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Zip to Zap


Today is the 35th anniversary of the only official riot in state history that called on the National Guard to disperse the crowd.

1969 was part of a fiery decade that saw mass national protests against racial segregation and the Vietnam War. The hippie movement promoted free love, and the slogan “don’t trust anyone over 30” was being taken to heart. The National Organization of Women was organized to demand equal rights. College kids discovered LSD, and the British Invasion spawned a new era in music.

Several months before Woodstock heralded the end of that era, an event in central North Dakota caused Woodstock’s organizers to plan more carefully. It started innocently. In April of ‘69, NDSU student body president, Chuck Stroup, couldn’t afford to go to Florida with his sister for spring break. So he came up with a cheap alternative and took it to NDSU’s school paper, the Spectrum. He was planning a gathering, near his hometown of Hazen, to be held the following month. He called it “Zip to Zap” and took out a classified ad.

A responsive front-page article about the event set things in motion. It praised the beauty of the Knife River and stated that the people of Zap were welcoming the idea. The article also predicted that people from all over the Midwest would come to the “Lauderdale of the North.” UND picked up on the idea, and within weeks, Zip to Zap was being promoted nationwide as a “Grand Festival of Light and Love.”

Unprepared for such a huge response, the student organizers quickly got permission from Zap landowners to allow camping in their vacant fields. They also hired some regional bands to keep the audience entertained.

Meanwhile, Zap’s citizens were guardedly optimistic. The café started working on “Zapburgers,” and the town’s two bars stocked up on beer. Since there was no way to predict how many would attend, Governor Guy talked with the Highway Patrol officials about traffic control, and the National Guard boned up on nationally mandated procedures for crowd control.

By Friday evening, May 9th, 2,000 people descended on Zap. The bars were overwhelmed and raised their prices, upsetting the students. Pretty soon, it didn’t matter – the beer was all gone, and the café had to close. Students vomited and urinated in the open – others passed out in the street. Temperatures fell below freezing, and wood from a demolished building was used to start a bonfire on Main Street. Pretty soon, the townspeople asked the crowd to break up and go home. Some complied, but others didn’t. The party atmosphere disappeared and gradually escalated into a riot. Security was overwhelmed, and the café and one bar were broken into and trashed.

By dawn, 500 National Guardsman surrounded the town. Two hundred of them moved in and faced about 200 students who were still going. Approximately 1,000 others were sleeping wherever they had landed during the night. Their wake-up call was at the point of a fixed bayonet. Cold, hungry and hung-over, there was little resistance, and the crowd was dispersed in front of salivating reporters. That evening, the Zip to Zap fiasco was the lead story on the CBS Evening News – giving the state publicity it neither wanted or needed.

Damage from the riot was assessed at more than $25,000. A lot of fingers were pointed, but the student governments of UND and NDSU were handed the bills. Which they paid...

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm