Snakes, Preachers & Fire Festivals
written by Merry Helm
April 26, 2019 — This week’s news in 1900 included plans for the annual Fargo Fire Festival. A major portion of the city had burned to the ground seven years before, and the festival had become a means for celebrating the town’s comeback.
According to the Fargo Forum, the three-day celebration was to be a reproduction of a New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration with three gigantic parades. The planners were estimating that at least 6,000 costumes would be needed. Shriners were planning on a special costume reserved just for themselves.
Bands were coming from all over, including Minneapolis and Winnipeg. According to the poster, Broadway would have two “monster marine search lights, gorgeous street decorations, magnificent illuminations and 25,000 colored lamps.” In addition, there was a free circus and vaudeville acts, logrolling contests, a series of daily baseball games and hot air “balloon ascensions.” The culminating event was a “Grand Masque French Ball in the Open Air,” with prizes given for best costumes and masks.
The April news in 1895 included the following article:
“While railroad men were removing some ties at Hamilton last week, they came upon a petrified snake of the copperhead species, weighing seven and one-half pounds.”
We took this tidbit to paleontologist John Hoganson of the North Dakota Geological Survey. He responded, saying, “I haven’t heard about the ‘Hamilton Snake’ before, but I am sure that it is not a fossilized snake. It could be a cephalopod fossil transported to North Dakota by glaciers from Canada during the last Ice Age. Cephalopods are marine animals,” he continued, “like the Nautilus that lives in the Pacific Ocean today. Some of the fossil varieties had straight shells (cigar shape) and were segmented and may look like snakes.”
That sounded pretty interesting, so we asked him to describe these creatures. “Actually,” he said, “the shells of these extinct cephalopods are about 450 million years old and can be huge – I have seen some up to 25 feet long!!”
Also in 1895, the Devils Lake Free Press published an article called “One on the Majah.” Here’s how it goes: “Word comes from Bottineau to the effect that one Sunday during the progress of the Pagal murder trial, Major Magione attended church. At the close of the sermon, the minister requested all who wanted to go to Heaven to stand up.
The whole congregation arose with the exception of the major, who was very tired from his arduous labors of the previous week, and had gone to sleep.
“After the congregation was seated,” the article continued, “the pastor said: ‘Now all who want to go to hell stand up.’
“By this time the major had awakened and heard the request ‘stand up,’ but no more. Rubbing his eyes, he stood up and stared around at the seated congregation and then at the minister. When he took in the situation he said: “Oh, ho – Mr. Preacher – ah – I don’t know exactly what you are voting on, but somehow you and I seem to be in a hopeless minority.”
written by Merry Helm
April 29, 2019 — On this day in 1931, the King and Queen of Siam were treated to a state dinner with President Hoover at the White House. They were the first absolute monarchs to ever visit the United States, and the first Asian monarchs to visit the White House.
The royal couple was in the country so that King Pradjadhipok could undergo eye surgery. It wasn’t his first trip to the U.S. – he’d also visited in 1924 when he was still a prince.
Prajadhipok was born to King Chulalongkorn – or Rama the Fifth – in Bangkok in 1893. Of his father’s children, Prajadhipok was number 76, and he was the youngest boy. He was educated at Eton and Woolwich Military Academy in England, and then in Paris. He never expected to become king – his plan was to serve in the military.
When the old king died, Prajadhipok’s brother, Vajiravudh, became Rama VI. He also was highly educated and was an avid supporter of the arts. King Vajiravudh died when he was only 44. He hadn’t yet produced an heir, but one of his consorts was expecting a child. Two days before the young king’s death, the child was born, but it was a girl. For some reason, all of the king’s brothers were dead by this time – except the youngest, Prajadhipok, who was suddenly in line for the throne. He became Rama the Seventh in 1925.
King Prajadhipok’s reign has been highly admired. Like his brother and father, he was very concerned for his people. He was passionate about education and developed Chulalongkorn University; he gave the commencement speech when, in 1930, the school’s first graduates were awarded their degrees.
He also wanted to give his people a new constitutional government. There were some among the old guard who weren’t happy with that, of course. Some say his Council of State prevented him from introducing his version of a constitution; others say that middle-ranking officials who were afraid of losing power achieved a pre-emptive coupe, and that they forced their own version of a constitution on the king.
Either way, a new constitution was given to the people on December 10, 1932 – ironically, it rendered the king a mere figurehead. The 150-year absolute rule of Siam’s Chakri Kings ended and the Constitutional Monarchy of the present day was born.
By 1935, King Prajadhipok was frustrated by the new government’s failure to serve the people. When several counter-revolutionary leaders were executed, he abdicated the throne to his 10-year old nephew and left for England. He was merely to receive medical treatment, but he never returned. Interestingly, he had taken out unemployment insurance in both England and France in case he was ever forced from the throne.
King Prajadhipok died in England in 1941, during World War II. Eight years later, his wife, Queen Rambai Barni, took his ashes back to what is now Thailand.
By now, you’re asking what this has to do with us. Well, the first absolute monarchs to visit the United States – the king and queen of Siam – entered the country from the north at Portal, North Dakota.
“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, or subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast.