When Max Eastman, the famous pacifist and socialist, was invited to speak in Fargo, nobody knew how much his appearance would impact the community, and Eastman himself. In a letter to his sweetheart, Florence Deshon, he said the experience “seared so deep into (him), with sickness of realization of the tragic state of our world.” The visit also contributed to the demise of the Unitarian Church in Fargo.
Max Eastman was still recovering from his trip to Fargo on this date in 1917. He had made a hasty getaway from the city hiding on the floor of a car with a six-shooter clutched in his hand.
People had come from miles around to hear see Eastman present on pacifism, but others weren’t as excited by his appearance. A parade was scheduled to pass the Unitarian Church where he was speaking, and rumors were that the guns in the parade would be loaded – just for him. He moved inside, just in case. As he began to speak, a small group of soldiers began to cause trouble. He talked them down, but that marked the end of his address as more soldiers broke in through the windows, yelling, singing the Star Spangled Banner, and threatening to kill him. When somebody turned out the lights, a woman yelled “For God’s sake don’t do that, there are women and children here!” and turned the lights back on.
As the scene grew more tumultuous, someone roared that “All the ladies will please leave the building!” Eastman’s hostess, Mrs. Mary Weible, managed to steer him out a side door. They made haste to her house and soon got word that the soldiers had moved to Eastman’s hotel, planning a “necktie party” for his return. Not wanting to be lynched, Eastman thought it would be wise to leave Fargo, and fast.
That’s how he ended up on the floor of Mary Weible’s car, clutching a revolver, on his way to a train station ten miles away. He wasn’t very sorry to go. Years later, Eastman changed some of his views and became a critic of socialism, although he was always a pacifist. The Unitarian Church dissolved in the aftermath of his visit, and the church building sold.
Eventually the Unitarians, now Unitarian Universalists, reorganized, and in 1997 they purchased the very same building Eastman spoke in eighty before – where they still have services today.
Dakota Datebook written by Leewana Thomas
Personal letter from Max Eastman to Florence Deshon, dated August 29, 1917. Courtesy of Lilly Library Manuscript Collections, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.
“Unitarian Building 1892-1992: Ninth Street and Second Avenue South: A Century of Religious Use” by Millie Treumann, December 11, 1992
Concise Columbia Encyclopedia copyright 1983, entry on Max Eastman