Syttende Mai – 1889
On this date in 1889, the citizens of Northern Dakota Territory were tallying the results from the May 14th election where delegates were chosen to the Constitutional Convention. It had been an exciting two months since the signing of the Omnibus Bill that set the stage for statehood. After twenty-eight years of living under the authority of political appointees, selected more for their relationship to the President than to the Territory, they were finally going to rid themselves of the so-called carpetbaggers and enter into the rights of statehood and self-determination. They would soon be approving the state’s constitution by which they would govern.
But for thousands of settlers in the Territory, they were about to celebrate another, earlier constitution. May 17, 1889 was the Silver Jubilee of Norwegian Independence Day, the signing of the Norwegian Constitution in 1814. Syttende Mai was widely celebrated, especially up and down the Red River Valley where Norwegian settlement was heaviest.
In the Fargo-Moorhead area, a day of parades, speeches, music and a grand ball in the evening embraced the significance of the day. Beginning with a salute of cannons at sunrise, the sound of Norwegian music and patriotic tunes floated along the city streets in the forenoon. Led by Grand Marshal Martin Hector, the parade, with police, multiple fire brigades and gaily decorated carriages, began its march from the Columbia Hotel to Broadway, then across the north bridge to Moorhead. A number of marching bands filled the air with music. All along the route, banners and flags, both US and Norwegian, fluttered in the breeze. Arches of evergreens spanned the streets, and evergreen trees lined the sidewalks.
Winding down 4th Street to Main in Moorhead, the parade, with its 2,000 participants, crossed the south bridge back to Fargo. Marching past the Grand Pacific Hotel, it then proceeded to Island Park where benches and a speaker’s platform had been readied for the occasion. The Norrona Singing Society began the festivities with the song, Sons of Norway, sung in Norwegian. This was followed by the keynote speech given by Professor T. H. Bothne of Chicago who spoke in Norwegian. More speeches in Norwegian and English followed, interspersed with patriotic songs of Norway and the United States. Melodious tunes from the old homeland completed the day as the crowd of over five thousand participants meandered home or to the ball at the Armory.
So, as North Dakota looks forward to the 125th Anniversary of Statehood, we give an enthusiastic “Tusen Takk” to the sons and daughters of Norway who helped build our state, and who tomorrow celebrate the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Norwegian Constitution.
Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis
Daily Argus (Fargo) May 18, 1889