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Snakes, Preachers and Fire Festivals


This week’s news in 1900 included plans for the annual Fargo Fire Festival. A major portion of the city had burned to the ground 7 years before, and the festival had become a means for celebrating the town’s comeback.

According to the Fargo Forum, the 3-day celebration was to be a reproduction of a New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration with three gigantic parades. The planners were estimating that at least 6,000 costumes would be needed. Shriners were planning on a special costume reserved just for themselves.

Bands were coming from all over, including Minneapolis and Winnipeg. According to the poster, Broadway would have two “monster marine search lights, gorgeous street decorations, magnificent illuminations and 25,000 colored lamps.” In addition, there was a free circus and vaudeville acts, log rolling contests, a series of daily baseball games and hot air “balloon ascensions.” The culminating event was a “Grand Masque French Ball in the Open Air,” with prizes given for best costumes and masks.

The April news in 1895 included the following article:

“While railroad men were removing some ties at Hamilton last week, they came upon a petrified snake of the copperhead species, weighing seven and one-half pounds.”

We took this tidbit to paleontologist John Hoganson of the North Dakota Geological Survey. He responded, saying, “I haven’t heard about the ‘Hamilton Snake’ before, but I am sure that it is not a fossilized snake. It could be a cephalopod fossil transported to North Dakota by glaciers from Canada during the last Ice Age. Cephalopods are marine animals,” he continued, “like the Nautilus that lives in the Pacific Ocean today. Some of the fossil varieties had straight shells (cigar shape) and were segmented and may look like snakes.”

That sounded pretty interesting, so we asked him to describe these creatures. “Actually,” he said, “the shells of these extinct cephalopods are about 450 million years old and can be huge – I have seen some up to 25 feet long!!”

Also in 1895, the Devils Lake Free Press published an article called “One on the Majah.” Here’s how it goes: “Word comes from Bottineau to the effect that one Sunday during the progress of the Pagal murder trial, Major Magione attended church. At the close of the sermon, the minister requested all who wanted to go to Heaven to stand up.

The whole congregation arose with the exception of the major, who was very tired from his arduous labors of the previous week, and had gone to sleep.

“After the congregation was seated,” the article continued, “the pastor said: ‘Now all who want to go to hell stand up.’

“By this time the major had awakened and heard the request ‘stand up,’ but no more. Rubbing his eyes, he stood up and stared around at the seated congregation and then at the minister. When he took in the situation he said: “Oh, ho – Mr. Preacher – ah – I don’t know exactly what you are voting on, but somehow you and I seem to be in a hopeless minority.”

Written by Merry Helm