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McCarthy on Main Street


Forty years ago or so, I was on better terms with the Historical Society in Bismarck. Frank Vyzralek was the archivist then, an unapologetic eccentric with mutton-chop whiskers and long Custer-like locks—salt-and-pepper tending to white—and anxious to hit the road with me at the hint of an untrodden path. On those field trips, conversations ranged pretty broadly. One that I recall involved a de facto gift to the NDSHS collections—because no one else wanted it. 

In a lodge hall at Hillsboro—an innocuous town midway twixt Fargo and Grand Forks—someone stumbled on a trunk. No one wanted either the trunk or its contents. Indeed, no one was willing to admit that the trunk may have belonged to anyone in Hillsboro. Its contents? Klan paraphernalia, white robes, conical hats, and all that. Our photographer-friend Todd Strand (I incorrectly attributed this to the equally observant James R. Dean) took a photo of Frank wearing the stuff, cross-armed and blocking the door to his office in the old Liberty Memorial Building. The title “Frank can’t see you now. He’s in a meeting” says it all. 

Wondering about the McCarthy years in Iowa, I was shocked to find an article about the Klan’s presence in Iowa today! Forget about the 50s. Statistics can deceive, but the headline suggests that right now, Mississippi is second only to Iowa in KKK groups per capita. That creeps me out. But it also convinces me that the 1950s in smalltown Iowa might have been sociologically ugly. 

Admitting that the KKK is, indeed, a northern phenomenon, and that Sen Joe McCarthy was from Iowa’s neighbor Wisconsin, I know these themes exist in Agincourt history and that I’ll write about them eventually. But since the project has to do with landscape and narratives, I wonder what the Klan means in the cityscape. Does Joe McCarthy ooze from storefronts on Broad Street?


1 Comment

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hi Ron…. shortly after Sharon and I were married we rented the main floor of a house on South 8th Street in Fargo. This must have been about 1965. Our landlady, Miss Pollock, lived upstairs. She was probably in her late 80’s and she told us that, as a little girl, she remembers the Klan tarring and feathering the Catholics and running them out of town on a rail.

    Could the same fate have befallen the Catholics in Agincourt at the time? After all, absent a negro population you have to find somebody else to hate.

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