Happy Fourth of July!
With an early deadline for the column and turmoiled rumors swirling around us, is there anything I can write about that might possibly seem politically correct? Newscasts are filled with riots, racism, politics and an apparent never-ending virus. People who see history through a variety of different lenses want to tear down flags, monuments and memorials. What has happened to love, peace, kindness and even common sense? In the words of a man beaten possibly fifty years ago - “Why can’t we just get along?” Of course, I cannot answer those questions or many others we would ask ourselves or our friends today.
One of the most memorable celebrations held around the 4th of July in Langdon was the Bicentennial parade with reports that 10,000 residents, relatives and friends attended. My class from LHS had never held a formal class reunion although a group of us had discussed that possibility in the summer of 1967. That fall our class president was killed in a tragic accident so the topic was not raised again until the 1976 event. To make a long story short, the vice president and secretary took over, and somewhere I have a picture of those attending. It is even possible my dress is still in a closet. Most of the dresses were full length cotton dresses, cool looking, and easy to care for. There would be other events when we wore semi-pioneer clothing. Beard contests were part of the festivities so both locals and guests may have worn beards. The very perky Border Belles and Beaus danced both on the street and on a flat-bed truck during the parade. Some families combined the event with family reunions and weddings. There was an airshow at the airport, the LHS gym was packed with worshippers on Sunday, and the stage filled with a mass choir from all of the local churches. The temperature both indoors and outdoors was HOT, and I seem to remember fireworks under the direction of the Jaycees of that era.
July 4, 1776, marks the day the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia and began the process of forming the United States. There were only 13 states at that time, and legends tell us Betsy Ross made the first flag. When a later Ross family moved to Langdon in the 1880s, they claimed to be descendants and named one of their daughters in Betsy’s honor. That Langdon native went on to become an actress under the name Betsy Ross Clark.
Two United States presidents died on July 4th, 1826, exactly 50 years after the Declaration of Independence. One was Thomas Jefferson, and the other one was John Adams. Deaths of presidents were not the events they are today with dignitaries from around the world attending. It is thought to be the only time two presidents shared a death date.
In the late 1940s my brother represented the Langdon boy scout troop at a Jamboree held at Valley Forge. President Truman was a guest speaker for the boys from all 48 states at that time and a special postage stamp was issued that day. Each boy sent a letter home with that particular 3 cent stamp on it--I understand compliments of the US Postal Service. Area stamp collectors also got copies with Ed Franta and Emma Hahn proud of having that item in their collections. In 1963 my brother wanted to make a trip to see relatives near New York, and if I paid the gas and my own expenses, I could ride along. We not only stopped at Valley Forge where motel signs invited you to “sleep on the battlefield tonight” but also toured Gettysburg and a number of other famous sites. Most people reading this will have had similar visits to national cemeteries and war memorials and may share my opinion that they are part of history and should not be desecrated or demolished.
On another trip we visited Mount Rushmore and the same comments would apply there. There is a memory of being in Europe years later, and someone there heard I lived in North Dakota so mentioned it was a place he had always wanted to visit – so he could see the presidents carved into the mountain. I did tell him the mountain is not in North Dakota, but it is nearby.
Several of my own great-grandparents never set foot in the United States, and most of them who did come here were born in other countries. That those who came as immigrants stayed is proof of their loyalty to our country and am sure if any of them were living today, they might be seriously disturbed by today’s headlines.
One of those great-grandfathers was born on July 4, 1830, in Switzerland and served in the Swiss army before coming to this country. He was an early homesteader along the James River near Adrian, ND--a town that, to the best of my knowledge, no longer exists. When he arrived in New York we are told a celebration was going on with lots of fireworks, and he left stories behind that he thought they were celebrating his birthday.
Great-grandfather Johann Maisel, related by adoption since my father was adopted as a small child, was born in Bavaria and served his seven years in the German Army before immigrating to Wisconsin with his wife, one child and various relatives of his wife in the 1850s. When the Civil War began each state raised a militia, and Wisconsin asked for his services since he already had training. He helped to train the recruits in their area, and I was told that without funds for uniforms this group was known as the Black Hat Brigade since all they could afford was hats for their troops. When the unit was called up to serve on the battlefield he mortgaged his land and purchased a substitute. The substitute, whose brothers were pastors years later in North Dakota, was killed and great-grandpa had to take his place. By that time there were five children in the family. He served to the end of the war but had been badly injured and died in the early 1870s. By that time five more children had been added to the family with his wife dying with the birth of the last child. When I did a routine search for his land, I learned the state had awarded him title to the land some years after the war in lieu of the salary he had not been paid. Seven of the children moved west to North Dakota.
Another great-grandfather on that side of the family was born in West Prussia and “escaped” service in the Prussian Army by going down the Oder-Niesse River to Stettin where a boatload of horses was leaving for America. He could have free passage if he would tend the horses on the journey. The food and water served to passengers was bad, but the water for the horses was drinkable. At port the horses were unloaded to be used by the cavalry, and a man speaking German offered him a job. The new job was as a member of the Union Army. When the war ended he found work with the railroad stationed near Winona, Minn.
As a result of that heritage, the confederate flags were not part of my own family history. They were also not part of Mr. Osmon’s history classes. In college history classes we had professors who required reading the journals of both Union and Confederate leaders plus southern classmates who told us to “save our confederate money – the South will rise again.” Some of those students went on to become civil rights workers – another sad chapter in the history of our nation.