CBC or “The Next Chapter” hosted by Sheila Rogers you have probably heard interviews with the people who have produced a film based on the theme of “The Little Prince” or authors who have written biographies of Saint-Exupery. Had you been to the Air and Space Museum in Paris you may have seen his life portrayed or bits of his aircraft on display. If you had visited Quebec, you might have seen the house where Saint-Exupery and his wife, Consuela, lived for five weeks in 1942-43 while he was writing the now famous book for which he personally received no royalties. The Saint-Exuperys also lived during that era in New York. As a result, France, where he was born and grew up, Canada and the United States all claim him as a poet, artist, writer and at times controversial character. You might even have read the book when taking a class in French.
My own connection to this book does not include visits to any of the places mentioned above. In the summer of 1956 I traveled with a group of teenagers and college students on a summer adventure called Youth Mission. Part of our team was a blond teenager from Pennsylvania who brought along his much-loved copy of the book “The Little Prince”. He talked about it daily, and we teased him about sleeping with it under his pillow. That fall I was hired to work in Rochester, Minn., which had, and hopefully still has, a wonderful bookstore. That year the children’s section had ever changing displays of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, an author new to me at the time. The focus on Wilder was that one of her books happened to be “On the Shores of Silver Lake”. Rochester’s park has a lake called Silver Lake, and she was honored as a local author. While sorting through books that would later become the popular Little House on the Prairie series, I spotted a copy of “The Little Prince” and bought it. The book is a charming story of imagination that has been loved (or disliked) by children and adults ever since it was written in the early 1940s. After many years of reading and sharing it, my copy went to a bright young man who may one day either write or illustrate his own books. He has the talent for both.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery was born around 1900 to a well-to-do family in France and during World War I reportedly learned to fly. He could afford some of his own planes, which was good as he crashed frequently due in part to the fact that he tended to fly around while reading or writing or drawing at the same time. On one crash landing he landed in the Sahara Desert, which is relatively close to his home in France. He served in various capacities in World War II as well but had differences of opinion with Charles de Gaulle so he left France in the early 1940s going to America and Canada to write books. His book on the Sahara, “Sand, Wind and Sun,” was one I read as a teenager – possibly from the Langdon High library. The imaginative Little Prince tale was reportedly turned down by 27 or 28 publishers when Saint-Exupery first tried to have it printed. The copy at the library today lists the copyright as Harcourt Brace and is dated 1943. Both the text and the illustrative art work are by Saint-Exupery. While the cost of the hardcover book I had was very reasonable, today the book sells for a much higher price with notations that at least 140 million readers have purchased the book in more than 250 languages.
The reason Saint-Exupery never collected any royalties is that once the book was published, he went back to France and joined the Free French Forces as a pilot. On July 31, 1944, his aircraft disappeared over the Mediterranean Sea while on a scouting or spying mission over Corsica. The plane was a Lockheed P38 Lightning which may remind some readers of Amelia Earheart’s plane which also vanished. Aviators with their own agenda were not high in General de Gaulle’s priority listing so an official government search was not undertaken for many years. Fans of the author and artist had mounted their own search even before the war ended, but it seemed the plane had simply vanished into thin air.
Then in 1998 a bracelet worn by Saint-Exupery and engraved with his name and that of his wife was found and searching renewed. In May 2000 a diver found remains of a Lockheed P38 Lightning near Marseille. It was not recovered until 2003 and not firmly established as his aircraft until April 7, 2004 when the wreckage was confirmed. It now rests in the Air and Space Museum in Paris along with other artifacts from his history. Meanwhile an SS pilot (German forces) had spent years telling people that he had shot down a plane near Marseille on July 31, 1944. No one believed him.
The movie of the Little Prince from Asteroid B 612 and his adventures in the Sahara won awards at both the Cannes Film Festival in 2015 and the Santa Barbara Film Festival in 2016. The story features a little girl named Rose with the name chosen for a rose which grew on the asteroid which was the Little Prince’s home. The story has similarities and the same title, but you might want to read the original book and see the colorful child-like drawings. There has also been a stage play and an opera based on the story and characters. All of these contain the message to “always see with your heart.”