DakotaDatebook: May 22-26

What drives you?


May 22 — Here is an excerpt for your listening pleasure: “I used to pay my grocery bill whenever it was due, and in the butcher’s yawning till the coin I promptly threw. But now in vain they plead and moan to get my good long green, for every dollar that I own I need for gasoline!”

Do you know when this was written?

If you said “today,” you’re mistaken. If you guessed 1916, however, then you’re right on the money, because on this date in 1916, people were complaining about the price of gas.

Walt Mason, who printed this long poem in the Edinburg Tribune, was able to express his concern. Though the language may be dated, the sentiment expressed has no boundaries.

During those days, there were many car troubles. We were transitioning out of the horse and buggy days, into the days of jalopies and rumble seats.

“Gasoline was originally used for cleaning gloves and ejecting hired girls thru the kitchen roof, but has been taught a great variety of interesting tricks, such as running automobiles, aeroplanes, motorboats, windmills, street cars, hearses, corn shellers and bicycles,” one report said jokingly in the Edinburg Tribune. However, by May of 1916, auto license requests received were already reported at 26,000, whereas around only 24,000 had been requested for the entire year before.

Also, car accidents were numerous; near Horace, a farmer who was trying to feed his young son candy drove right into a telephone pole. Injuries were slight to all but the pole.

And, of course, 1916 was on the cusp of World War I. War always seems to affect the people and the prices back home.

Nonetheless, the poem written by Walt Mason speaks to us today. The poem is quite long. However, here is another excerpt of what Mason wrote:

“My children used to wear good clothes; they held their heads up high; no leaky shoes exposed their toes, no rents could you discry. But now they’re images of woe, they’re blots upon the scene; for every coin I get must go to buy some gasoline. … I used to talk of books and art, and topics safe and sane, but … I’ve motor on the brain. I cannot even spare a dime to buy a magazine; it keeps me hustling all the time to buy my gasoline.”

Lady and

the Tramp


May 23 — On this day, May 23, 1975, Peggy Lee of Jamestown, North Dakota, was presented with the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award for her work in the field of motion picture and popular music. Her list of achievements is spectacular; including 12 Grammy nominations as well as an Academy Award nomination for her performance in “Pete Kelly’s Blues.” But one of her most enduring legacies and a single showcase of her many talents were her contributions to Walt Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp.”

Working with Sonny Burke, Peggy Lee co-wrote the songs of “Lady and the Tramp,” including “The Siamese Cat Song,” “He’s a Tramp” and the movie’s most memorable feature, “Bella Notte,” sung at the Italian restaurant where Lady and the Tramp share a plate of spaghetti.

The North Dakota native was also the voice of several of the film’s characters, such as Darcy, the mother who sings “La La Lu,” and Peg, the dog who sings “He’s a Tramp.” The two devious cats, Si and Am, who sing “The Siamese Cat Song,” can also be attributed to the voice of Peggy Lee. She even contributed to the storyline by persuading the writers to let Trusty, the bloodhound, survive.

But Peggy Lee didn’t always have a fairytale relationship with the Walt Disney Company. In 1988, she filed suit against Disney, charging breach of contract in the release of a video-cassette version of “Lady and the Tramp.”

For the original movie, Lee and Sonny Burke had split royalty fees of $1,000 for the sheet-music and phonograph record rights for the film’s musical score. Peggy Lee’s 1952 contract also included a clause that denied the company the right to ”make phonograph recordings and/or transcriptions for sale to the public.” In the 1988 lawsuit, Lee claimed that “transcriptions” should include video-recordings; especially considering the $35 million the Walt Disney Company had made from video sales of the film. It was “shameful,” Peggy Lee said of the company’s actions, “shameful that artists can’t share financially from the success of their work.

That’s the only way we can make our living.” The jury obviously agreed. In 1991, she was awarded $2.3 million in damages against the company for selling tapes of the 1955 movie without her permission.

Link Fiddle Contest


May 24 — Since his birth on this day in 1914, Arthur Albert Link became widely recognized in his home state for his service as a U.S. Representative and as the twenty-seventh governor of North Dakota.

Perhaps a less familiar aspect of the former governor is his lifelong interest in the fiddle. An accomplished fiddle player who learned to play at the age of eight, he often performed at the annual Lawn Party hosted by the Former Governors’ Mansion each August.

When the Society for the Preservation of the Former Governors’ Mansion sought a way to honor Art Link and his wife Grace for their dedication to the preservation of the Former Governors’ Mansion, fiddling provided the answer. The first annual Governor Arthur A. Link Fiddle Contest was in March of 2008 to encourage students of the violin and provide scholarships to the International Music Camp.

Paul Fjelde’s Plaster Cast


May 25 — In 1914, the people of North Dakota presented a bust of Abraham Lincoln to Norway. Five years later, in gratitude to his home state for his first significant commission, the sculptor, Paul Fjelde, gifted the original plaster cast, from which the bronze bust of Lincoln was made, to Valley City’s State Normal School.

Fjelde had begun his study of art at Valley City before moving on to Chicago, New York and Paris, becoming an internationally renowned artist. Meanwhile, the significance of the original plaster cast in Valley City was eventually forgotten, falling into a state of disrepair.

Nearly half a century later, its story was rediscovered, and Valley City State College presented Paul Fjelde with the first Distinguished Alumnus Award on this day in 1973. The art department refurbished the plaster bust and it was given a place of honor in the Allen Memorial Library.

Louis Manca, Duke de Vallombrosa


May 26 — Antoine Amedee Marie Vincent Amat Manca de Vallombrosa, better known as simply the Marquis de Mores, along his wife Medora, are familiar characters in the history of North Dakota. Less familiar are their children. The oldest, Athenais, was just a few months old when she was first brought out to the family’s new home on the prairie in 1883. Louis was born in New York two years later, but like his sister, traveled to Dakota Territory as an infant. The family’s time in the Dakota Badlands was short-lived. In 1886, they returned to New York. Athenais was three years old; Louis, about one and a half.

Following the death of the Marquis in 1896, Madame de Mores continued to maintain the family’s land holdings in North Dakota and even came back for a short visit in 1906, accompanied by Athenais and Louis. Following Medora’s death in 1921, the land passed to her two sons, Louis and Paul Manca de Vallombrosa. Paul, who had been born after the family returned to France, visited North Dakota only once in 1913 when he spent a week taking photos of the Vallombrosa family property. Paul relinquished his holdings, leaving Louis the sole owner of the De Mores property in North Dakota, but not before the two brothers donated the church constructed by their family to the Medora Catholic Association and the De Mores Park, complete with a statue of the Marquis, was presented to the town of Medora.

Louis, however, was reluctant to give up the chateau. “…I know that my mother’s thoughts constantly turned to the days she lived in Dakota and which she termed the happiest she had known.”

“My own childhood,” he recalled, “two years of which were spent there, was filled with recollections of the West…”

In 1936, at the prompting of Russell Reid of the State Historical Society, Louis donated the De Mores chateau and the site of his father’s packing plant to the state of North Dakota with the stipulation that the sites be preserved for park and museum purposes.

In “recognition of his generous contributions to the preservation of pioneer history in North Dakota” as well as his professional accomplishments in the fields of finance and international relations, the North Dakota Agricultural College at Fargo conferred an honorary degree, Doctor of Laws, on Louis Manca, Duke de Vallombrosa on this day in 1958.

In his acceptance speech, the son of the Marquis and Madame de Mores told the audience, “I welcome the opportunity for proclaiming my loyalty to my home state of North Dakota and expressing my gratitude for what is being done here for me and the memory of my parents…”

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from Humanities North Dakota.


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