A Long Awaited Party
May 17 commemorates the signing of Norway’s Constitution in 1814. Syttende Mai is a big holiday in Norway. Every town has a celebration. In the capitol of Oslo, a children’s parade ends at Castle Square where the Norwegian royal family greets the participants. It is a holiday not just in Norway, but wherever there are Norwegians. And that includes North Dakota.
On this date in 1904, the Fargo Forum and Daily Republican reported “considerable activity” in preparation for the upcoming celebration. It was announced that the parade would form at the intersection of Broadway and Front Street. The band from the North Dakota Agricultural College would lead the parade up Broadway to the college campus. Organizers of the event encouraged everyone in Fargo to display the national colors of Norway, not just along the parade route, but throughout the city. The celebration was going to be especially grand because of the dedication of an obelisk on the campus that honored Norwegian poet Bjornsterne Bjornson. The banks in Fargo announced they would close for the day. Other businesses said they would close between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. so their employees could enjoy the festivities. The Singing Society from Grand Forks was scheduled to perform at the unveiling of the Obelisk.
But the celebration plans were not entirely without controversy. The committee chairman, Mr. Trovaten, approached the city council seeking permission for the committee to sell refreshments on the street, in the park, and at other public places. He said the committee would use the income to fund a museum. The museum would preserve and display Scandinavian antiquities. Trovaten estimated that the sale of red lemonade, gingerbread, and peanuts would provide a good foundation for the proposed museum.
The City Council said no. The Aldermen did not question the purpose for the sales, but they said it would be unfair competition for local businesses that were open all year long, paying taxes that helped fund the celebration. They said the merchants who “paid the freight” were entitled to protection and consideration. The City Council stood firm, and the Syttende Mai celebration proceeded without the addition of committee refreshments.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. “Perfecting 17 de Mai Celebration Matters.” “City Council.” 11 May, 1904.